Back in 2009, Terry Dooley spoke to former world title challenger Pat Barrett at length about his career. Barrett had recently resurfaced on the Manchester boxing scene and, over the course of time, had lost all the footage of his fights apart from a short highlight reel. Dooley turned up with a full career set and they went over it over the course of a few weeks. The result was an exhaustive, but not exhausting, overview of the career of one of Britain’s hardest hitters. It was lost when British Boxing News went down yet has resurfaced and some of the audio has been recovered. Boxing Social are republishing it in full.
Time and memory are funny things. They share the trait of relativity. Time moves either too fast, too slow or just seems to stop altogether while memories we desperately want to keep can fade over time and others stay with us, latching onto our minds like burdocks. After over 15 years of interviewing people, I’ve found that there are some interviews I come across where I cannot even recall doing them, others I can almost recollect in full and with pitch perfect accuracy when it comes to the finer details.
My first fews interviews with Pat Barrett fall into the second category. After our first one was over, we arranged to meet again the following week. I turned up at his flat with the most complete career set you could get of his fights, as he only had a highlight reel DVD, so we squeezed in a few fights in then took in the rest during the course of the following weeks. I’d head over to the Salford Quays, where he lived at the time, then we’d chill out, put our feet up and watch fights.
Although he eventually became a world title challenger at welterweight, Barrett had once hoped to take on light-welterweight king Julio Cesar Chavez. It would have been a hard fight to make, undoubtedly Barrett would have to have travelled abroad, but it is a contest that Barrett feels would have suited him. However, his then-promoter Mickey Duff was a fading force and there was a long queue of fighters in front of Barrett. A breakout contest with former world title holder Livingstone Bramble was mooted yet never made.
Sadly, some things just do not come to pass and you must cut your cloth accordingly. As mentioned in Part One, Barrett ended up working with Frank Warren, who secured him a WBO welterweight title shot against Manning Galloway, a decision defeat. Barrett was dejected. After three wins, he suffered back-to-back losses (L12 to Del Bryan and the same result over in Belgium to Patrick Vungo) so he decided to pack his gym bag and try his luck in America. It was probably a good idea, he had a TV friendly style if he could set his punches up, but it came at the wrong time, and boxing is all about timing.
“I fought in the States [in 1994] but the States did not show me anything that I didn’t know already,” he said. “As a British kid it is all about America, so I went to the States twice in my career. I used to spar with a fighter called Eugene Speed over there, and me and him used to stop the whole gym with our sparring. I thought to myself, ‘Is this what it is about? Constantly having gym wars?’. Everyday I used to get up for a run and go to that gym for a fight. Everyday it was a fight. That is not good. It is not healthy to go for it in the gym the way you go for it in the ring.
“If you have all-out wars like that everyday and then go into the biggest fights of your life — which will probably be wars as well — imagine the toll that takes on your body. You need sparring every so often to sharpen-up but not everyday. Me and Speed used to knock the living shit out of each other, honestly. He was at least a division below me — lightweight, I think — but he was strong and he could bang, plus he lived up to the name of ‘Speed’. He was ‘Speed’ and I was ‘The Flash’.”
The ‘Black Flash’ moniker had been bestowed on Barrett by Brian Hughes MBE as a tribute to Ghanaian featherweight Roy Ankrah, also known as ‘The Black Flash’. Once Hughes compared you to a fighter from the past the expectation was that you would find out a bit more about them.
“I already knew of Ankrah, but Brian had watched him and thought he was a little like me,” Barrett had recalled at the time. “Like he watched Michael Gomez and it reminded him of Wilfredo Gomez. Brian comes up with certain little things and they stick. Knowing what I know and having been there and got the knowledge (of boxing), I can pass it on instead of wasting it. If I can get to the point where I think, ‘I can’t teach these kids anything more’ then I’ll have given something back, just in the same way [that] I was given something by Brian.
“I just try to be the way Brian was with me: positive and assertive. I ask the fighters, ‘Don’t try and bullshit me, just tell me what is real.’ I can tell them that and we get that little understanding and the big respect between us. Hearing them say they’ve gotten guidance off me is my inspiration, it is bigger than any title — I like to get those little kids and give them the courage [to box].”
Time caught up with Hughes not too long after my first meetings with Pat. Every boxing conversation we had back then would wind its way back to his mentor. Hughes had taken a kid who had turned professional to do up his flat to the British and European light-welterweight titles. In the past, Barrett had lived for the present, earning money and rolling around Manchester with his friends, only to be handed a fine future in boxing by Hughes.
“As far as I am concerned, Brian is the Godfather of British boxing,” was his oft-repeated mantra back then and that is still the case in the present day. “The only way I’ll ever know more than Brian is if he is no longer on this Earth and I’m on this Earth at the age Brian is now. Then I might have nearly as much knowledge, might.”
Parts of a documentary that was filmed about his time in America had flashed up while we discussed Hughes. Barrett and Hughes had parted company by then. It was supposed to be a comeback following the Bryan and Vungbo setbacks. Losing back-to-back fights late in your career is usually the first sign that you are on the slippery slope towards either retirement or life as a gatekeeper. Barrett was determined to prove that he could come all the way back.
I vividly recall Barrett staring at the screen then shaking his head, which is strange looking back on it as I was exceptionally chilled that particular night. “When I went over, I was with John Davenport, who was the worst trainer ever, god rest his soul — by that I mean he was a good trainer, but he thought he was still in Vietnam fighting a war,” he said. “Apparently, he was one of the only people to volunteer to go back over to Vietnam when the war was on. He volunteered to do that, and this is the guy I’m over in America with for nine to 10 months!
“I went over in November [to Pennsylvania] and it was the coldest time of year. I’m not thinking that America has got seasons, I’m thinking that America is hot, so I’m there with a few sports tops and coats and that but I’m not properly prepared for winter. I went for a run and had to put a jumper on, a ski suit on, and a thick hoodie on, but when I came back my feet were freezing.
“I’ve done a five-mile run and I’m still cold? The snow was like this high [he pointed at his knees] and the slush, I don’t even want to think about that. You have to try and stick to the main roads, but at five in the morning it is pitch black, you’ve got cars coming at you and everything, so you step onto the curb and you’re going through the slush. That was the worst part.”
Despite a fourth-round win over Donnie Parker, the thrill had gone for Barrett. The American comeback dream was already over. As I popped in the second DVD of his fights, I recalled a rumour I had heard floating around Manchester’s gyms. Legend has it that Barrett floored a young Ricky Hatton with a left hook to the body. Hatton’s trainer, Billy Graham, had confirmed it to me yet Barrett shook his head as soon as I started the question.
“Nah, man, that should stay in the ring,” he said, still shaking his head. “Even if it was true it is nothing to be boasting about because Ricky was a kid. I was a fully-fledged fighter, a man, so it is nothing to be talking about. It compliments me because Ricky has already said in his autobiography that he learned how to throw such good body shots by going around the gyms and working with pros such as myself. He got hit with a body shot and had never felt that pain before, so he wanted to learn how to do it.”
We had switched to highlight footage. Knockout after knockout, often with his vaunted left hook. Barrett was known as a quintessential left hooker, yet I felt his right hand, often thrown wide, was a big weapon in his arsenal. Luckily, we were watching him dispatching Efrem Calamati [WKO4 to win the European title] with the right hand by this point. Later footage, against Racheed Lawal [WTKO4] in 1991, again showed him setting up the left hook finish with the right in a fight that had seen Pat strip off his hefty gold jewellery in order to make the weight.
“I think the right was a good punch for me, yeah,” he had said, his eyes fixed on the screen. “I didn’t like to be known just as a left hooker because I could hit with both hands. You can watch that DVD and tell me if you think it [the left hook] is good and everyone has their opinion but there was more [to me] than that left hook. I set him [Tony Willis] up here with the right hand — as you said — and then finished him with the left hook. Bang! There he goes. People saw me winning a few titles with the left hook and forgot I had a right hand [it also dispatched Italy’s Salvatore Nardino in six].”
Knocking a man out must be a hell of a thing, especially the way Barrett knocked them out. Barrett was an exclamation knockout artist like Ensley Bingham and Wayne Alexander. If they got you clean, they would clean you right out. Alternately, they might spend a whole fight looking for that moment when they could pull the trigger but to no avail. What must it feel like when you land a shot like the one that did for Calamati?
“When you hit a shot like that you know it is over, but I just wanted to go home afterwards. I always enjoyed the day after the fight more [than the fights],” he revealed. “Especially when they were televised. It is pure relaxation because things have been so hard leading up to the fight.”
Be it a full fight or his highlights, when a crucial moment was about to flicker onto the screen Barrett would tap me on the knee and say, “Here we go!”. Then he would get lost in the memories of the fight. “In this one [Willis] I was skipping in a sauna the day before,” he said.
“I remember this one against Mike Johnson! There was nothing forced in any of those shots. Everything I threw was natural. I can see it now because I’m looking at myself as a trainer. If you would have asked me about the fights back then, I wouldn’t have had a jar of glue [clue]. Some of these fights are so long ago but the memories are so clear. Ask me what I did last week, and I won’t have a clue, yet these memories are so real. I was going through different phases with those haircuts, though!”
We were just two boxing fans slumped on a couch watching fights. The only difference was that one of us had taken part in the fights. After not seeing them for so long Barrett was recalling them in intense and living colour. Talking about knockouts prompted the question of how Barrett felt when on the other side of the fence, although never KO’d he was put down twice in his career — versus Paul Burke and Mark McCreath — plus he was badly hurt in the first round against Lawal. It must be hard when you are on the receiving end rather than dishing it out.
“I’ll never forget the knockdown against McCreath [in a British title defence],” said Barrett. “One of the biggest fears in my whole life was getting into the ring and getting knocked out — and I never did get knocked out. I was put down but never out. It was such a big fear that — and like I said about training your mind mentally — I must have gone over and over it so much that I was more surprised than hurt when it happened.
“When I went down, I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this has happened on national television.’ I was thinking about this when the referee was counting. He gets to about eight and I realised that I had to stop talking to myself and get up. I was so mad and so angry that it woke me up. It was the best thing McCreath could do, for me, but not for him! Watching these clips is good. This is McCreath now. Bang. There goes the right hand.
“This guy here [Calamati] has just swallowed his tongue. They’re trying to get the gumshield out. They had to escort me out of the ring in Italy. I was one of few people who had gone over to Italy and done that [won the European title]. Lloyd Honeyghan had done it. All the critics had said I wouldn’t do it and all that was going through my brain [when I won], but I couldn’t celebrate properly. We had a police escort out of the ring, and we got called everything under the sun. The next day, at the airport, they all loved us and were asking me to come back. At first, I grabbed the belt and shouted, “Brian, they’re coming”, but they were okay with me.”
It was around this time that I had become fascinated with the history of boxing shows taking place on Christmas Day after looking through the record of Mike Algoet, who boxed on the annual Belgium Christmas Day show four times. I was really looking forward to getting Barrett’s insight into that type of show as his last fight took place on one. Then he broke down the reality of it.
“I went over on my own,” said Barrett. “I remember it as the worst day of my life. Christmas Day and I’m in Belgium having the last fight of my life. Brian didn’t want me to make a comeback, but I was told to go over to Belgium and make a load of money. It was good to be told that I was just as good as I used to be, you just want that hype of someone telling you that you still have it. Brian was telling me the truth.
“I beat the kid [Marino Monteyne] on points. I realised that those types of kids wouldn’t have lasted with the old Pat Barrett — I was kidding myself. I was disappointed, but I had to tell myself that I was no longer as good as I thought I was. I had to accept the truth myself. That was one of the hardest things to cope with and deal with.”
Barrett was still fighting in 2009 only not in the ring, he was fighting for the right to enter it as a trainer. The Board were reluctant at first only for Barrett to continue plugging away until he got the trainer’s licence that he so craved. Boxing is all about rehabilitation, we are told, so it was only right that once he had made his way back to the straight and narrow Barrett found himself in a position to advise others. Although he had insisted that you can only be helped if you want to be helped.
“Nah, nah, that is not my job,” he said when asked if he wanted to educate others. “I can’t tell people how to act right — I’d be a hypocrite. The only thing I will do is tell them [that] there are two ways they can do things. This way [the right way] and that way [the wrong way] — then the choice is theirs. The more you tell a fighter not to do something the more they will do it. My mates used to say, ‘Pat, you shouldn’t come with us because you can be a world champion’. I felt that they were fobbing me off. I would rebel against things even more but what they meant, in the nicest way, was that I didn’t need it [the running around]. You then have to go through it and cope with things yourself.”
Barrett had already been through a lot by then and went through a lot more. He was attacked at a show not long after. Family members were attacked and even killed. People said that he would never move on to a new life. Eleven years on he has done exactly that and true to his word is trying to replicate the success that Hughes enjoyed.
Back in 2009, the DVD had stopped playing. We were thrown from Pat’s past right back into the present day. It was throwing it down outside. “I’ll give you a lift home,” said Barrett, rising to his feet. I got in the car first. Before getting in, Barrett clicked his seatbelt into place then sat down on top of it. I imagine I had quite a quizzical look on my face as he said, “It stops that beeping sound and means I can get out the car quickly if I need to.”
We drove from Salford through to central Manchester, the rivulets of rain dropping from his sleek car and dripping down to the city streets. It was a Friday night so when we parked up outside where I lived a group of teenagers had congregated on a balcony overlooking my house. I noticed that Barrett was about to get out of the car and again must have looked puzzled. He said, “They are disrespecting your house, mate, so I’m going to go and talk to them.”
I knew that the teenagers would back down the moment Barrett shot a glance in their direction. I also knew that they would struggle to cope with their wounded collective male pride and would be back later and even more drunk than before. I really, really wanted to just chill out by this point and had to think fast.
“Pat, I really appreciate that, but they’ll move on and I still have to live around here.”
“Cool, I get you,” he replied before shooting them a final glance and screeching away.
As I headed towards the door, I gave one of the lads my biggest “Fuck yous!” smile. “What the fuck are you smiling at, you fucking smackhead?” he shouted (beards were not as common back then, although to be fair I was also absolutely ripped), not even showing me an ounce of gratitude for sparing him Barrett’s “Manson lamps”. Looking back, I should have told him — they’d have loved that.
Main image: Pat Barrett in WBO title action against Manning Galloway. Photo: Press Association.