From the moment we met, I knew that retired former British and European light-welterweight champion Pat Barrett (37-4-1, 28 KOs) and I would get on like a house on fire.
It was a typically rainy summer evening here in Manchester. It was 2009. Barrett had recently resurfaced after a stint in prison for possession of a small account of heroin and cannabis plus possession of a firearm. I was still drinking coffee back then so had knocked two back en route to meeting him. Barrett had not given us his address, he had just given us a location so that he could direct us back to his apartment, which was a stone’s throw away from Salford Quays.
Our initial meeting had been facilitated by a local photographer, Andy Ball, who had earned Pat’s trust. Ball and I waited for 30 minutes at the spot that had been given to us by Barrett. Eventually, Barrett phoned and asked us where we were. It turned out we were in the same place, but we were on opposite sides of the building. Once we all hooked up, Barrett asked us to follow him to his apartment.
Once we got there, Pat got out of his car and ambled over to us. I’d met him once before. When I was a kid his name rang out across Manchester. My dad and I were near a garage in Ardwick once. My dad said, “That’s Pat Barrett over there!” He was still a fighter at the time. He said, “Hello” and passed a few words. Barrett had a reputation for being a fearsome puncher in the ring and, let’s face it, a bit of a boy outside of it. You definitely wouldn’t want to mess with him, the people said.
It is a funny thing, though. Lots of people see Pat as an intimidating physical presence — don’t get me wrong, he is — but as a boy and then a man I thought there was a shyness about him. Or maybe he just likes to gauge your character before opening up to you.
Once we got inside the apartment building, Barrett and I made chitchat in the elevator. It was typical Mancunian “I know that person/place, too”, as I used to split my summers between Gorton and Ancoats so knew his native North Manchester well. Pat told us that his apartment was situated on the ninth and final floor of the building. Then I noticed that the building we were in had 19 floors.
“You know what”, said Barrett, “we are in the wrong building!” I knew we were going to get along tremendously. We managed to get to the right building, navigated the lift, arrived at the apartment and were ready to begin the interview. By this point, my coffees and a litre of water had kicked in so my opening question was, “I’m sorry, Pat, but I really need to go for a piss. Where is the toilet?”
I was mortified. I thought I’d blown the chance to interview an enigma — a man shrouded in mystery, and wrapped in a cloak of mystique and local legend. As I schlepped away, I heard Barrett say, “That’s the main man right there — I like him.” It helped me relax and we could finally begin.
Rumour had it that he was either dead, in hiding or still in jail. There was very little trace of Barrett on the internet around this time. However, he had a clear plan and, when I asked him what the first part of it was, he looked me in the eyes and said, “People think I’m either dead or in jail — I want to change that.”
It was a decent interview. One that was lost when the website I was writing for went kaput. I had been told that Barrett didn’t have footage of his fights so had managed to source an entire career DVD set online. We ended up watching most of his highlight reel KOs and nearly all of his full fights over a period of a few months.
We reviewed his fight against Mike Johnson that first night. Barrett shook his head. The “Black Flash” had lined up a fight against WBO welterweight holder Manning Galloway only for the contest to be postponed a few times. That and the fact that Barrett preferred to boil himself down to light-welterweight to maintain his focus was his reason, not excuse, for his failure to win a world title.
“I didn’t want to move up a weight at all,” he said during that initial meeting. “Everyone said, ‘Move up a weight, you’re struggling to make weight’, but I honestly preferred the hard work of stripping down to the weight. When you have to work hard to make the weight you are properly in the zone. You get stripped and ripped. Carrying that extra few pounds, I felt strong, but it wasn’t natural for me. I was mentally strong, but not physically strong — if you know what I mean.
“At 10 stone, I knew I had all the advantages. I fought Delroy Bryan at welterweight for the British title and lost on points. It wasn’t [just] the strength, it was the fact it was not right for me. I trained hard for the welterweight fights, but there was something missing. I had to train extremely hard to make light-welterweight, extremely hard.
“Skipping in saunas and all that to shift pounds [as was the case prior to the win over Tony Willis] — that to me was part of the training. It wasn’t right for me if I didn’t have to train like that. Does that sound mad? At welterweight, I was already there [at the weight] and would come to training two pounds over the weight — this was nothing for me — so I had more impact at the lower weight.”
Thrown into the mix was the fact that the Galloway fight was called off a number of times. Barrett felt that the man known as ‘The Spoiler’ had used the delays to deflate Barrett and work out a way to defuse his style, he said: “First time I was supposed to fight Galloway I would have knocked him out. I was down to fight him three times. One time it was [cancelled] bang on the press conference. Imagine, you’re at your press conference waiting to fight for the world title. You have your meal and are getting ready for the biggest fight of your life only to get told, ‘The fight is off’. I was like, ‘What do you mean the fight’s off?’
“The guy had to go back to America [Galloway cited gastroenteritis as the reason for the delay]. It was hard. Do you know how demoralising it feels? You’ve done all that hard work and it is now your time. You’ve got the papers, the news and all the people saying, ‘Barrett is going to get his title fight’. Next thing you know boom, the fight is cancelled.
“I fought Mike Johnson [instead, in 1991], but my mind was gone out of it [Barrett was hurt badly in round one before finishing his opponent with a left hook off the ropes]. I didn’t want to even be in the ring that night. They asked me if I wanted to fight and I just [shrugs]. It ain’t no world title fight. It doesn’t mean anything. I wasn’t even bothered about getting the payday by then. When it was all about the payday, I would have cared but it was now about the title and I wasn’t interested [in the non-title bout]. I just had to take the fight to stay busy.”
Winning a title can boil down to the right opponent, the right time and the right place, this wasn’t the case for Barrett. He won most titles apart from a world crown. As that first meeting came to an end, I asked him if he had any regrets.
“The way it is with me, the way I see it, is that I went as far as I should have gone,” he told me at the time. “I was supposed to achieve nothing. Anything else after British the title fights and the eventual WBO title fight was above what I expected and when [the time] is gone there is no looking back. I don’t ask myself if I should have done anything different.”
That was then. Barrett had let people know he was still about, and he is still about to this day. This is the moment, the now. He promotes shows, trains fighters and is still an integral part of the Manchester scene. Two of his fighters, light-heavyweight Lyndon Arthur (17-0, 12 KOs) and super-featherweight Zelfa Barrett (24-1, 15 KOs), have fought behind closed doors during Lockdown.
Arthur used his jab to dominate Scunthorpe’s Dec Spelman over 12 to set up a meeting with London rival Anthony Yarde. Zelfa had some struggles against Eric Donovan before detonating a Pat-esque left hook to close the show earlier in eight this month. Barrett is not an easy man to please. However, during a long overdue catch-up he told Boxing Social that he was happy with both performances for a variety of reasons.
“For Lyndon, it was about the rounds,” he said. “He’s been doing the smaller rounds on smaller shows in the past. Then you have to step up and do the longer rounds, and he’s done that now in two fights against Emmanuel Anim and Spelman. The first one when he won the Commonwealth title against Anim was hard. Then he boxed Spelman and it was easier because he’d done the distance and knew how to box and pace himself. I just wanted Lyndon to get those rounds in and do it in style. This is why we picked an opponent where he could relax and work on certain things.”
After the win, Barrett heaped respect on both Yarde and Tunde Ajayi, his trainer, only for Yarde to diss and dismiss Arthur’s performance as “Boring”. Barrett, though, believes that the rounds in the bank are invaluable and that when Yarde fights Spelman on September 12 he will be meeting someone who has already had the fight beaten out of them.
“I don’t have any animosity towards them, it is business,” declared Barrett. “If you don’t respect your opponent then that is when it goes wrong. You have to respect their accomplishments and what they achieve. We believe this will bring the best out of us. Yarde is entitled to his opinion if he thinks it was a boring performance. But what is a boring performance? Did he want fireworks and all that? We got the performance that Lyndon needed and I thought he did well. Lyndon stuck to his gameplan. That’s the discipline.
“Yarde doesn’t know what it is like to do those 12 rounds. Against [Sergey] Kovalev, he put in the performance of his career, but then he blew out later on. You can look at records and say he’d stop half the kids that Lyndon stopped. Then you can say Lyndon would stop half of the kids he’s stopped. The real battle comes when they fight each other. It is not about who has fought who. It is about what happens when they fight each other. That is the real ballgame.”
As a fighter, Barrett was a dynamic puncher, as a trainer he is obsessed with correct technique. I’ve watched Barrett brutally dissect decent performances. This time, though, he said he was pleased with what he saw from Arthur once all factors were considered.
“I give him a high level rating for that fight,” he said. “We know that against Yarde we can predict what Yarde will try to do to Lyndon, I know it. I’m really sorry to say this about Spelman, but he isn’t a top-class performer and we’ve softened him up for Yarde. Why take a fighter that we’ve already softened up for you? If you want to prove a point why not do it somewhere else? If he gets stopped they’ll say, ‘We knocked him out, Lyndon went the distance with him’. Lyndon broke him down with the jab, with the hiding he got he may as well have got stopped.”
Yarde-Arthur should produce fireworks. If it gets made it will be a sure sign that boxing is on the road to recovery following some pretty disappointing TV ratings for the post-Lockdown shows. Speaking of the Lockdown, I remembered a conversation with Barrett from years ago when he revealed how he coped during his time in prison. He didn’t have to worry about attacks from other prisoners, it was the slowing of time and staving off boredom that he had to deal with.
“I used to keep to myself,” he had said back in 2009. “I managed to get a little portable TV and a kettle, so I’d just watch the soaps with a cup of tea to break time up – Emmerdale, Corrie and Eastenders. The worst part about doing time was when you got visitors. Time is moving on for them and standing still for you. That’s the hardest part.”
Over a decade later, the entire nation entered Lockdown. We moved into a whole new way of life. Among the many thoughts that went through my head was Pat and his soaps. ‘Pat will love this,’ I thought, so I asked him if the experiences of his past had informed his present.
“This Lockdown is a blessing in one sense, you have to focus on the positives and ignore the negatives,” he replied. “You can focus on the next shows, the next fights. I’m putting things together on social media. We did some flashback stuff for the Black Flash YouTube channel and can focus on the fighters with that. There is still stuff to work on.”
Barrett is even on WhatsApp these days. When I discovered this I sent him a message and he sent one back that contained a few emojis. “May we live in interesting times,” springs to mind. As for the soaps. “That was my jail routine,” he recalled. “You need something to focus the time on. It allows you to get into a routine. I’m on Netflix now, bro’ — that is more my thing. There is always something to watch.”
“It is better than waiting all day in jail for the soaps to come on,” he said with a chuckle. “Life is an experience. This is all an experience. We don’t know what comes next. We just need to get boxing back up again and see what the future brings for everyone.”
Pat’s past is behind him, things are going well in the present and the future is bright. As I listened back to our latest interview, I remembered the first meeting in 2009 that had been meant to be a relatively short one then went on for hours and led to many nights in watching fights over many months. At the end of that first one, I had asked him what he wanted to achieve by talking so openly.
“I want to let people know that I’m still around,” he had said. “We’ve had the banter watching these fights again, and it went well, so hopefully people can read this and make up their own minds about me by getting to know me a bit.”
A decade later and Pat Barrett is definitely still around, and he will be for a long time.
In Part Two Barrett analyses Zelfa Barret’s win over Eric Donovan and talks about the small hall scene.
Main image: Pat Barrett WKO9 Tony Willis, May 1989. Photo: Press Association/Sport and General/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.