When Zelfa Barrett (24-1, 15 KOs) finished Eric Donovan with a brutal left hook in the eighth round in August, many thought that the 27-year-old had produced a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card after losing the majority of rounds up to that point.

It was too good to be called a lucky punch, but the Mancunian had struggled throughout the fight against his previously undefeated opponent so you could argue that fortune was on his side.  

Pat Barrett, Zelfa’s trainer and uncle, bridles at any suggestion that luck was involved. Since his nephew lost to Ronnie Clark by majority decision in 2018, the two have put a lot of work in at the gym to ensure that panic does not set in no matter how hard things get during a fight. The older Barrett believes that the lessons learned in the Clark defeat are paying off and that 2021 will be the year when Zelfa’s latent potential is fully realised.  

“That punch was something we’d worked on,” Pat Barrett told Boxing Social. “I tell my fighters you can lose rounds, but the main thing is not to lose the fight so not to panic if they lose a few. What matters to me is what the result is at the end of the fight. You are still in it until that final bell. 

“Zelfa makes the other kids work now without exerting himself as much. Donovan had a good gameplan, but so was ours. Being a champion isn’t just about ability, you also need belief and a strong mindset. People look at that one shot, but he was breaking him down steadily. It isn’t just about what the trainer tells you, it can come down to how comfortable you feel in the ring. Donovan was catching Zelfa, so he was happy with that, but he wasn’t hurting him.  

“No disrespect to anyone out there, but if I was in a corner where you are getting the rounds but not hurting the opponent I’d say, ‘Right, stay away from him now’, and get them through to the final bell. Zelfa was walking through what was coming at him so that he could counter. If Donovan threw less there’d have been less of an opportunity for that left hook. We work on that all the time — block and throw, block and throw.”  

Barrett was a knockout artist himself during his British and European light-welterweight title winning career. As a trainer, he shares his former mentor Brian Hughes MBE’s obsession for mastering the fundamentals. He argued that there are some things that are innate in a fighter and other things must be drawn out of them through hours of hard graft behind closed doors.  

“I show all my fighters how to throw a proper left hook and jab,” he said. “You can win a fight with the jab alone. You need to have it drilled into you. Any coach should do that. If they don’t do it then they shouldn’t be in their job. Once a fighter fully understands what a jab can do for them, they get behind it and put it to work.  

“That is the fundamental thing in our gym. I don’t just want to get them fit, I want to train their brains. I’m like the Wizard of Oz. I don’t have to give you courage, I don’t have to give you heart — those are things that come from within — but I can give you a brain and ring intelligence.

“People sometimes forget that I was trained by Brian Hughes,” he added. “The legacy left to me to give to my fighters was to never give up, be determined and apply yourself to what you are told to do. Zelfa asked if he was losing, so I told him he wasn’t but that it was very close. I’d never tell a fighter that they were losing because they could give up hope. I told him to look at the kid, that the kid was fucked and to get his hands up, walk him down and look for the openings because they were there. The last time I told him a fight was close he got beat. We learned from that night.”  

Zelfa is promoted by Eddie Hearn whereas another of his charges, light-heavyweight Lyndon Arthur, is allied with Frank Warren. Barrett told me that he values his long working relationship with Warren while at the same time respecting Zelfa’s decision to take control of the management side of his career. All things being equal, he hopes to see even more progression next year. 

“Zelfa has his own manager who brought him over to Matchroom,” he said. “I’ve got a long history with Frank, so I work closely with Frank for Lyndon. It is all working out for everyone and I’m pleased with both of their recent performances. We will see a lot more from them next time around.”