This week, one of my favorite fighters, Pat “HD” Barry — whose nickname rang false for me until a post-Christmas fire sale at Target — retired from active mixed martial arts competition after a six-year run and a 15-7 record.
Barry was not one of my favorite by virtue of being a star, or by virtue of transcendent in-ring accomplishments (see Jon Jones, Floyd Mayweather, etc). He was more of an Emanuel Augustus-type figure; Augustus, a pro boxer and relative journeyman who recently retired with a modest-seeming record of 38-34, became famous for taking on any and all opponents he could, from club fighters to established division kings, sometimes on ultra-short notice. He took Mickey Ward the distance; Mayweather himself calls Augustus the toughest fighter he’d ever faced.
Barry is a simpler figure: he just wants to hit people in the head, really hard. His path to the UFC took him through international san shou competition, an 18-6 stint in K-1 where most of his losses were to top-flight competition like Freddy Kemayo, and a bizarre tenure in Chuck Norris’ World Combat League, a glorified point sparring competition.
He signed on with the UFC in 2007, where he garnered as much a reputation for exciting, violent knockout finishes as he did for almost embarrassingly simple submission losses. First, he TKOd sacrificial lamb Dan Evensen with a barrage of leg kicks, quite the accomplishment even if you’re built like 16 bulldogs stacked together and your opponent is a hand-picked tomato can; he followed that up with a guillotine submission loss to Tim Hague, a fighter still famous for mainly two things: being really freaking tall (6’10) and being on the receiving end of a seven-second TKO at the hands of Todd Duffee; he then rallied to KO fellow kickboxing transplant Antoni Hardonk after being handled for most of the first round.
It was in the aftermath of the Hardonk fight that Barry truly began to endear himself to many fans, myself included. In a post-fight interview, Barry revealed that he had been living on little other sustenance than ketchup and rice and, at the time of the fight, was less than one week away from being evicted from his home. The fight earned both Barry and Hardonk $50,000 extra in the form of a “Fight of the Night” bonus, and Barry himself another $50,000 for his Knockout of the Night. Tack on his show and win money, and that brought his one-night total to $134,000.
The ensuing days were a mashup of sunshine, rainbows, and outrage. Barry did more interviews, a justifiably massive grin on his face when he talked about the multi-hour hassle of trying to deposit a $134,000 check into his bank account; the KO of Hardonk went fairly viral, and even wormed its way into a few sports news outlets with a non-combat focus.
At the same time, the circumstances surrounding the leadup to the fight — namely, the notion that Barry was, in a sense, fighting for his very life — brought to light some serious flaws in the UFC’s salary structure. Barry made $134,000 that night, sure, but more than two-thirds of that was bonus money. Without the extra hundred grand, he’d have only made $34,000 with a win, and even less with a loss. At best, that’s a lower-middle class annual income.
Mixed martial artists, ideally, fight up to four times a year but injuries to themselves and to their prospective opponents, illness, and other x-factors end up derailing those plans more often than not. Barry, despite his crowd-pleasing style and cult following, never was and never was going to be one of the UFC’s marquee stars, and thus had little in the way of seminar fees and hefty endorsement deals to pay the bills when things got tight.
Following the Hardonk win, Barry would largely alternate wins and losses before suffering a quick and surprising TKO at the hands of Soa Palelei this past December. Soon afterwards, Barry announced his intention to return to professional kickboxing, and signed with the GLORY promotion for a projected May debut.
I admit I’m skeptical; aside from packing a massive punch and a leg kick that would stop a tank — Barry’s thighs are roughly the same circumference as a manhole cover — he was never really all that great at kickboxing to begin with. He put in good showings against top competition, but the highlight of his career came when he stopped Gary Goodridge in 2007, which is kind of like me winning a rhetoric contest with the dust that used to be Socrates’ corpse.
After seeing his UFC career take a nosedive after it became apparent that Barry was absolutely determined to go out on his shield, it makes me worry that he’s now signed to the same organization that features such heavyweight killers and vets as Remy Bonjasky, Semmy Schilt, Daniel Ghita and Gokhan Saki.
Barry does what he does, and always has, I think, out of both a personal love for combat and because it provides him a rare outlet for connecting with people. He may never set records, let alone break them, and he will probably go little better than .500 throughout the remainder of his kickboxing career. But he is one of the few sportsmen that has been able to lay bare the best and the ugliest of a sport that he loves, to slake our thirst for vicarious combat even as it may be against his better interest. Such wide-eyed sacrifice we should aspire to in all things.