By Ryan Songalia
At age 40, Monte Barrett is in the final stage of his professional boxing career. He's never won "The Big One," but he's usually been around the top of the division, giving hell to everyone just short of the elite level.
His career hasn't been unlike that of his next opponent David Tua, who Barrett will be facing on August 13 at the TelstraClear Pacific in Manukau City, New Zealand, in a rematch of their controversial draw a year ago. The show is called "Redemption," but Barrett wonders who stands to be redeemed more.
"I think it's more for me than him," said Barrett, 34-9-2 (20 KO), who grew up in Queens, N.Y., but has lived in Bayonne, N.J., for the past two years.
"Tua and I have unfinished business. That's why the rematch is something I wanted and he wanted as well."
After a shaky beginning to their first fight, Barrett found his rhythm in the middle rounds, peppering Tua with punches as the Samoan fan favorite started to slow down. Barrett scored the first legitimate knockdown of the anvil-chinned Tua in the 12th and final round, which some felt was enough to earn Barrett the decision.
Should he emerge victorious in the rematch, Barrett says Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith has promised a victory parade through the Hudson County city.
Prior to the first Tua fight, Barrett had one foot in the sport and one out of it as he eyed a position with HBO Sports. Barrett says that HBO Senior Vice President of Sports Programming Kery Davis reached out to him last year and offered him a position similar to the late Arthur Curry's, as a liaison between the fighters, executives and the community.
"I was asked by Kery Davis, 'Would be willing to give up boxing for this position?' I said, 'Yes, you can't serve two masters.'
"I felt like I could have longevity at HBO. I've reaped the fruits of my labor and this would be my reward, being able to do something for boxing on the executive end. That's why I thought that would be my last fight."
Barrett said the job fell through when AOL Time Warner, which owns HBO, put a freeze on new hires at HBO some time after Davis' right hand man, Luis Barragan, left the company to enlist in the military.
It's unclear how the recent resignation of HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg will affect future hires.
"So the position hasn't opened up yet; it's supposed to open up some time this year. In the meantime, Kery gave me his blessings to do what I want to do. That's what I'm doing," Barrett said.
An email to Davis on Friday seeking comment wasn't returned by Tuesday evening.
With HBO on hold, Barrett's options were simple; continue boxing and seek fights with re-emerging heavyweight Cris Arreola or a rematch with former champ David Haye, or pursue a passion that he has grappled with for most of his life.
He is considering going to pro wrestling school.
Barrett's friend John Cena - who just lost the WWE championship at this past weekend's pay-per-view event - has encouraged the 6-foot-3, 220 pound Barrett to give it a try in another sort of ring. Cena has offered to have Barrett train at WWE's developmental program Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa, Fla., the city where Cena calls home.
Wrestling and boxing have often crossed paths throughout history. Most recently, Floyd Mayweather Jr. had a foray into sports entertainment, "knocking out" The Big Show, a wrestler named Paul Wight, who can frequently be spotted at boxing events in Florida.
Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and others have been a part of wrestling events in the past, as competitors, special guest referees and "special enforcers."
"I've always been a big wrestling fan since 'Superfly' Jimmy Snuka back in the '70s and '80s. You never know, you might turn around and I might hang up the boxing gloves and have some tight [wrestler CM] Punk panties on," said Barrett, eliciting a laugh.
Then, rethinking his prior statement, Barrett reconsiders his wrestling attire: "I don't know about the Speedos; we'll figure it out. Maybe I'll do the John Cena thing and wear the jean shorts."
Barrett had stopped following wrestling for a number of years, picking it up again when his son - one of Barrett's six children - started becoming an avid follower. Barrett, who had met Cena through a mutual friend named "Rock" (Not "The Rock," Dwayne Johnson) who helps Cena with his music career, became his son's hero anew when he revealed that he was friends with Cena.
"My son said, 'Dad, I love God and I love wrestling. That's how much I love wrestling.' He knows all the wrestlers, all the moves."
Barrett, whose best weapon throughout his boxing career has been his overhand right, sometimes winged from the side, would need a more aesthetically pleasing finisher, and it's something that he's already given thought to.
"I thought about bringing the Cobra Clutch back, I love that by Sgt. Slaughter," said Barrett. "I love the figure four leg-lock by Greg Valentine and Ric Flair. I love the cross-faced chicken wing by Bob Backlund. Those are my favorite moves. I'm not gonna be a Jimmy Snuka jumping off the top rope. I love the energy of the Ultimate Warrior and 'Mr. Wonderful' Paul Orndoff."
WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Johnny Rodz runs "Johnny Rodz School of Wrestling" out of the famed boxing academy Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rodz boasts former WWE and ECW stars The Dudley Boyz, Tazz and Tommy Dreamer among his students.
Rodz, whose real name is Johnny Rodriguez, says that a professional athlete like Barrett coming from another sport could successfully make the transition to pro wrestling, even at the age of 40. It all depends on how much Barrett is willing to commit to the training.
"If he's been a good athlete at 40, he's still a baby," said Rodz. "A 21-year-old can't do nothing if he's a bum. You have guys who are 21 but look like they're 40. If he's a good athlete, then he has ten years of action left in him."
"If he has any love for wrestling, then I would say he has a hell of a chance to do something with it. In life, everything you do is something you're a fan of or something you love to be in. That’s why I did it so many years.
"There is no answer until they take him in and train him. If he doesn't have it, then they're wasting their time and he's wasting his time."
Barrett isn't committing to a decision, however.
"I've given it a lot of thought but I'm undecided yet. Just like John said, 'Focus on winning this fight. Win, lose or draw, you still could do a lot in wrestling, but with a win, it's a better storyline.'
"My whole thing always was to have options, so the only thing I'm focusing on is this fight at this point in time. After this fight, and I come home then I can clear my head and think about my next move."
The conversation switched over to the similarities between boxing and wrestling, which Barrett felt there was none. I asked whether he felt boxing could take a few lessons from wrestling and how it's marketed, and whether borrowing from the "script" could put people in boxing event seats.
He didn't seem optimistic.
"The biggest thing that wrestling has is that they have committed, dedicated fans. The boxing world doesn't have that. Boxing fans are bandwagon fans; they're going with who's hottest. Wrestling, they love wrestling as a whole. Boxing fans, they love the boxers like Mayweather, Bernard [Hopkins]. They love certain fighters.
"That's why on such a broad worldwide level, everybody loves wrestling. In boxing, we don't have that. The fans are not loyal fans."
For now, the only ring Barrett is concerned about is the boxing ring.
"After I beat David Tua and come back, then I'll start weighing my options," he said.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected] . An archive of his work can be found atwww.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryansongalia .