By Terence Dooley
Pat Barrett is on a mission. The former British and European light-welterweight champion made it all the way to a WBO welterweight world title challenge during his boxing career — a decision defeat to the tricky Manning Galloway at Manchester’s G-Mex Centre in July 1992 — and he wants to use his experience to guide a new generation of fighters into contention.
Barrett retired in 1994 with a 37-4-1 (28) record, he now works as a trainer alongside Thomas McDonagh at the Collyhurst and Moston Lads Club — the two men boxed out of the same gym under the watchful eye of Brian Hughes MBE during their respective professional careers. Barrett, though, is tired of seeing his fighters train day in and day out only to struggle to secure fight dates. “The Black Flash” has joined forces with Gareth Williams, the former CEO of Hatton Promotions, to set up a promotional partnership that will offer his growing stable regular dates and the chance to build up a following.
Barrett used to work in a similar capacity with local promoter Wally Dixon when they put on small hall shows at local hotels and venues in the mid-noughties; he hopes to build on the work he started with Dixon by combining his deep knowledge of boxing with the law and business acumen that Williams displayed during his time with Ricky Hatton’s stable of fighters.
“When I started my own boxing career, I had a deal with Tommy Miller, who dealt with the journeyman types,” said Barrett when speaking to BoxingScene about his new venture. “I would travel all over the place just to get a fight and build my experience up.
“I was on the road, going to places like Peterborough, Scotland and even Switzerland. I’d fight guys with winning records like Jim Moffat [W TKO 1], [future British and Commonwealth lightweight titlist] Paul Burke [L6] and Iskender Savas [W TKO 1]. I was supposed to be a kid to put on the records of other prospects, but I was never going to be bowled over by anybody — that’s not what I was about.
“But this traveling around helped me learn my trade — I was ready when I stepped up to take the Central Area [light-welterweight] title by beating Kevin Plant [W10]. Brian Hughes would tell me to get my bags packed and away we’d go. It kept me busy, but it meant I didn’t fight in Manchester, where I live and where my fans were, until my eighth fight [a second-round TKO win over Oliver Henry]. I was just a name in the papers for most local fans until that point. Then they saw me live and got onboard, but these lads today don’t get either of those things unless they’re signed to a big name.
“Back in those days, guys like Tommy and Jack Trickett always had these little shows on. Once you got on one and showed what you could do they’d bring you back for more. I want my lads to have the best of both worlds — I want them out regularly and to be fighting close to home so they can build a following to sell tickets to. That’s why I’ve made the decision to go for my promotional licence with the BBBoC.”
Boxing is feeling the pinch of the recession here in the U.K. With the big shows populated by fighters who are on the books of the major promoters and small hall shows now increasingly few and far between, Barrett fears that we are facing the prospect of a lost generation of talent. The 46-year-old wants to provide a platform for those who come out of the amateur game without an Olympic gold medal or major tournament wins.
“You won’t get too far in a fight if you can’t breathe fresh oxygen into your lungs,” said Barrett. “It is the same for the sport. Boxing’s running out of oxygen and you know what happens if you don’t have air to breathe, you die. We’re killing the sport because, unless you’re a major amateur name, there’s no regular work for a load of fighters who could have a chance of making it to the top.
“Look at [WBA Super bantamweight interim title holder] Scott Quigg, he didn’t turn pro with no fancy medals and big noise, but he worked his way up on Steve Wood’s [VIP Promotion] shows. Scott hasn’t looked back since Brian retired and he joined up with Joe Gallagher. Scott learned his trade in the background with regular fights. Then he went into a gym with lots of name stars in it and now he’s the main star — the man who is going for a proper world title. It just goes to show you that the guys you didn’t hear about in the amateurs can go far. We need to make sure these kids have got a good chance of making it as pros. That’s why we need to keep them busy, get their skills tight and show the local fans that they’ve got fighters who they can get behind.”
Indeed, Barrett believes that fighters from humble beginnings can develop themselves without the pressure of securing a big name promoter. Plus he argued that some of the fighters on the books of the major promotional outfits could be used on small hall bills to add a bit of glamour and avoid the pitfall of inactivity during their formative professional years.
“Wally and me used to have people like Tommy [McDonagh], Mike [Jennings] and fighters who were tied to big name promoters on our shows,” said Barrett. “We could do that now as well because if your promoter is only putting shows on a handful of times a year then you’re going to have fighters who are left hanging around. The ticket sellers and star names are the first to go on those bills.
“We could mix these guys up with our guys, but won’t try to use that as an excuse to go too big too fast. Too many small promoters want to be big-time promoters, we just want to keep things ticking over and provide these local lads with a chance to fight, which means that other lads come into the other corner to provide them with tests. People will get work.”
Barrett and McDonagh are currently training a new batch of youngsters. The likes of Michael Aaron Jr. and Matthew Ryan lead the pro part of the gym. The amateurs include Taka Bambere, Ben Mulligan, Lyndon Arthur and Zelfa Barrett, Pat’s nephew. Barrett expects his amateur charges to make waves, but he will use his promotional vehicle to drive their careers forward should they head into the paid ranks without the backing of Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn or one of the other big promoters.
“These lads know what Scott did and what type of background he had,” he said. “They know that you can have humble beginnings then go far. They’ve seen Scott’s journey. I’m going to make sure that this thing is off the ground so that they don’t have to sit on the shelf if they want to go pro.
“The great thing is that we can build something up and start the ball rolling. If you open a shop and it starts to do well then other people will think: ‘Hang on a second, he’s doing it so maybe I can’, and get their own thing going. Boxing needs small hall shows, like the ones Steve Wood does, because we used to have entire weekends that were full of those little bills. We need to get that back and you could entice other people to try to do a long-term investment like this.
“Young fighters aren’t getting the chances they used to get. We know there’s big amateur names coming through, but where’s the new Pat Barretts? Where’s the fighters who learn their trade on small shows then fight for titles after sparking people out left, right and centre? I want to bring through those kids that take you by surprise and make you say: ‘Wow, where did he come from?’
“With the help of Gareth Williams I can bring some great days back to this area. I can follow proper mangers and promoters like Miller and Trickett. Gareth can advise and guide these fighters to help them avoid the problems that hold kids back. Gareth has got loads of experience of dealing with the contract issues and has great connections. Together we have everything it takes to make this thing work — I love boxing too much for it not to work.”
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