By Terence Dooley
“I’ve already told you that I’m not a promoter, I’m a trainer who took out a promoter’s licence to get fights for his kids,” was former British and European light-welterweight champion Pat Barrett’s response after I dropped the P-Word a few times too many during a chat about his decision to stage his own boxing shows.
“Listen, we all have to remember why we do this. Nobody owns boxing, we are products of it and of the people who went before us, but none of us are here forever. We’ve got a duty to the game to leave it in a better state than we found it in. We need to bring the love back into the sport.”
The Mancunian worked with local promoter Wally Dixon in 2007. The two remain friends, but Pat recently ventured out on his own, launching Black Flash Promotions in August with fellow former pros Thomas McDonagh and Paulie Da Silva, and with Gareth Williams, formerly of Hatton Promotions, playing an advisory role.
Ironically, McDonagh and Da Silva boxed on a Dixon show in April 2007. WBA World Super bantamweight titlist Scott Quigg—who used to train at the Collyhurst and Moston Lads Club, once the base of renowned trainer and manager Brian Hughes MBE and now owned by McDonagh—debuted on the undercard, a six-twos decision over Brian Sheil.
The 47-year-old former fighter bristles at the idea that he has now passed into the rank-and-file of the men who run the game; he views the move as a necessary evil. “This is the most stressful thing I’ve been involved with,” admitted Barrett, who plans a big 2015 starting with his second show in Middleton on January 31. “Fighters had to pull out (of his maiden October show). Matty [Hall] got a shoulder injury, but he’s so tough he’d have stepped up anyway. I didn’t want him to risk it.”
Hall, Matthew Ryan, “Brown Flash” Zelfa Barrett, his nephew, Sean Benn Mulligan and Blaise Yepmou Mendouo make up Pat’s pack. The Cameroonian Super heavyweight sought asylum up in Sunderland after leaving the Olympic Village in 2012 before heading to Manchester on the advice of Paul Martin, a friend of Barrett’s.
“You’ve got to have patience, too,” he advised his fighters. “When Matthew Ryan came to train with me, I didn’t put him out straight away. I wanted him to develop in the gym. Matthew listened. After his first fight with me, his entire family came over to thank me—it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. That’s worth more than money. Money is already second or third-hand by the time it gets to you.”
Barrett struggled to adjust following his retirement in 1995 with a 37-4-1 (28) record. Life took him in another direction, but he eventually returned to the sport when former trainer and mentor Brian Hughes MBE brought him back into the fold.
“I was under Brian’s wing learning my training apprenticeship,” recalled Barrett. “My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to do what Brian did. I believe in myself more now. Brian is the Godfather of British boxing training—he is everything to me.”
“People forget that I couldn’t fill a shoebox when I first turned pro,” he recalled. “I started out with Tommy Miller, who had journeymen types. I had no choice but to go on the road to places like Scotland and Switzerland. I learned the trade against men like Jim Moffat (W TKO 1) and Paul Burke (L6), who had winning records. Brian always believed in me, though.”
Following the loss to Burke, he racked up a 31-fight run that was strewn with KO wins. Two early standout knockouts came against Sugar Gibiliru (an eighth-round KO for the BBBoC Central Area Title in what turned out to be a remarkable 1989, they had fought to a draw over the same distance the previous year) and Tony Wills (KO 9 in his first title defence).
The streak continued against John Rafuse (W KO 6), Robert Trevino (W KO 2) and Dana Roston (W TKO 4) only to be broken by a decision win over Robert Harin (W 12 for the British light-welterweight title). Barrett must have missed bowling people over, he took out Joey Ferrell in six in his next fight to close out the year.
Efrem Calamati was blown away in four in Italy for the EBU belt in August of 1990. Anyone who wants to see a stunning KO should check out the Youtube clip. Barrett was on a roll.
“It clicked after Gibiliru,” he said. “I could hit with both hands. People looked out for the left hook, but I could get you with the right hand. When you land a clean shot, you know the night is over. I always preferred the next day anyway, you could relax.”
Barrett eventually moved from promoter Mickey Duff to Frank Warren, who secured him a WBO world title shot up at welterweight. Ohio’s slippery Manning “The Spolier” Galloway was the defending champion. It was a tough night for Barrett, who lost unanimously on points at Manchester’s G-Mex Centre.
Barrett clearly wasn’t the same fighter as he had been when he boxed in the light-welterweight division and Hughes eventually told his former charge that it was time to call it a day. Barrett refused—his now-former trainer believed that Barrett could no longer carry on down the same path of taking bouts without being fully committed to his boxing career. A stint with John Davenport followed, but the magic was gone. A Christmas Day decision win over Marino Monteye on Belgium’s festive card in 1994 was the fighter’s final straw.
Barrett knew his career was over even before walking to the ring for his last contest. The surroundings, faces and names were unfamiliar, and his love had dissipated.
“It’s Christmas Day and I’m in Belgium having the last fight of my life,” he recalled. “I didn’t have Brian with me and realised it was time to walk away. I was going the distance with a guy who wouldn’t have lived with the old Pat Barrett.”
He had gone 2-2 in his last four; a decision loss to Del Brayna for the British 147lb title was followed by a defeat against Patrick Vungo for the WBF light-middleweight title. A brace of wins over Donnie Parker (W KO 4) and Monteye had done little to lift his mood.
Things got worse in 2004; Barrett was facing a potentially long prison sentence after being arrested in an Essex hotel room with a loaded firearm in February 2003. He was convicted of possessing a firearm without a licence and given a concurrent three-month sentence for the ammunition.
“I was lost, I didn’t think I’d ever be found again,” he confessed. “Before that, I was into bare sh*t. I was surrounded by it. I had it in my mind that this was my life. I didn’t even think about going straight.
“Brian came to court. You’re supposed to get a year per bullet, plus one for the gun, so he gave a tremendous speech on my behalf. Thanks to Brian, I only got three years, but I ended up doing 22 months. I got to learn about myself, and a lot of things in life, so it’s honestly the best thing to happen to me. I got caught and it opened my eyes.”
“I said to myself: ‘I’m doing this behind my closed cell door’. I kept to myself. I wanted to make it as tough as possible because I knew that I’d got off lightly. I had to ask myself what I was doing living this street life, which was getting me nowhere. I decided to build some proper bridges for my future life.
“It’s not make-believe. People talk sh*t, but what I tell them is concrete. I can advise them. If they take it, great; if not then they’re idiots because I’m speaking from experience.”
After his stint in prison, Barrett decided to go for his trainer’s licence to assist Hughes in both the gym and the corner. His reputation preceded him, however he would not be denied.
“Do you know how long it took me to get my trainer’s licence?” he asked. “Five years. I went up for it one year after another, but never lost my belief. You don’t give up no matter how downhearted you get. The Board told me it was a trial period, any bother and I’d have been suspended, so I didn’t give them any reason to suspend me. Now it’s all love.”
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