Unlike many of his peers in the pool of mixed martial arts prospects, Bryan Barberena didn’t spend his non-fight weekends sitting by the phone waiting for a call from the UFC. It’s not that he didn’t want it, but the 25-year-old was keeping his eyes on what needed to be done and not what could happen.
“I wasn't banking on it,” he said of a call from the big show. “If they called me, great; if not, I'm just gonna keep knocking down whoever gets in front of me, and they'll have to call me.”
It’s quite a mature attitude to have, and it’s not like the Glendale, Arizona product wasn’t doing enough to get chosen for a shot in the Octagon, as he rebounded from a 3-2 start to his pro career to win six straight, four by knockout, over the last four years.
“I enjoy fighting, I enjoy everything about it, so it's just fun for me,” he said. “As far as the UFC, that's where I wanted to be, but that was the long-term goal. I was willing to keep fighting and take my time with it. I wasn't going to rush into anything. If it was meant to be, it would happen. I was just going to keep putting in the work and whoever got in my way, I needed to finish him. That was my game plan all along and it's still my game plan - to finish people.”
Thankfully for Barberena, the next time he puts that game plan into action will be in the UFC – and in Arizona, no less – as he makes his debut in the promotion tonight against Joe Ellenberger. It was a bout scheduled to take place at UFC Fight Night in June, but an injury forced Barberena out of the short notice matchup. It was a crushing blow at the time, but as the saying goes “everything happens for a reason,” and getting to debut against the same opponent in Phoenix could not have been a better scenario for the newcomer.
“They offered me Joe again, and that lit a flame under me and I was ready,” he said. “I felt like not only did I owe it to myself to fight him, but I felt bad that I had to pull out and I wanted to show him what I have too, so I'm glad we got the matchup again. I’m just as pumped as I was the first time and it's better to be at home. I've got family and friends here and everybody's behind me so it makes it that much better.”
Speaking of family, it’s important to point out that Barberena’s aforementioned patience probably has something to do with being a married father of three little ones, with his sons, five and three, and his one-and-half year old daughter all joining him at The Lab when he trains.
“They sit on the sidelines behind the cage and hang out there,” he said. “I bring them some snacks, they bring some toys and they each have a tablet that they can play games on and watch Netflix. My little girl is in a playpen and she hangs out there with her toys and snacks and everybody from The Lab helps me out too.”
So the next time you hear that it’s a family atmosphere in John Crouch’s gym in Glendale, you’ll know it’s not just talk. That goes for the training as well, with Barberena joined by teammates Joe Riggs, John Moraga and David Michaud on tonight’s card.
“All of our fighters are pretty much in the gym all the time, helping out,” Barberena said. “Even when they don't have fights, they're helping everybody. But when somebody's on the same card as you, it makes it that much better. You're going through it with a teammate who understands and you're challenging each other and pushing each other because you know what you're getting ready for.”
A fight. And Barberena can’t wait.
“Expect to see fireworks, I guarantee that.”