Sanghoon Yoo never had a chance.
Sure, the South Korean Sanshou specialist was unbeaten and a pro and expected to hand Peter Barrett his fourth pro loss in their Contender Series bout last August, but New England’s “Slippery Pete” wasn’t going to leave Las Vegas without a UFC contract.
He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.
“We had pretty much come to the realization that if I was gonna get into the UFC, it had to be last summer on that Contender Series, and I had to do everything possible to get myself on one of those episodes,” said Barrett, who watched as each of the ten episodes filled up, with no phone call for him to get his shot at fighting in front of UFC President Dana White and matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard.
Then he got on the tenth and last episode.
“Nobody wanted to fight this kid from South Korea,” he said. “I guess everybody was ducking him and nobody would take the fight. But Sean (Shelby) called Kru Mark (DellaGrotte). It was kind of a hard sell because of my age. We knew that was working against me, we know it's still working against me. So I took the fight that no one wanted.”
Once he got it, the 33-year-old left nothing up to chance. There had been too much of that over the years, too many missed opportunities, too much bad luck. Now, he had one chance to get it right, because prizefighters approaching their mid-30s with a 10-4 record don’t usually get a shot in the big show. He had to make sure 10-3 became 11-3. He had 15 minutes to make it right.
And if he didn’t?
“That's not something I really spent too much time thinking about because it wasn't an acceptable version of my future,” said Barrett. “My girlfriend is analytical, she's a nurse, and she's like, 'You need a Plan B if this doesn't work out.’ I said, no, everything goes into Plan A. There is no Plan B. This is the only option. I can't spend any time thinking of another option because then that takes me away from my goal. It put a lot of stress on a lot of relationships, I put a lot of other things on hold to pursue this dream and this was the only version of that I could accept last summer.”
A Plan B wasn’t necessary, as Barrett decisioned Yoo and got his UFC contract. When looking back, the new member of the UFC’s featherweight roster simply says, “I stepped up and I produced.”
It was more than that, a lot more, and Barrett knows it. He can’t forget what he battled through to get to this point, and it wasn’t pretty at times, as he lost his father and younger brother within two months of each other, their untimely deaths the cornerstone of a yearlong stretch when his pro MMA record went from 8-0 to 9-3.
“I went through that slump and there was a time I could vividly remember being in the basement at Sityodtong after team training and just thinking to myself,” he said. “I was super depressed, it was terrible negative self-talk, and I was like, 'This is why you didn't make it.' You had some terrible s**t go down in your life, it destroyed you and that's the asterisk to your career and why you didn't make it to the UFC. It's not that you weren't good enough; it's because you were dealt this hand and it just destroyed you. It was a moment when I just accepted that as the reality of the situation.”
Family and friends would ultimately drag Barrett out of the depths and back to a place where he always expected to be, and that was on the road to the UFC.
“I had some people close to me that never stopped believing in me that helped build me back up and get me in the right place mentally to go back, put my best foot forward and beat down this goal and make sure I made it a reality.”
After nearly a year away from the sport as he got his life back together, Barrett returned with a June 2019 win over Zach DiSabatino, then got his Contender Series fight. One shot to make it right, and he hit the bullseye.
“It validated the last ten years of my life in such a way that all the sacrifices I made, all the relationships I walked away from, all the friendships that I never nurtured the way I should have, it was all worth it,” he said. “I was willing to sacrifice everything to see this goal through, and this is really just the beginning now that I'm here. I just need that first fight, I need to impress those people, they need to see how I can perform at that next level and still destroy people at 145.”
Ten pounds south of his Contender Series fight at lightweight, Barrett is determined to not just stay in the UFC, but to make a mark. He was scheduled to break his contract in a week from Saturday against Danny Henry, a fight he was more than happy to get for his Octagon debut.
“As far as I'm concerned, that is a great matchup,” said Barrett. “Him and I are very similar style-wise. It would have been a great fight for the fans, super exciting, and I anticipated that him and I were gonna sit there and see who fell first to the other one's fists.”
It’s a fight that won’t be happening on April 25 due to the COVID-19 situation, but Barrett is staying ready in case the call comes for him to meet “The Hatchet” later this spring. That means setting up his basement with everything he needs to keep in shape while keeping his phone on.
“The biggest thing for me coming out of this is to keep the momentum going and to be ready so when they're looking for fighters to start scheduling things, I can be on the top of that list.”
It’s a different world than it was a year ago at this time, not just for Peter Barrett, but for everybody. Yet you get the impression that Barrett wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It's been a journey,” he chuckles as he awaits his fresh start as a UFC fighter. But is it a fresh start?
“I can't go that far because I have to respect everything that I've gone through to get here, because without it, I wouldn't be here,” he said. “I would like to think of this as maybe Part Two or Part Three of the same story, but definitely not a new book.”
How does the story end, though?
“This story ends with me being a world champion and I really think it's possible.”
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