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Pat Barry and The Rules of The Game

"The game is to outscore the other guy; the game is to win. It just so
happens that this game that we’re playing consists of physical contact
with each other." - Pat Barry

UFC heavyweight Pat BarryThis is the life of Pat Barry: Train. Travel. Train. Fight. Travel. Train. Repeat.

“All the moving around sucks,” said the heavyweight up and comer, who returns to action this Friday night in Nashville to face Christian Morecraft. “As soon as you get comfortable somewhere, you gotta move somewhere else, and that part is definitely not fun.”

A New Orleans native, Barry has trained in the Netherlands, Croatia, China, Milwaukee, and now Minnesota, home to the DeathClutch team that formerly was the domain of the now retired Brock Lesnar. It’s part of the job if you want to get better and if you want to – like former kickboxer Barry – develop the parts of the game you haven’t already got a good handle on. So that means learning new towns and new directions, and meeting new people in between sessions where you judge progress by the amount of times someone isn’t forcing you to tap out.

“I would like to believe that there’s one person that knows everything and that’s just not true,” said the 32-year old Barry. “There’s no Yoda. You gotta be mobile, you gotta be able to move around, and not everybody knows everything that you need to know. You learn a lot from going different places.”

It’s the rite of passage for most mixed martial artists, but where Barry differs is that every day is injected with plenty of humor and light-hearted looks at life in and out of the fight game. “HD” is the polar opposite of dour, always ready with a smile or quip in the midst of the most trying day. It’s a personality that has made him one of the most popular fighters in the game, and not only among fans, but among his peers. To even go one further, Barry has become fast friends with a lot of the men he fought, a bizarre concept to many, but not him.

“To me, it’s knowing what the game entails,” he said. “This is a full contact game of chess which happens to entail striking and hitting each other in the head and in the body or submitting each other. Those are the rules of the game, and if you can’t accept that, then you’re in the wrong sport. I get into the Octagon and I can be friendly with all these guys beforehand, and I’m friendly with them during and friendly with them after. I don’t have to go into the ‘I hate you, now I’ve got to kill you’ mentality. I don’t dislike anybody, especially total strangers; I don’t have a reason to hate a stranger. Some guys need to hate your guts in order to hurt you. Maybe that just makes me crazy, because we can be best friends and I’ll still punch you in the head if we step into the Octagon together. But that’s just because I know this is what the game entails. That’s like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley getting on the court to play one on one and Jordan deciding that he’s not gonna score on Barkley. What? The game is to outscore the other guy; the game is to win. It just so happens that this game that we’re playing consists of physical contact with each other. If you don’t know that we’re about to hit each other really hard, then you haven’t done you’re research and I can’t feel too bad for you.”

And Barry’s been on both sides of that equation, sometimes in the same fight. He dropped Mirko Cro Cop before getting submitted late in their fight. He pounded Joey Beltran with leg kicks for 15 minutes in their bout. He nearly knocked out Cheick Kongo before getting knocked out himself seconds later. And he nearly slammed Stefan Struve through the Octagon mat before getting caught by submission in their Washington D.C. battle last October. Win or lose, he came to fight, his opponents did the same, and they shook hands when it was all over. It’s all part of the game according to him, so he’s baffled when training partners won’t fight each other outside of the gym.

“When you’re training together, you go at each other a lot more intense than you do when you’re at a fight because you’re in the comfort of there’s no one watching, we’re just at practice, we’ve got big gloves on,” said Barry. “So when guys are training together, they beat the s**t out of each other a lot worse than they do in an actual fight, but when it comes to fight time, they’re like ‘no man, I can’t do it.’ Wait, you can kick my ass for free, but you won’t do it and get paid?’ That don’t make sense.”

When you’re talking about things that don’t make sense, exhibit one may be Barry’s 2011 campaign in the UFC. Kicking things off in January with an impressive three round win over Beltran for his first decision victory, Barry then engaged in the most exciting 2:39 fight you’ve seen in a long time in June, as he nearly finished off Kongo before a miraculous comeback gave the Frenchman the win. In October, he put together another memorable bout against the 6-foot-11 Struve, yet got caught again, this time via submission. On paper, a 1-2 record doesn’t look too great, but in terms of performance, Barry didn’t disappoint anyone. He still can’t explain the last 12 months though.

“Last year is definitely a mystery,” said Barry. “I know that anything can happen, I’m always aware of that, and I know that anything is possible. But I still can’t figure out what happened in the Cheick Kongo fight. Still. The Stefan Struve fight, and every fight that I’ve lost, I’ve legitimately lost. There’s no ‘well the ref should have stopped it,’ or ‘it was because I got poked in the eye.’ I lost, I was beaten, nothing else happened other than the other guy was better. The Cheick Kongo fight, I don’t have any explanation as to how he, out of nowhere, punched me in the head and I fell out. Struve, even though it was a submission loss, if you actually know me and know what you’re looking at, I gained in a way because I was able to avoid three submissions in a row. It just so happened that the fourth one caught me. (Laughs) So all in all, that was an improvement. And that was a fight that I was winning and just lost. Somewhere on the internet, somebody wrote, and I swear it was the funniest thing ever, ‘if Pat Barry is kicking your ass, you’re definitely gonna win.’ (Laughs) I couldn’t even get mad at that, and I had to show it to my mom. It was the realest thing ever.”

Despite his humble stance and self-effacing humor, Barry does know that if he wants to get 2012 off to a good start, he can’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory anymore. That’s why a Louisiana native has been braving a Minnesota winter to work on his wrestling and jiu-jitsu with a group that had no issue with throwing him around in order to get him better. And even though Lesnar’s gone, there were plenty of big bodies left to get him ready for the 6-foot-6, 260 pound Morecraft.

“The bulk of the work was already done,” said Barry of the effect Lesnar’s December 30th retirement had on the late stages of his training camp. “We were training for my fight and Brock’s fight for quite some time now. The only problem with his fight being so close to mine is that there’s one less body to train with. But we’ve still got Jon Madsen, Cole Konrad, Chris Tuchscherer, a bunch of giant wrestlers who I’ve been moving around with every day ever since Brock’s fight.”

But with all this focus on ground work, is there a tendency to stop working on his bread and butter – striking?

“You never stop getting better at striking,” he said. “That’s always something that’s going to have to be practiced and learned and trained. It’s repetition, repetition, repetition. There’s not just one facet to this fight game. There are multiple things. So being a striker and now having to learn jiu-jitsu and learn wrestling to get better at everything else, it’s only natural that one section is gonna have to suffer a little bit in order to gain more experience at the other. I still strike with these guys, and they brought in other guys who are strikers and kickboxers and big tall guys that do a little bit of everything, but it’s only natural that I would have to back off my striking a little bit in order to climb in for the wrestling and the grappling.”

Yet at the same time, while showing off his main discipline to wrestlers looking to improve, the K-1 vet also gains a new appreciation for, and sharpens, the fundamentals of the striking game.

There are a lot of guys who are coming up in the striking game and guys who have been around for a while, they’ve evolved to a point where they’re doing splitting somersaults, front flips, and handstands and what not, and they tend to neglect a 1-2,” said Barry. “I’ve never had a problem with that. I’ve always been a fan of guys like Ernesto (Hoost) and Peter Aerts. Peter Aerts, who in 25 years in the game, is still beating people with left jab, right low kick. This is basic, Day One striking, and it’s always gonna be a dominant, big factor. You can be flashy, but if you can do all these crazy things and don’t know how to throw just a jab, that can be dangerous and unhealthy.”

In other words, it’s like the old Green Bay Packers sweep from the Vince Lombardi years. You know it’s coming, but it’s so well-executed that you still can’t stop it.

“It’s like my low kick,” said Barry. “You know I’m gonna kick you in the leg. Everybody knows it’s coming, they know it’s gonna happen, but there’s not much that can be done about it.”

And when it hits, he once described it as being like “stepping on a land mine.” But this is Pat Barry, and after he hits you with a few of them, he’s more than willing to show you how he did it.

“I’ve had fights where afterward, when the fight’s over with, we’re back in the hotel lobby, practicing this low kick and going about the whole thing,” he laughs.

Don’t expect him to ever change a thing either, whether it’s his personality or his fighting style.

“Every time I step in there, it doesn’t matter who it is, every fight that I’ve had, I’ve been the one walking forward,” said Barry. “Every time. I don’t retreat. I’m always the one walking forward, going at the guy. It’s not a macho ‘I’m fearless, I’m not scared of nobody’ thing; I know that anybody can win and anybody can lose. I have faith in my preparation, and so when the bell rings, I’m just gonna come at you and hopefully I’m gonna hit you and you’re gonna fall down. But you never know, I could submit you. Anything could happen.”

That’s probably why we won’t stop watching.