Pat Barry has a fight Saturday night, and he's at peace with that. "To not have to worry about armbars and getting strangled unconscious is cool," he said the other day on the phone. "Really cool."
Barry does not have to worry about those submission maneuvers because he's not in a mixed martial arts fight. After spending the last six years trying his hand at being a multidisciplinary generalist, including a dozen dances in the UFC, the 34-year-old heavyweight will be making his debut with the Glory kickboxing promotion when he steps in the ring with a South African slugger named Zack Mwekassa at the 1stBank Center just outside Denver (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Spike).
This is a change in direction for Barry, but it's a path he's traveled before. He grew up dreaming of ninjas while watching K-1 kickboxing and began training in the Sanshou discipline at age 21. Within two years, in 2002, he took his first professional fight, and a couple of years after that he was competing in K-1. Barry compiled a 15-5-1 kickboxing record before moving on to MMA.
"It was a different kind of challenge," he said of MMA. "It was the next step. It was the evolution of combat sports."
More specifically, it was the evolution of making a living in combat sports. K-1 was struggling financially, and even at its best the promotion and the sport itself were on the fringe of the fringe. The UFC, meanwhile, was hitting its stride. So, after three bouts in three months -- all first-round knockout wins -- in a smaller organization, Barry made his debut in the big show at UFC 92 in December 2008. On a card headlined by a light heavyweight title bout between Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin, the kickboxer showed his stuff in the evening's opening fight, getting a TKO in just 2:36 by battering Dan Evensen with leg kicks.
But Barry soon would learn that life in the UFC was not easy money. His second fight also ended in the first round, but this time it was a submission loss. Tim Hague took him down, clamped on a guillotine choke, and Barry had no escape. "When you're 30 years old and just starting to train in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, that's no good, that's terrible," he said. "That hurts you a lot."
The hurt would be a recurring theme. Barry lost seven of his 12 UFC fights, getting submitted three times and KO'd four times. However, he could also dish it out, and entertain while doing so. The 5-foot-11 fireplug won four postfight bonus checks -- two for KO of the Night, two for Fight of the Night -- and established himself as a fighter fans liked to watch.
UFC fans would still be watching, even after Barry suffered his second straight first-round KO defeat in December, if another opportunity hadn't presented itself. Glory World Series was founded in 2012 after K-1 faded as an elite kickboxing promotion. Glory started out by bringing on some of the sport's name fighters, from Semmy Schilt to Remy Bonjasky to Peter Aerts. Then, for its event last month in Zagreb, Croatia, the promotion pitted Bonjasky in a career-capping bout with Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, a longtime kickboxer but also a Pride and UFC veteran. That angle drew the interest of locals -- the fights were in Filipovic's home country -- as well as MMA fans.
That kind of attention-grabbing continues this weekend. Along with Barry, who requested his release from the UFC so he could shift his attention to kickboxing, Glory 16 also features Sergei Kharitonov, who has also fought MMA. During the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, he KO'd Andrei Arlovski, who just this week was re-signed by the UFC, and then he was submitted by Josh Barnett. Kharitonov also owns victories over Fabricio Werdum, who in November will challenge Cain Velasquez for the UFC belt, and contender Alistair Overeem. This weekend's Glory opponent? Anderson Silva. No, not that one. This Anderson Silva is a Brazilian, all right, but he's a 230-pound heavyweight. Oh well.
Still, the MMA crossover appeal is significant, even if the promotion wants you to know it's a secondary concern. "We don't just go out with the mandate that we're going to make offers to fighters who are known in the MMA market or any other. We're looking or the best of the best in muay Thai and kickboxing," insisted James Byrne, the promotion's Global Head of Marketing and PR. "And yet, not surprisingly, because muay Thai and kickboxing are in the wheelhouse of what guys have to have in MMA, some of those guys are particularly well suited for Glory. It's just completely serendipitous that we get guys like Pat, who already have a lot of name recognition among American audiences through MMA."
What's serendipitous for Barry is that he now has the opportunity to return to his first love, kickboxing, and make a living at it. "You hear people say all of the time, 'I love this so much I'd do it for free.' Nope, that's not true. That sounds really cool to say, but no one would really do that for free," said the fighter. "Getting punched in the head hurts. Getting your arm broken hurts. As much as you might love the sport, love competing and want to be around it all day and night, the reality is that we also have to be able to provide. Many of us out here have families, have little ones, have mothers and fathers we're taking care of. You have to be able to provide."
And yet Barry acknowledges that despite getting KO'd in three of his last four UFC bouts, he is sad to no longer be fighting in MMA. "It was exciting -- the fights, the crowds, everything," he said. "I do plan on staying involved in other ways." Such as training with and cornering his girlfriend, Rose Namajunas, a recent UFC signee who'll compete on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, which will introduce a women's 115-pound division. "But kickboxing is my first love and it's still my passion," said Barry. "For years, there was no outlet for doing this in way that you could be an adult and make a living. But now, with Glory, this is my moment. I can finally get back to doing something that I never wanted to stop doing."