Less than a week after announcing his indefinite leave of absence from mixed martial arts, former UFC heavyweight slugger Pat Barry appeared on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour to unveil his next step. As expected, the affable 34-year-old has elected to return to his first love: professional kickboxing.
"My last few fights, it's just, something was missing. Something wasn't there," Barry admitted to host Ariel Helwani. "There was just a bit of [aversion] to wrestling and grappling and having to defend takedowns, which is fine. I know that's the sport and that's what I signed up to do. But just the last few instances, the last few outings that I've had -- Shawn Jordan, Soa (Palelei) -- something was... anytime you can lose a fight and get up losing a fight going, ‘Eh, well I lost. Alright, so what?' That's how I knew. It wasn't ‘so what' that I lost, but there's something that just wasn't there. Something that was missing."
Barry, who retired from MMA in the midst of a two-fight slump underlined by back-to-back first-round knockout losses, went on to say that he reached his ultimate decision early on during his last fight, at the exact moment opponent Soa Palelei dove inside for a takedown. The way Barry put it, Palelei's obvious intentions led to a "moment of clarity."
"It wasn't like, ‘Good riddance, I'm sick of this. I'm out.' It wasn't that," Barry explained. "It was almost like a sense of relief really. Like, alright, you know what, that was what I needed to able to make a solid decision. 90-percent of the decision was made right there. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but I just hadn't been able to bring myself to do it.
"Wrestling, doing jiu-jitsu for the sake of doing jiu-jitsu? It's great. Especially with the gi on. It's fun, I enjoy it, I think it's great. It's great exercise. Everything. But when it comes to being in a fight, I've just never... na, no thank you, man. I want to stand there, I want to hit each other, and let's just see who's got the biggest nuts in the ring. That's what I wanted."
So, for the first time since 2007, Barry will hang up those old four-ounce UFC gloves for a pair just a bit heavier.
And in that regard, Barry's schedule is already filling up fast. His official return to kickboxing is slated to take place at the WKA North American Championship on March 22 in Richmond, Va., against a yet-to-be-decided opponent. Following that, if all goes well, Barry will ride his newfound momentum into a debut with the world's premier kickboxing organization, GLORY, in May 2014.
The event will likely take place inside the United States, and Barry couldn't be more excited.
"I'm finally able to go back into doing what I've been wanting to do since the beginning," Barry said. "I don't want anybody to hear that and think it sounds like (my thought process in 2008 was), ‘Oh, kickboxing's dying. I guess I'll go and fight in the UFC.' It wasn't that. I was really excited about doing that. I pursued it, I made my way to it. I had some ups and downs in the UFC, but I was around.
"I enjoyed it while I did it as much as I could, but kickboxing is... that's where it's been for me since day one, since the beginning. I honestly, truly... that's what I love doing."
Barry still plans to train within the familiar confines of Grudge Training Center in Denver, CO. And for what it's worth, Grudge head coach Trevor Wittman supports Barry in his decision, "100 percent."
"We were watching fights before his last UFC fight, and watched GLORY. He was sitting there and calling out all this different stuff, and you could just see the passion," Wittman said. "I didn't want to tell him anything before his (UFC Fight Night 33) fight, but after his fight I mentioned it to him, and you could just see him light up. It's one of those things, you've got to go where your passion is. If you're 100-percent into what you're doing, it makes everything easier. You've got to love what you do, and he loves kickboxing."
Barry stressed the point that the UFC did not cut him, as some news outlets have reported, but instead "graciously allowed" him out of his contract. And although he left the door open for a return to MMA, Barry's undeniable enthusiasm towards his next endeavor, as well as his general reflective nature throughout the course of the conversation, made it hard for one to believe that the man they call "HD" will be seen competing inside a UFC Octagon anytime soon.
"Did I think I could be the UFC heavyweight champ? There was a point in time when -- it was right after Dan Evensen -- when I was like, I can do this," Barry admitted candidly. "I had three MMA fights before then. I threw six kicks, I killed everybody. Then I get into the UFC. After six months of MMA, I'm in the UFC. I fight Dan Evensen, kick him in the leg three times -- so this is four MMA fights in row that I've [won] with just pretty much low kicks -- and it was out. Right after that it was like, oh, I can beat everybody with this. And then Tim Hague tackled me and I realized that I'm really small, like everybody said I was.
"I used to sit there and tell people, ‘Man, Cain Velasquez is the best. He's going to be the champ. Nobody can beat that guy.' And people were like, ‘Pat, what about you?' And I'd be like, ‘Oh, yeah. Of course I can, but no one else can.' I didn't believe that, man. But do I firmly believe that I can be a titleholder in GLORY? Absolutely."