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For Glory’s Pat Barry, vertical fighting sounds a lot like mom’s home cooking

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that Pat Barry’s trunk-like legs were never meant to sprawl. Or that at (a generously listed) 5-foot-11 and fighting as a heavyweight, his compact hulk was perhaps a little too accordion-like to ever be completely at home in a singlet. As for jiu-jitsu, well, Barry always did have that K-1 level jiu-jitsu. That much was obvious.

Through 15 professional MMA bouts, Barry preferred the most easily comprehensible form of fighting, which was to try and knock the other guy’s head off. He invited the others to do the same to him, and the margin for error was ridiculously thin -- in those 15 fights, he was victorious only eight times. Seven times he crashed by his own method of destruction. It was nearly always that kind of crapshoot with "HD." In a dozen UFC fights, where Barry was one of the more lovable characters for the last few years, he stuck around just once to hear the judge’s scorecards.

In a prototypical Pat Barry fight, somebody’s always dishing the Nytol.

But after six years, the New Orleans native is done with the mixed variety of martial arts. This Saturday night he will return to his first love of kickboxing, a very specific -- and acutely violent  -- extraction from the UFC’s pool of possibilities. He’ll fight Zach Mwekassa at Glory 16 in Denver, and Mwekassa will present zero threat to take him down and crush his larynx with a chokehold. Instead, he will attempt to part Barry of wit using fists and feet.

And you know what? The 34-year-old Barry couldn’t be happier with this kind of vertical thinking.

For starters, his fight camp no longer includes takedown defense sessions, and these days the only thing he needs to know if he finds himself on his back is that he should get back up. 

"With the training, more than anything else, my neck doesn’t hurt anymore that much," he says. "My joints aren’t achy anymore. For MMA being what as great as it is -- and I truly enjoyed it -- I don’t know if starting to learn how to wrestle at 30 is a good idea.

"Kickboxing is what I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t grow up wanting to be an MMA guy, I grew up wanting to be a kickboxer. And I was a kickboxer for a long time before transitioning over to MMA, so now I’m able to go back to kickboxing again. I’m able to go back to what I never really wanted to stop doing."

In reality, Barry never did stop kickboxing, even with all the temptations that come with MMA.

In his UFC debut in 2008, he hacked Dan Evensen down with leg kicks that made Vegas wince through its fingers. He destroyed Antoni Hardonk and Christian Morecraft with punches from the old K-1 canon, and he had Cheick Kongo set for the dead lights before getting caught coming in for the put-away on the fence. That single round, indicative of all things Barry, was more condensed with action than any Ang Lee film.

Ironically, in his bout with K-1 and Pride veteran Mirko Cro Cop -- his idol -- he was submitted via rear-naked choke after plenty of mean exchanges and high fives. Given that two kickboxers were coming together in a combustive area, not many predicted that outcome. And that was the side of the game Barry was forced to cram for in his late twenties as he transitioned into MMA from K-1. Though he sustained himself in the Octagon for years, the idea of kickboxing again was only an upstart promotion away from luring him out.

"Then Glory came back around," he says. "And it’s big enough now that it’s not a fluke. Glory’s going to be here. But, at the same time, I also felt guilty [going to Glory], because I was like, I made a commitment to the UFC, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do here.

"I mean, I’ve spoken to [UFC matchmakers] Joe Silva and Sean Shelby before, and they knew where my heart really was, and they knew what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have anything against MMA, but, I’ve said it before -- you can have Gordon Ramsay come here and prepare his most famous and most popular dish, it won’t be better than anything my mom makes. It just won’t. MMA, I loved it…but I just didn’t love it as much as I do kickboxing."

Coming off of back-to-back losses, Barry wasn’t cut by the UFC, as many people believed he was -- he merely saw it as time to segue back out. And he says the urge to make the move didn’t just precede his final UFC bout against Soa Palelei this past December (which he lost via knockout), but well before then.

"Yeah, I’ve been knowing it for a few fights," he says. "I made the transition into MMA, and I loved it as much as I could -- which was all the way for where I was in my life at that point in time when I started. Everybody knew, and I knew myself, that kickboxing was really all I ever wanted. That’s all I wanted to do from Day 1. But there was no avenue or opportunity to kickbox."

Among those who sensed he was ready were his teammates and coaches in Denver, Colo., where Barry now calls home. He says that his Grudge coaches Trevor Wittman and Jake Ramos knew the thing was inevitable.

"I told them in the locker room in Australia after the last fight with Soa the Hulk, I told them, ‘you know what, I really want to go back into kickboxing,’" he says. "Not only were they excited to hear that, but they also already knew. In my eyes at least, a great coach knows how you’re feeling, knows what you’re going through, knows what you’re thinking, and they knew. When I said I wanted to go back into kickboxing, they said, well it’s about time. They were waiting for me to say it."

And so Barry returns to his root discipline against Mwekassa on Saturday night at 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, just north of Denver. It’ll be his first big-time kickboxing bout since 2007, when he faced Freddy Kemayo in K-1 in Prague. It’s been a scenic detour to arrive back in the ring with the heavier gloves, but one that Barry ultimately says was necessary.

"If Glory was where it is now back then, would I have gotten into MMA? No, and nor would I have gone straight to Glory," he says. "But, if I hadn’t gotten into MMA, would I be as good of a kickboxer as I believe myself to be now? No. I needed to do that, to miss it for awhile, and step away from it for awhile in order to come back to it to where I am now. Unless, you know, I get killed with one punch, and then I’ll know it was a terrible idea."

For a guy who is built like a stevedore and is fluent in fists, the threat of a punch sounds a whole lot more comforting than any vague notions of a kimura.

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