Wayne Barrett was born in Jamaica and emigrated with his family to a tough area of Brooklyn when he was a kid. There, and even after he moved to Queens, he was picked on because of his accent.
Barrett ended up getting into a lot of fights growing up, so he enrolled in karate. He's still getting into fights all the time now, except he gets paid for them. Barrett is one of GLORY kickboxing's biggest American stars.
"I want to inspire the little folks, the person that people pick on," he said. "That's what I was. I was picked on for speaking different. A lot of people told me what I couldn't do -- 'Oh Banana Boat guy, you're not going to do nothing.' When I get in there and I fight, it's also for that person."
Barrett has a story; he has a purpose. He also has plenty of flair in his fighting style. It's for all of those reasons that the 29-year-old thinks he can evolve into one of GLORY's biggest stars.
There's little doubting the strength of GLORY's product as the premiere kickboxing promotion out there right now. But Barrett feels like there's something missing and that's why it hasn't caught on yet completely in the United States.
"I think where GLORY is going to make it the biggest is with more American fighters," he said. "The European guys are really great guys, they're really tough guys, but they come out in the middle of the ring and they just stand there and they're just kick and punch, kick and punch. You have to captivate the American public. You have to give them some form of skill, some form of wow factor."
Barrett (5-2) plans on bringing a little bit of that Friday when he competes in a middleweight contender tournament at GLORY 20 in Dubai. His first opponent will be highly regarded Simon Marcus and if Barrett wins he has a chance to avenge a decision loss to Jason Wilnis, who meets Alex Pereira in the other semifinal.
GLORY 20 airs on Spike TV in the U.S. on tape delay at 10 p.m. ET. The tournament winner will meet middleweight champion Artem Levin at GLORY 21 on May 8 in San Diego.
"Before America can respect that stand-in- the-middle-and-exchange [style], they need a star, they need someone that wants to be different," Barrett said. "That's really what I want to be. I want to be one of those factors that GLORY has."
Barrett certainly has the potential. He already owns a decision win (and split decision loss) over Joe Schilling in his short pro career. Barrett is coming off a decision loss to Wilnis at GLORY 18 last November, but he was not 100 percent and regrets now even taking the fight.
GLORY 20 has a chance to be his coming out party. Barrett is the only American in the draw. Marcus is Canadian, Wilnis is from the Netherlands and Pereira is a Brazilian. A standout performance will really up his profile for the organization still trying to gain some footing in the states.
"I literally just go out to look different and be different," Barrett said. "I want people to be like, 'What did he just do?' I want guys to see me do a move and go back to their gym and say, 'Man, I'm gonna do this move that I saw Wayne Barrett do.' I know what it takes to be a star. This is not something that I dreamt up yesterday. As a child, I always knew I wanted to be this person. I always knew I wanted to be a trendsetter."
Barrett's story growing is similar to the ones told by UFC star Georges St-Pierre. And it's almost the mirror image of Barrett's close friend Uriah Hall, a UFC fighter who was born in Jamaica and also moved to New York City as a boy. Being bullied played a gigantic part in each of the aforementioned becoming the men they are today.
"People always pick on you, people always want to fight," Barrett said. "My mom was always so scared, she was always so terrified."
Barret faced his fears and emulated the martial artists he watched religiously in movies by joining karate. Now, he's a prizefighter competing in the Middle East looking to come back home to Queens with a title shot en tow.
Barrett doesn't just want to win, either. He wants to make sure you tune in.
"I'm gonna do my part to get it going," Barrett said. "It is a different market. People in Europe love that warrior, don't say much and go out and fight. Here in America, they want to know who you are. Who am I rooting for? Why am I rooting for you? What's your story? What's the story behind this guy? And that's just what it is."