For Pat Barry, everything came crashing down because of a pizza. It was last July and he had finished a sparring session with Brock Lesnar in Alexandria, Minn. and wanted to eat, and what’s a little pizza without a drink? Especially when the locals are spending their time side-eyeing you, wondering what in the hell you’re doing there?
Barry, seeking to diffuse any potential tension, started buying shots. Before long, everyone was drunk. For Barry, this wasn’t an unusual situation, even if it was one he had tried his best to hide from those close to him. But this time was different. He was alone, a stranger in a strange land, and his inhibitions had been left somewhere behind.
Everyone was drunk when Barry’s pizza came out of the oven, and the same local that was rubbernecking him suddenly wanted a slice or two. To Barry, that was one bridge too far. After all, this pizza was the only reason he’d gone out in the first place. At least that’s what he had told himself.
The situation escalated and the two exchanged words. To his credit, he realized it was time to get out of there. To his blame, he jumped in his car.
Unbeknownst to him, someone in the bar had already called the police, and just as he pulled out, they pulled him over. A policeman asked Barry if he was drunk.
“Very,” he said.
Back home in Colorado, his longtime partner, UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas knew something was wrong. Before going to bed, Barry had called her and told her he was about to turn in for the night, but she felt something was off. She called and texted him all night wondering where he was.
He was in jail.
“That was the moment, I realized, I can’t get out of this cell if they don’t let me out, I can’t get out,” Barry recounted on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “Me, ‘Gorilla Pat,’ I can’t physically break out. I can’t talk my way out. The one person I called hung the phone up, and didn’t answer, Rose. [She was] disappointed. I figured out this doesn’t need to go any further. I realized, s--t needs to change and s--t needs to change now.”
The next day, Barry was let out of jail and Lesnar told him to go home. It was, he says now, a favor, an opportunity for him to put thought into himself and his priorities.
For too long, his priorities had been skewed, veering away from his fight career and toward whiskey and prescription pain pills. At the beginning, it was just one pill and a drink, but he says before he knew it, he had prescription pills and bottles of whiskey “all over the place.”
That behavior affected his training, and his poor training affected his fights, and it all became a vicious circle that perpetuated itself.
“Pills and stuff, it’s not for me because I want all of them,” he said. “They don’t have enough for me. It’s like, ‘If one makes you feel like this, what does 17 make you feel like?’”
But if his struggling fight career didn’t make him stop, he reconsidered when the risk become more personal. Namajunas, who was in the final stages of preparing for a UFC 201 top contenders’ bout with Karolina Kowalkiewicz, told Barry she needed to move on without him, at least temporarily. He returned home to an empty house. No longtime love, no dog, no nothing.
That was it. Barry went cold turkey, ditching the booze and pills.
Still, there was a little more suffering to come.
Already gutted, he viewed Namajunas’ fight on television, watching her struggle through a split-decision loss. From afar, he could only fixate on moments in which to blame himself. Small issues with technique and timing that he could have fixed, if only he had been around.
“Go back to any of Rose’s performances that didn't seem quite right. It was me,” he said. “I was the outside distraction. This guy. Any performance. I’m not talking about just fighting. Any interview that seemed off and weird, any post on social media, it was my f—king fault. So I said, I’m not doing that no more. She should’ve been world champ two years ago. It was me. I didn't know it was me, but it was me.”
Slowly, he was able to mend the relationship, not by saying anything but by proving he was winning his own personal battle one day at a time. He recently celebrated one year of sobriety, and said while he feels every bit of his 38 years, he feels significantly better than he did a year ago as an addict.
The ride continues its momentum. Barry says he feels clear-headed and he’s losing weight; his abs are even coming out again. Back in the gym, he embraced jiu-jitsu with a new focus and trained with a newfound intensity.
Recently, he got a call from his manager Brian Butler-Au. He answered the phone with typical “Hype or Die” swagger.
“I said, ‘Yes, whatever it is, I’ll do it,’” he said. “He said, ‘alright,’ and I said, ‘Hold on, what’d I just agree to?’”
What he blindly consented to was a kickboxing match using mixed martial arts gloves in Miami. The match will take place on Nov. 18, and will come against a former Team Lesnar colleague in Eric Prindle, a 40-year-old, 6-foot-5, 265-pounder who once unsuccessfully challenged for the Bellator heavyweight championship. It will be Barry’s first fight since a January 2015 kickboxing win.
For now, Barry doesn’t have a clear picture of what the future holds past that . There may be only one fight, or more, but whatever it is, he’s excited to face it with clear eyes, and alongside Namajunas. They’re together again.
“I just love this guy,” Namajunas said on the show, her voice cracking with emotion. “We’ve been bouncing around a lot, I never had a place to call home. I have a home now, not just an actual house, but my coaches and this guy. If I can’t do it with them, I don't want to do it. It’s more about the journey and the experiences with each other, and that makes it the best rollercoaster ever.”
If all goes well, it’s possible that Namajunas, rumored for a UFC title shot later this year, can win the belt in the same month that Barry wins his comeback fight.
And wouldn’t that be something for a happy ending?
It’s the kind of fairytale that could never be guaranteed, but only wished for. And Barry? He’s done wishing. He’s taken control of his life and is focused on the things that matter the most, even past winning and losing.
“We found a different lifestyle, a path we like a lot better,” he said. “Not only do we like it a lot better, I think everybody likes it a lot better. It’s more fun. It’s more healthy for everyone. It’s not dark anymore. It’s light now.”