Dean Barry thought his career might be over after visa issues doomed his UFC debut, leading to his release from the promotion.
Signing with the UFC after just four professional fights was a dream come true for the now 29-year-old fighter from Ireland. That was before everything turned to a nightmare when his bout in January 2021 was scrapped with the withdrawal of his opponent Mike Jackson.
The bout was rescheduled in May. But rather than compete in Abu Dhabi as originally expected, Barry had to travel to the U.S., and that’s where the issues began.
“I had known I needed more time to get my visa for America because when I had filled out the forms, I selected the wrong information on it,” Barry told MMA Fighting. “So that came back on me and I was refused my visa.”
According to Barry, he was arrested when he was 17. But his bigger mistake was not listing his criminal history on the visa application to get into the U.S, which got flagged upon review. That started a long, involved process to right his wrongs so he could get approval.
Nothing came easy, even with the UFC attempting to lend a helping hand. When it appeared all hope was lost, and his visa just wasn’t going to be approved, Barry got the call that the UFC was releasing him from his contract.
“The fight had to be pulled in May,” he said. “Things just started falling apart for me. The UFC said they couldn’t keep me because I couldn’t get the visa, and I totally understand. They’re not going to keep me on the roster when I can’t get into America.
“It was just an absolute nightmare. I went from being on top of the world to having absolutely nothing.”
Despite the obvious hurdles he still had to clear, Barry was determined to get his visa approved. He knew the process wasn’t going to be cheap.
Barry says fellow UFC fighter Molly McCann put him in touch with an attorney from the U.S. who specializes in athlete visas. Services like that don’t come cheap. So Barry, along with his family, cobbled together around $20,000 to start working toward his visa approval so he could compete in the U.S.
“Me and my family put together our life savings,” Barry said. “Every penny I had.”
The fight for a visa included travel to various countries, as well, because the global pandemic had shut down the American embassy in Ireland.
With the hope he could eventually get back to the UFC, Barry signed to fight in Titan FC, booking a fight in the Dominican Republic. Then, that fell apart after he suffered a groin injury that prevented him from competing.
At that point, Barry really started to lose faith he’d ever fight again.
“I was just thinking where did it all go wrong?” he said. “Why is this happening to me? I’m always the first person to want to help other people, but now it’s all crashing down on me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I was crying myself to sleep. I was looking online to find another office job, something I absolutely hate.
“I got the point where I couldn’t even afford to train at the gym. Where I live, we have to pay tolls going over and back and pay for the fuel, and I got to the stage where I couldn’t even afford that. It just broke me. It really broke me. I just wanted to give up everything.”
With dwindling prospects in the fight game and another baby on the way, Barry decided he needed to start looking for a steady job that would begin providing him a regular paycheck. He had also essentially decided to retire from MMA, because if he couldn’t actually compete, there wasn’t much need to spend money to train everyday.
“I was just going to pack it in,” he said. “There was no way I was going to show up to an MMA gym getting punched in the face for no reason every night of the week, being broke and being miserable.
“I was like there’s no way I’m doing that. I’ll just move on and put it behind me.”
He accepted a position where he would be lifting boxes all day. Every day was all but one last ditch effort to get his visa opened up, and it required him to travel to Bucharest, Romania to visit the U.S. embassy, where he would get a face-to-face meeting with an agent. When he arrived at the meeting, his past once again looked like the obstacle that would prevent him from gaining clearance. He tried to explain the history of his entire situation.
“The woman was denying me again until I said, ‘Can I please tell you my story and all the evidence of it?’” Barry explained. “So she looked at it. She rang Washington D.C. herself and said, ‘Give this man his visa.’ All I needed was someone to listen to me and not just judge by what they’re seeing on a screen.”
Once he got approved, Barry decided the full-time job would have to wait. He was able to ink a deal with Titan FC, which required him to travel back to the U.S. That was no longer a hindrance.
Barry earned a blistering 21-second knockout, which felt like years of frustration, anger and disappointment all bubbling over in one grand expression of emotion. Of course, he hoped that win would secure his UFC return, but he knew there were no guarantees. He still wasn’t sure the powers-that-be would bring him back just because of the headaches from his previous stint.
Then Barry got a call from his manager, Brian Butler, with word that Titan FC had attempted to get him another fight but had ultimately decided to pass.
“‘You don’t need it,’” Barry remembers his manager saying. “‘[The UFC] is signing you!’ They want you right now. They’re giving you the Mike Jackson fight again.’ I just felt relief. I was so happy. Because I did everything they said and I never gave up on it.”
Getting the UFC contract justified all the work he and his family put into securing his visa, and now he’s ready for a fresh start with his debut booked against Jackson on Saturday night.
“It just goes to show you, sometimes you have to take the risks,” Barry said. “Sometimes even if you can’t see it, you have to have faith that things will happen. Sometimes you just have to trust the process and go for it.”
He’ll enter his fight at UFC Vegas 52 as an overwhelming favorite — he’s favored 15-to-1 over Jackson in many sportsbooks — but he isn’t counting on anything to just be handed to him. Much like the visa situation from the past, he knows nothing is guaranteed, so he has to go out and prove to the UFC that he was worth this opportunity.
“He has nothing to lose in this fight,” Barry said. “Imagine I walk out here and I got sparked by Mike Jackson. I’d be gone from the UFC.
“So there’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders. As much as people say I’m going to walk through him, there’s a lot of pressure on me. If I lose, that’s my career gone.”