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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Pat Barry ran into Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in a hallway of the hotel where both are staying prior to their fight on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 115 at General Motors Place.
When Barry spied Filipovic, one of the biggest names in the history of mixed martial arts and before that, an elite kickboxer, his heart began to race.
Barry worships the ground Filipovic walks on, so much so that he almost didn't know what to say when they met. He wasn't sure whether to ask for an autograph, pose for a photograph or simply to shake hands.
"I instantly started shaking and sweating," Barry said. "I wanted to take some pictures with him, but I didn't want to bother him."
It's not unprecedented for Barry to get nervous and have sweaty palms in the days and weeks before a fight. It happened prior to his bout against Antoni Hardonk at UFC 104 in Los Angeles in October 2009, but for a very different reason than hero worship.
Barry committed his life to mixed martial arts and invested every cent he had into making himself a better fighter. The fighter had plenty of worries prior to the Hardonk fight precisely because of his commitment. He was literally so broke the week before the fight, he subsisted on meals of rice and ketchup. When he got to Los Angeles the week of the fight, he ate normal meals because the UFC paid him a per diem.
He was, however, down to the final pennies in his checking account. Bills were piling up. His rent was due on Nov. 1, and Barry didn't have the money in his checking account to pay it. Barry was so broke, he spent sleepless nights worrying whether Hardonk was healthy. Fighters are independent contractors and don't get paid if they don't fight. So if Hardonk was cut in training, or rolled an ankle or twisted a knee and had to postpone the fight, Barry might have found himself evicted from his apartment.
"It was completely agonizing," Barry said. "I'd be laying in bed and I was rolling all over the place, and all I could think of was, 'Please, please, please: Don't let anything happen to Antoni.' "
He weathered the crisis when both he and Hardonk made it to the cage safely. And Barry was able to pay his rent after winning both Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night bonuses.
He earned $7,000 to show and another $7,000 to win. The UFC paid him $60,000 for each of his fight-night bonuses ($120,000 total) and he hauled in another $20,000 in sponsorship money. That netted him $154,000 before taxes and expenses.
He said he never had any hesitation about putting himself on the brink like he did. He's pursuing a dream and said doing what he loves makes all the risks worth it.
"I went into that event completely downtrodden, with nothing, absolutely nothing, and I poured my heart into it," Barry said Thursday following a news conference at GM Place. "That wasn't a mental or physical fight. It was all love."
Barry is one of the most engaging characters in MMA. Despite sharing the stage at Thursday's pre-fight news conference with four of the sport's biggest names – Filipovic, UFC president Dana White, former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and former middleweight champion Rich Franklin – it was Barry who stole the show.
He reiterated his admiration for Filipovic and said he still planned to get Filipovic's autograph. After the news conference, while he was doing an interview, he grabbed Filipovic's name placard and took it with him. When he was asked a question during the news conference, he said he was overwhelmed to share the stage with such giants of the sport.
"Man, I'm just a kid up here," Barry said. "I don't know whether to use the bathroom or throw up. I've always been the guy behind the TV screen watching this. The fact that I'm even up here now is so unbelievable."
Barry could not get through the post-press conference staged photo without laughing. He and Filipovic were asked to pose nose-to-nose, but try as he might to put his game face on, he could not. A smile quickly creased his face and before long, he was laughing.
His attitude seems to be getting to Filipovic, who doesn't know what to make of Barry's adulation. Filipovic is far more comfortable in the traditional role, where he builds up a dislike, if not a hatred, for his opponent.
Barry has clearly thrown him off-stride.
"Mirko can't figure it out and doesn't know what is going on," White said. "I think it's messing with his head a little bit."
If he won, Barry said he'd probably go home and "stare out the window for two years." He idolizes Filipovic the way some kids – when you get to know him, you realize Barry is little more than a big kid – idolize LeBron James. He said he practiced several times what he would say when he met Filipovic, but then was so nervous, he messed up.
It has been a joy to watch someone so happy and so in love with what they're doing. During the news conference, he kept looking down the dais toward Filipovic and shaking his head.
"To me, it's just a great honor that he even knows who I am, and that my name is next to his on the posters and everything," Barry said. "Even if I lose, I will become one of the select few guys in the world who had the privilege of losing to him. If I win, man, come on! Are you kidding me? That's Mirko [expletive] Cro Cop I beat. I can't even tell you what that would mean to me."
Filipovic, who in the last two days was more animated than he'd ever been since joining the UFC in 2007, joined in on the fun. He called Barry "an amazing guy, really decent." Filipovic is known for his powerful kicks and once famously said, "Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery."
When he heard Barry's comment about staring out the window for two years, he had a ready response.
"He said that in case of winning, he will spend two years staring out the window," Filipovic said. "He must also have one other thing on his mind. In case he loses the fight, if I get lucky and throw a high kick, he might stare out the window for two years, too, with a nurse at his left side."
Barry's camp, though, is quietly confident. Filipovic is 26-7-2 (1 no-contest) with wins over some of the sport's greatest names. Barry is 6-1 and was submitted by Tim Hague.
There is a vast difference in their experience and their accomplishments, but both sparring partner Matt Mitrione and coach Duke Roufus say Barry has the goods to win. Mitrione sparred with Barry virtually every day and said he felt the effects of those sessions long afterward.
"Pat Barry has some of the best hands and some of the hardest kicks of anyone out there," Mitrione said.
Roufus' training equipment didn't make it to Vancouver on time, so he had to borrow pads from another trainer to put Barry through the paces. Roufus uses pads that are specially built in Thailand with extra padding to catch Barry's kicks, but the ones he used Wednesday were old and broken down.
Each time Barry kicked them, it sounded like Albert Pujols taking batting practice. Roufus winced each time Barry belted the bag.
Roufus said he didn't think Barry would have much difficulty kicking or punching Filipovic, despite his admiration for him.
"Pat knows what this fight means to him, and to his career," Roufus said. "It's about respect. He respects Mirko so much he wants to go out there and show him what he can do."
- Pat Barry