One look at Pat Barry is all that's needed to realize he made a good career choice. He's a guy built to inflict, and withstand, punishment.
He's a fighter, though he says that in his 32 years he's never been in a street fight.
"Not once, not even at recess in kindergarten," he says, chuckling.
Barry has made it to the UFC and is good enough at it that Saturday he'll be in the co-main event of UFC Live 6 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., when he takes on his old kickboxing rival, Stefan Struve.
Listen to Barry talk for a few minutes, though, and it's hard to realize that although fighting was a good choice for him, it might not have been the best choice. He'd have been perfect as a Marine Corps recruiter. As a boot camp instructor, he'd have the plebes running through the walls, not over them.
If he ever becomes a salesman, leave the wallet at home or he'll have you buying something you never knew you wanted but suddenly realized you had to have.
Search the Internet for a picture of Barry and chances are good that three of every four will depict him beaming widely. He's friendly and funny and the life of the party and you can easily forget he's is a cage fighter.
Perception, he points out, is much different than reality. Take his current job. He knows what people think.
"This looks like a really brutal sport," he said of mixed martial arts. "We look like a bunch of meat-headed, musclebound, angry heathens who are going around causing ruckus and pain and destruction."
Being a fighter in the UFC, though, is not what people think, he says. MMA fighters are probably the best-conditioned athletes in the world. The guys who make it to the UFC are the elite of the elite.
Even the elite of the elite, though, have fears and concerns. Barry concedes he rarely sleeps the week of a fight and is an emotional wreck. It's not until after a fight that he can explain why he willingly puts himself into a situation where he'll get kicked or punched in the head.
"Yes, of course I [get scared]," he said. "Personally, maybe I'm just not a man, but personally, I can't sleep for a week the week of the fight. I'll be honest with you. I think this goes for most, but not all, but it goes for most of us, where we wake up every day and we ask ourselves, 'Man, I can read. Why am I doing this? What is the point of doing this? I don't get it. I don't know why I am doing this. This is stupid. This hurts. Why am I subjecting myself to something like this?' None of us can answer the question at the end of the day. None of us can answer that question before the fight.
"As soon as the fight is over, we can all give you a book. We can recite to you a complete poem on why we do this. It's beauty. It's just a different type of art. There's something about this sport that takes a particular type of individual and brings something out in them that we didn't know was there. This isn't for everybody. This will change your life. If you do this, this will change your life. There's nothing, no jumping out of a plane or swimming in a volcano, no near-death experience with a car accident that is nothing like this. This takes something else. It doesn't just take concentration and preparation. This takes something special in order to be able to do this. This is why we do it: That one feeling. That one rush."
He jokes that UFC president Dana White was crazy putting him against Struve, whom he calls "this 7-foot tall monster who wants to dislodge my head from shoulders."
Struve is 6 feet 11 inches, exactly a foot taller than Barry. They've had plenty of fun with each other on their Twitter feeds, making light of the height difference.
In one Tweet to Barry on Wednesday, Struve wrote, "did you bump on my door last night? I looked through the hole but didn't see anybody. … Now finally pops up in my head it was you?"
Barry tweeted to Struve, "I WAS LOOKING FOR U LAST NIGHT COUSIN!!! FRONT DESK LADY SAID SHE SAW YOUR FACE COMING UP ESCALATOR, 8 MIN LATER YOUR FEET!!"
That's typical Barry. He's the guy who dives in the snow in his underwear just to get some laughs. He's the guy who poses as singer Janet Jackson to amuse his training partners.
He doesn't get serious too often, he says, except when they close the cage door and it's fight time. He said he can't understand fighters who carry a chip on their shoulders and seem perpetually angry. His outlook on life, he said, is to have fun. He noted that fighters like the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate, almost always seem to wear an angry scowl.
It isn't, he said, who he is and he doesn't believe that persona represents the vast majority of MMA fighters.
"With them, if you think about them, and the way they are all the time, hey, you can't be angry all day every day," he said. "You can't be [angry] every day. You have a bad day, but is your whole life a bad day? You're always in a bad mood? You're always just sucker-punching people? You're always angry? Maybe that's just a product of our upbringing. I personally didn't grow up in a rough household, and I'm not saying that's what happened with them. I grew up a pretty happy kid. That doesn't change now all of a sudden because of what I'm doing.
"People really have a wrong perception of what we do. This is full-contact chess. We have a lot of guys in here who are actually professionals outside of the fight world."
He said that while MMA may have been promoted as a bloodthirsty spectacle in its early days, the reality now is that it is as much about the mental side of things as the physical side.
He tries to promote MMA as the combat sport for anybody, as if a 300-pound couch potato could run down to the gym and start working on high kicks.
It seems implausible until Barry starts speaking in his rapid-fire, staccato manner. Then, he makes it sound perfectly normal and gets you itching to get out to jiu-jitsu practice.
"In the beginning for a fight sport, we had just boxing, then all of a sudden came along Ultimate Fighting," Barry said. "We've got a bunch of caged fighting bare-knuckle, no-rules guys who are going to hit each other until one of us dies. You know, that's how it was portrayed to the people: We're a bunch of caged animals. That's what it is: We're putting these guys in a cage and that's what it is, like two dogs fighting. But it was the wrong perception and the wrong persona. And that type of sport attracts a certain type of athlete which in turn attracts a certain type of crowd. But, just like everything else, it evolved. As time goes on, the sport changes.
"Now, we find out that this just isn't for bloodthirsty meatheads who just want to eat raw meat and drink fresh baby's blood all day. It's not about that any more. Anybody can do this. This is for anybody. It gets opened up to the public. The more the public gets to know about it, the more knowledge that gets out there, everyday people get to find out, 'You know what? We can all do this. This just isn't for tough guys any more.' This is for tough guys, nerds, fat kids, losers, cool people, the golf kids, jocks, the athletes, teachers, the geniuses, the dummies. This is for everybody from all walks of life. Anybody can do this."
Maybe anybody can do it, but I doubt it. Few can do it as well and with the passion, intensity and love that Pat Barry brings every day to MMA.
"Let's be serious: Who wouldn't want to do this for a living?" Barry said. "To me, this is a dream job. Sometimes I question my sanity when I'm sparring with an animal like Brock [Lesnar] or fighting someone like [Mirko] 'Cro Cop' [Filipovic], but you know what? I'm doing what I want and I'm doing what I love and nothing can be better than that in life. Nothing."
- Pat Barry