David Tua And Monte Barrett To Meet In Atlantic City: Is Barrett An Opponent Or A Spoiler?
by Pavel Yakovlev - (July 13, 2010) Monte Barrett has passed his life staring down danger, in and out of the ring. Consistent with his history, Barrett faces powerpunching David Tua this Saturday in Atlantic City. Tua is heavily favored to win: with 43 knockouts among 51 career victories, he is possibly the hardest hitter in boxing today. The bout is regarded as an opportunity for Tua to showcase his abilities before taking more lucrative fights in the next year. By contrast, Barrett is supposed to be the opponent: a former contender with a big name in the final stage of his career. Indeed, the 39-year-old Barrett has even said that he intends to retire after this fight, win, lose, or draw.
Article posted on 14.07.2010
But those who think Barrett is just seeking a final payday may be in for a surprise. There is nothing about Barrett’s character or life history that suggests he regards any fight as unwinnable. He has continuously overcome adversity since childhood and is not intimidated by any heavyweight in the world. Although definitely contemplating post-career options, in the back of his mind, Barrett must believe that Tua can be beaten.
Barrett’s tenacity is undeniable; it shows regardless of how heavily the odds are stacked against him. In an interview with this writer, Barrett explained his boxing philosophy.. “Fighting is a word to you, but to me it’s a way of life…it starts in the spirit,” he explained. “Not to be a quitter and to strive to be the best and never let nobody take what’s yours. That’s how I was raised. Somebody hit you, you hit them back.” Concerning his decision to fight professionally, Barrett stated, “I was born to fight and loved doing it. I was doing it for free all my life, now I’m getting paid for beating your ass. For me, that’s like being in heaven.”
GROWING UP IN “AK-47,” SOUTH JAMAICA, QUEENS
It is no exaggeration to say that Barrett learned early to fight or perish. He grew up in South Jamaica – known as “Southside” – a particularly tough neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. Family life was difficult; Barrett’s mother struggled with substance addiction, and his father was a battle-scarred Vietnam War veteran. The family lived on 147th Street. “They called the street ‘AK-47,’ that’s where all the guns were sold,” said Barrett. “About 300 AK-47’s were stolen from the airport, and they ended up on 147th Street. In 1985, 1986…there were a lot of drugs, I saw a lot of my friends get shot, gunned down, there were a lot of shootings,” he explained.
Even the interior of Barrett’s apartment building offered no sanctuary from the violence. “The most memorable thing is when I was 16 years old. There was one guy in my building, older than me. I knew him a little. He was a stick-up man, big time. One morning I was woken-up at 4am by a lot of gunshots in the hallway of my building. After the shooting stopped, I went out to the hall, and saw the stick-up man all shot up, including the mouth. They stripped him naked, too. I guess he messed with the wrong people,” related Barrett.
As a youngster, Barrett needed to use his fists often. “I was the youngest guy in my crew, but I was bigger than everyone else. That meant I did the fighting whenever we had trouble,” Barrett recalled. “I had some legendary street fights. Sometimes I got jumped by lots of guys at once, but I would never quit. No matter what, I would never quit.”
Fortunately, Barrett had access to an environment apart from Southside. That outlet existed in the home of Barrett’s grandparents, the Whites, who lived in Greenville, North Carolina. The Whites enjoyed a stable home and marriage, and were sensitive to the difficulties their grandson experienced in New York City. Hoping to influence Barrett in a positive way, the Whites often invited him to stay with them. “Every summer, I stayed with my grandparents in North Carolina,” explained Barrett. “That gave me a chance to see something different, to have a better life, to feel stability. I got to see the countryside, to swim, to do Cub Scouts, stuff like that. It opened my eyes. My grandmother especially was important; she encouraged me to dream of a better life, and to read. She said anytime things got too rough, to pick up a book and read, and to dream of a better future.”
Paradoxically, the stability and inspiration Barrett acquired from his grandparents may have made him that much fiercer. Barrett’s dreams of a better future were precious to him, and compensated for painful memories of life at home and in his neighborhood. In Southside, however, youngsters with aspirations were regarded as uppity, and sometimes attracted negative attention. Inevitably, some street toughs tried to disabuse the young Barrett of his dreams. Not surprisingly, Barrett responded by abusing the aggressors: foolhardy bullies who challenged the future heavyweight contender quickly found themselves on the pavement bereft of ego and teeth.
In high school, Barrett excelled at football, playing tight end, outside linebacker, and kicker. College coaches noticed: Grambling State University, East Carolina University, and the University of South Carolina recruited him to their programs. But instead, Barrett enrolled in a local community college, where he played football and prepared to transfer to a university as a Proposition 48 athlete. Plans eventually changed, however, and at the age of 23, Barrett took up boxing. Interestingly, he did not intend to become a competitive boxer. Rather, Barrett wanted to gain an edge in street fights. “I just wanted to learn how to knock a guy out with one punch, to get rid of him quickly,” he said.
Barrett first trained in a makeshift gym located in the cellar of a local coach’s home. “We called it ‘The Dungeon.’ It was dark and musty and there were spiders everywhere,” he recalled. Trainers noticed Barrett’s exceptional talent, and encouraged him to box competitively. A short but highly successful amateur career followed. He won the novice division of the New York Golden Gloves. “I knocked out the guy favored to win, he was out for ten minutes,” said Barrett. Afterward, Barrett won the Empire State Games. A national Police Athletic League (PAL) championship came next, followed by victories in duals against foreign boxers. After participating in the 1996 Olympic Trials, he decided to turn pro. By this time, Barrett – a winner of 37 out of 40 amateur bouts – had attracted the interest of important industry people. Barrett’s relationship with the late Eddie Mafuz, a well connected New York City manager and trainer, was especially influential. “Eddie was an important part of my career, getting me started. He was the first big boxing guy I met,” said Barrett.
THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION GETS A TASTE OF 147TH STREET
By the summer of 2000, Barrett had won 23 of 24 pro fights, including 15 knockouts. A London bout with Wladimir Klitschko followed, resulting in Barrett losing via seventh round TKO. Barrett suffered five knockdowns and a huge facial cut in the process. Remarkable, however, was Barrett’s comportment in defeat: despite taking a beating, he never stopped attacking the hulking Ukrainian. Although handicapped by massive disadvantages in strength, power, and size (Klitschko was 23 lbs heavier and four inches taller), Barrett doggedly fought back as long as the bout lasted. In fact, Klitschko had to strain in order to fend off Barrett’s repeated counterattacks. Most heavyweights would have fallen early against Klitschko that evening; Barrett proved himself to be the exception. Afterward, Barrett’s friend, the well-known trainer James Bashir Ali, told him, “That night you became a real fighter.” Barrett had passed his trial by fire: his fighting character now proven beyond doubt, he would soon establish himself as a legitimate top contender.
Barrett’s best career performances followed the Klitschko fight. In 2001 he outpointed former champion Tim Witherspoon. Barrett then stopped hard-hitting Eric Kirkland in ten rounds, withstanding some huge punches in the process. A controversial points loss to Joe Mesi occurred in 2003, but many observers felt Barrett deserved the verdict. Barrett floored Mesi in the later rounds and had him in trouble prior to the final bell. In 2004, Barrett beat two previously undefeated contenders: he knocked out Owen Beck and decisioned Dominick Guinn. After these victories, Barrett was ranked among the best heavyweights in the world.
Of course, Barrett’s career has changed since his peak in 2005. He lost a decision to close friend and fellow top contender Hasim Rahman that year. In 2006 – after 14 months of inactivity – Barrett fought WBA heavyweight champion Nicolai Valuev in a world title bout, losing via 11th round stoppage after rocking the champion early. Another long layoff followed, then Barrett split a pair of knockouts with hard-hitting journeyman Cliff Couser, each bout ending in the second round. Then, in 2008, Barrett scored an upset by stopping up-and-coming Tye Fields in the first round. Since beating Fields, Barrett has lost three consecutive fights, all against world-rated contenders. He was kayoed by David Haye and Odlanier Solis, and lost a decision to Alexander Ustinov.
UPCOMING BOUT AGAINST DAVID TUA
The conventional wisdom is that Tua will beat Barrett quickly and decisively. Oddsmakers have installed Tua as an overwhelming favorite. But is a Tua victory really a foregone conclusion? A closer look at the facts gives reason to pause, and even suggests that an upset could occur.
The view of the experts at www.onelinesportshandicapping.com is particularly interesting. Their boxing analysts wrote, “The overwhelming boxing betting odds on Tua made our boxing picks staff scratch our heads. In recent bouts Tua has looked sloppy both physically and technically. Barrett is the better boxer and has stayed more active fighting the better level of opposition. Tua may have the edge in strength but he is much shorter than Barrett and has developed a bad habit of throwing arm punches. Tua also seems to have lost practically all of the hand speed that once made him such a dangerous puncher.”
Even those oddsmakers who overwhelmingly favor Tua recognize his potential weaknesses. Evan Young of www.boxingforecast.com, for example, predicts a Tua knockout victory. But under questioning, Young did admit that, “Tua's weaknesses are punch output and height and reach. He can be outboxed with smart boxing, movement and a jab. In fact, in his prime he was losing or very close with many guys he stopped late. For example, Maskaev, Oquendo, David Izon, Rahman, even Dannell Nicholson to a degree.” Concerning Barrett, Young remarked, “He's never been a pure stick and move guy. He uses the jab to set up power shots. But he can move if he has to when trouble is near.”
It is important to note that Barrett is five inches taller than Tua, and enjoys a reach advantage of eight inches. Even at age 39, Barrett can jab and move when necessary. In his most recent performance – the decision loss to Ustinov – Barrett boxed well in the center ring, jabbing accurately and using footwork to avoid heavy punches. Altogether, Barrett put on a very competent fight that night, and might even have won if not for the handicaps of fighting with a broken right hand and boxing on his opponent’s home turf. In fact, analysis of the fight video suggests the bout was much closer than the officials’ scorecards indicate. This writer had Ustinov winning by only two rounds.
What does Tua bring to the table in Saturday’s fight? Many experts have noted that, since beginning his comeback last fall, Tua has looked lean (weighing under 240 lbs) and energetic in the ring. Supposedly Tua is a rejuvenated fighter, capable of boxing on the level he displayed in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when he was a top contender. It is believed that Tua is no longer the overweight, sluggish fighter who struggled with mediocre opponents during the mid-‘00s. But other facts should be considered, too. Notably, Tua is only one year younger than Barrett: Tua’s advancing age is bound to show sooner or later, perhaps even against Barrett. It must not be overlooked that Barrett is probably Tua’s most formidable opponent since fighting Hasim Rahman in 2003. Stylistic issues will work to Tua’s disadvantage as well. In his recent win over Friday Ahunanya (who is shorter and less experienced than Barrett), Tua showed serious weaknesses at distance fighting, and had difficulty cutting off the ring. If Tua cannot force Barrett to the ropes, the fight is likely lost for the Samoan powerpuncher.
Barrett has trained hard for the upcoming fight. “What I’d really like is to finish my career with a big win,” said Barrett in a telephone interview for this article. During the conversation, this writer perused Tua’s record on www.boxrec.com, noting the difficulty Tua had with some opponents during the ‘00s, such as Talmadge Griffiths, Cisse Salif, Maurice Wheeler, and Robert Hawkins. Barrett responded with a knowing laugh. “In this game, you never know what’s going to happen. You just never know,” he said.
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