by Pavel Yakovlev: (September 25, 2011) – Monte Barrett has had an up-and-down career in recent years, winning some fights and losing others. But Barrett’s prospects are definitely on the upside these days. Last month Barrett soundly outboxed David Tua to capture the WBO Oriental and Asia Pacific regional titles. The victory establishes Barrett as the WBO’s #12 contender, making him eligible for a world title fight. Now, years after being written-off by boxing pundits, the 40-year-old Barrett is positioned to make some noise in the heavyweight division once again.
The win over Tua represented Barrett’s second straight upset against the power-punching New Zealander. Last year, fighting as a heavy underdog, Barrett held Tua to a draw in Atlantic City. The fight’s outcome shocked the public and spoiled promoters’ plans to move Tua into a big money bout with one of the Klitschkos. In order to restore Tua’s credibility, a rematch was scheduled, to be held in New Zealand. But this time Barrett did even better, and emerged as a unanimous decision winner by scores of 115-112 (twice) and 114-113.
Now 35-9 (20 KO’s), Barrett has again proven that when he is in top shape, he is a formidable challenge to most heavyweights. Recently Barrett granted an exclusive interview to ESB.
Yakovlev: Monte, congratulations on your win over Tua. Are you going back to New Zealand to fight Shane Cameron? Recent Internet reports indicate that this fight is in development. Interestingly, Cameron’s manager alleged stated that you priced yourself out of the negotiations by requesting a $200,000 purse.
Barrett: That’s not true. There are no negotiations between Shane and I. Shane’s people are just trying to create a media buzz. Ced (Cedric Kushner) and I spoke a couple of weeks ago and he showed me one corresponding email he had from Shane’s manger. Don’t believe what you are reading in the media.
Yakovlev: Tua was ranked WBO #3 going into this bout, and by beating him, you have elevated yourself to the WBO’s #12 slot. Any comments on your new ranking?
Barrett: I thought I would be higher, to be honest with you. I’m grateful to be #12 though.
Yakovlev: Since beating Tua, have you received any big offers from promoters internationally? I would expect this to be the case, given that you have a recognizable name, a world ranking, two WBO titles, and a high profile win on your recent resume.
Barrett: To be honest, no…at least I haven’t heard it from Ced. My rule of thumb is, if an offer doesn’t have better than a 50% chance of materializing into an actual fight, then don’t make the offer to me.
Yakovlev: Tell us about the bout in New Zealand. How did it compare to the first fight?
Barrett: I thought I won the first nine rounds. I was in my zone. Most of the time when you have a rematch, it turns out the same way. I cut him in the fourth or fifth round. He didn’t know what to do, he was confused. I thought the first fight was tougher for me, but every fight is mentally and physically hard. I really applaud myself for winning this one. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to through the whole process in preparing, doing things I never did before, running, and training with a gas mask.
Yakovlev: You trained with a gas mask? That’s a new one for me. I have never heard of that. Tell us about it.
Barrett: My conditioning trainer, Luis Ruiz, put a gas mask on me in the gym. It makes it harder to breath because it has less oxygen in it. You’re supposed to perform the best you can with it. Using the mask was one of the hardest things I have ever done in training. We would train in intervals of twenty minutes with the mask. We wanted to simulate higher altitude conditions. It also helps a great deal with being under distress, practicing keeping calm and not panicking when things go south. I just wanted to be in the best shape of my life, so we focused on my condition. I know winning goes with the word “preparation,” just like in business when they say “the early bird gets the worm.” I knew David Tua would be at his best and I felt I needed to be two steps ahead of him considering that I was going to his country, into the Lion’s Den.
Yakovlev: So Luis Ruiz really made a big difference for you in this fight?
Barrett: Luis worked the dog piss out of me. I was hating him then, in the gym, but then I was thanking him after the fight. The funny thing is, when I was scheduled for gym sessions, I would try to make all these excuses not to go, and my lady Shanequa would encourage me to go. Thanks Shanequa, I love you for that. Also, I had good trainers in Azor Gist – who is also known as “Terrific” – and James Ali Bashir, who developed a game plan that we believed in and stuck to. I just wanted to be in the best shape of my life, so we focused on my condition. I knew people were going to judge me from the Charles Davis fight, and that worked in my favor.
Yakovlev: What happened in the Davis fight? I found it shocking that he held you to a draw, given how well you boxed both times against Tua.
Barrett: I was sick as a dog for the fight. I drove down there (from New Jersey to West Virginia) in a snow blizzard and my trainer somehow jammed the window. It wouldn’t role back up and everyone who was in my truck got sick. But I had to fight. I was thinking, ‘I can beat him even if I’m sick.’ I was wrong. I should’ve realized that I shouldn’t have fought him when I’m sick. I didn’t underestimate Davis, I overestimated myself.
Yakovlev: Getting back to Tua, I noticed that he was heavier for the rematch. He weighed 244 ½ lbs. That’s seven pounds more than he weighed a year ago in Atlantic City. Do you think that conditioning might have been an issue for him this time?
Barrett: Him being heavier didn’t make any difference. This time he was stronger, and he trained harder. He was healthier. In the first fight, he looked like he was dehydrated. I know he was trying to look good on the scales then. This time, he didn’t feel pressure to have a good number for the scale. I think with him having a conditioning trainer, they worked more on his power instead of worrying about what he weighed on the scale.
Yakovlev: So it sounds like Tua was stronger for the rematch. Could you feel it in his punches? Also, how do you rate Tua’s power?
Barrett: People ask me that question all the time, and it’s one of the craziest questions I ever hear. Every heavyweight has punching power. Even Kevin Johnson, who is supposed to be a light puncher, has power if hits you the right way. Tua broke my jaw, what more do I need to say? To be honest, all heavyweights are strong in their own way.
Yakovlev: Tua broke your jaw in the final round, so certainly you must have felt that punch. Can you tell us about that?
Barrett: In the 11th round, David hit me with some great shots, and I don’t think I was fully recovered when round 12 started. I knew I had the fight bagged, so I just had to survive the final round. But then he caught me with a good combination, and as I was going down, he pivoted his body position, and hit me on the right side of the jaw with his right hand. It was like he added insult to injury: I was already going down, and then he breaks my jaw. It took me a while to realize my jaw was broken. Afterwards, at the press conference, I knew my jaw hurt, but I didn’t know it was broken.
Yakovlev: Getting back to your training camp, who did you spar with for the rematch? Do you have any comments regarding what you worked on in sparring sessions?
Barrett: In sparring, I worked on speed especially. I noticed that David had good hand speed when he stopped Shane Cameron, so I had to go to work on my own speed. For the first month, I sparred with small, aggressive guys, and worked on using my jab and left hand. I practiced slipping and countering and things like that. I worked with middleweights, including Pawel Wolak. Working with these lighter guys built up my speed, and helped me to let my hands go. I also worked with light heavyweights and heavyweights.
Yakovlev: You mentioned that you prepared for Tua by studying films.
Barrett: I studied Ali-Frazier III and Douglas-Tyson, to see how the jab is used to control a puncher, and how to stay busy without wasting punches. I also studied David’s fights against Ike Ibeabuchi and Leonnox Lewis. I got the most out of watching Lewis. I focused on how he kept the wedge (distance), and how he kept the jab working. I knew David had no chance of winning if he couldn’t get inside. Also, I saw that a good, hard jab will back David up.
Yakovlev: Studying Tua’s films gave you and your trainer insight into how to handle Tua’s dangerous left-hook. Tell us about that.
Barrett: We noticed that most guys move to their left against David, to circle away from his left hook. But we saw that David throws that hook wide, and he can catch guys at the end of it as they’re moving to their own left. That’s especially if guys drop their hands as they’re moving out of David’s range. So, in the fight, I stayed on my right, toward David’s left hook, so I could smother the punch. I wanted to be on his left shoulder, going to my right side. I think he was surprised by that, me moving to my right. Also, with me moving to my right, I also had a better angle for throwing my right hand.
Yakovlev: You explained that legwork was an important part of beating Tua. How are your legs holding out at age 40? Did you find it hard or challenging to condition your legs for this fight, considering your age? Also, historically, it’s been said in boxing that “the legs” are the first thing that fail a fighter as he gets older. Supposedly, after a guy passes 35 years old or so, the legs aren’t there anymore. Do you agree?
Barrett: No, I didn’t find it hard to condition my legs for this fight. The first thing I did is make a commitment not to have sex while training. I have been fortunate to have always had good legs throughout my career. I think the belief about boxers’ legs being the first thing to go is a myth. The reason why I say that is because in this day in age we have more information than the past about conditioning and the history of boxing.
Yakovlev: Today there are lots of leading heavyweights who are close to, or older than, 40 years of age. This is really surprising. Years ago, when I started following boxing, fighters were generally “old” at age 30, and by age 35, they were usually retired. Back then, there were no professional boxers over the age of 40. But now it’s different. Why is this…what’s changed?
Barrett: Now, 40 is the new 30, because today we have supplements, medicine, trainers, diets, healthy living, no smoking, and technology. As boxers, we’re living in a different age, totally different than from yesterday’s fighters. They say that you get out of your body what you put into it, and if you take care of yourself, you should get good results. Also, today we work more on using both sides of the brain when he box. Boxers take punches to the head a lot, and their equilibrium can get damaged. So, they need to rest and play challenging games, or word puzzles, or do exercises to restore that mental edge. Also, let’s not leave out that there are more rules and regulations in place than in the past, including different gloves, and more rest periods in between fights.
Yakovlev: To be honest, I didn’t think you would be able to win a decision against Tua in New Zealand. My expectation is that the judges would lean heavily in his favor. Are you surprised at the fairness of the officials?
Barrett: I wasn’t worried because I had the right things written in my contract up front. The three important things that concerned me were the officials, the gloves, and the size of the ring. The three officials had to include one from the United States and one from a neutral country. The gloves had to be Everlast extra large ten ounces, and I had to have a 20 foot ring. Once it was in my contract, there was no way they could get around that. When I got to New Zealand, I found out that for David’s last fight, against Demetrice King, they used a 16 foot ring. I reminded them that I had a contract for a big ring, so they couldn’t use that little ring with me.
Yakovlev: I understand that you took issue with Cedric Kushner concerning something that happened during your fight, at ringside.
Barrett: Yeah. In the 12th round, when I got dropped by Tua, I looked up. Who’s the first person I see jumping and cheering? It’s Cedric Kushner. He jumped up so high that he looked like he was fixing the lights hanging from the arena ceiling. Think about it: he’s got to be 350 lbs, easy, but he was so excited that he jumped right into the sky with joy. That pissed me off so much. Just seeing Ced jump like that, all excited…that really motivated me to get up. After the fight I told him, “you lost a lot of respect from me.”
Yakovlev: So seeing Kushner cheer for Tua really angered you. He represents both of you, but obviously he had big promotional hopes for Tua.
Barrett: I understand that Kushner had a big contract for Tua, but he should have acted like a businessman, there at ringside. I mean, I never saw Don King do something like that at ringside. If you beat King’s fighter, even when he doesn’t want you to win, he’ll take it like a businessman. But Ced didn’t do that at ringside. I was so pissed. Let me tell you something. A while back, Ced was in the hospital for two months. He’d had five operations in three weeks. He was really messed up. Me and my girlfriend, we’d visit him, and bring him fruitcakes. I visited him five or six times when he was in the hospital. It had nothing to do with boxing, I was just being a friend. As a human being, you try to be nice. We all struggle. After all that, to see him jump for joy when Tua floored me…that made me so angry.
Yakovlev: But you and Kushner talked it over later?
Barrett: Later I told him that what he did was absolutely wrong. He admitted it. He told me that he was in the wrong. If a man does that, I have respect for him. Later, after he watched the films, he even told me, “you have some kahoonas.”
Yakovlev: I trust that you and Kushner are on good terms now. I know he’s representing you.
Barrett: The relationship I have with Ced is a functional relationship where we understand one another and we are business partners. That’s the way fighter-promoter relationships should be. My advice to younger fighters is that they should realize that their promoters are their business partners, and not their bosses. When a fighter realizes that, he puts himself in a better position to understand things from the business side.
Yakovlev: I am told that Kushner inquired about matching you with Tyson Fury, but that Fury’s people had no interest. I think you against Fury would be an excellent fight. Any comments?
Barrett: Ced called Fury’s people, but they said they’re not interested. If they’re not interested, then they not interested. A little while ago my trainer told me that Fury would be a good opponent for me. I said all right.
Yakovlev: On Facebook you get a lot of messages from fans suggesting that you fight Arreola.
Barrett: Facebook fans ask me if I would like to fight Arreola. Yes, I would, but the money would have to be right. It would have to be an eliminator for the mandatory too, with the winner getting a title shot.
Yakovlev: ESB has done a lot of articles about you in the past. As you aware, ESB’s branding is that fans can post almost anything they want in the comments section accompanying each story. I understand that some of our more outspoken members have caught your attention.
Barrett: It just bothers me when these guys who post comments – who have no credentials, no authority – say the things they do. These guys, who insult fighters, they’ve never thrown a punch. They are stupid with a capital “S.” They probably have beer bellies…a girl could probably beat them. Some of the stuff they say here, under cover in the comments section, I’d like them to say that to me in person in New York City. Then I’d ask the Lord to forgive me.
Yakovlev: I’ve talked to several other well-known pro fighters who have expressed annoyance with some of posters. I also know that Shannon Briggs sometimes posts here and gives the less respectful fans a piece of his mind.
Barrett: When I think about some of these ESB posters, or bloggers, I wish I could get just three minutes with one of them. They talk so much crap, but everyone knows they are just gangster bloggers. These guys couldn’t bust a grape in a food fight. Give me five minutes with them, no gloves, no ring, and no ref…or even in a back alley or something. Just set it for me!