Barrett's chance for revival

A WORKING CHRiSTMAS I: British boxer goes looking for a fight in Belgiu m tomorrow. Steve Bunce reports
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The Independent Online
Pat Barrett should have been in the gym at Moston, Manchester, preparing his body for fights. Instead, he was in Risley prison filing for bankruptcy. Bad summer.

It has been a harsh year for the former undefeated British and European light-welterweight champion, whose boxing dreams faded somewhere between the prize ring and the friendships he refuses to sacrifice with the boys from Manchester's Cheetham Hill.

Barrett, 27, now heavier and showing signs of belated wisdom, fights on Christmas Day in Izegem, Belgium. He will probably face Mario Monteyne, one of boxing's reliable losers, but Barrett is not even certain of that. He will be on his own, separated from the loyalty of his street friends, his family and his coach, Brian Hughes. "It is just me, nobody else," Barrett insists. There will be little joy during his self-imposed isolation, his 42nd fight.

He was once a sensation. In 1989 he won the British title, the following year he claimed the European version during a glorious night inside a makeshift venue on a beach in Italy. Both wins were sudden, shocking and unexpected. Known as the "Black Flash", he defended the titles, but his career faltered when a world championship fight collapsed just 24 hours before he was due in the ring. Barrett looked sick when he heard the news and decided to leave the promoter Mickey Duff and join Frank Warren.

The world title fight finally took place in 1992 but Barrett was dreadful, losing a dreary points decision. There were rumous abut his wayward tendencies and Manchester papers listed his arrests for vehicle-related offences. Barrett was black, wore gold,drove fast cars and was constantly stopped by the police in the wrong part of town. He became, he claims, an innocent player in the high-profile Manchester gangster scene. He knew the faces, talked the talk and did the walk. Barrett may have looked likea bad boy, but his greatest crime seems to have been naivety.

"The police never liked the company I kept. But, I mean, I was getting stopped three or four times each day. It was a joke because they were taking the piss," Barrett remembers. Now he lives in Oldham's fairly affluent suburb of Chadderton, the house a reminder of some of his former pay days in the ring.

"I don't really care what the police think about the company I keep. They have said that because I am in the limelight I have to hate criminals, people what been to prison, people what done drugs. That is not the way it goes down. They are old friends, that is all.

"I understand the mentality of the police. They must have thought I was doing drugs because I had something to back it with: the boxing career. That is how it stood. When you get a lump sum of money all you want to do is buy all the things you have always wanted; a mobile phone, a gold watch. I wanted to look the part and be the part."

When he talks about "doing drugs" he is not talking about smoking a joint. In Manchester, Moss Side gets the press but Cheetham Hill is as cruel. A heavy drug area full of sad women with low prices haunting the doorways, worn out white-trash children on mountain bikes , and young black guys loitering with angry stares. It is where Barrett retreated with his boxing loot.

"A lot of my friends are from Cheetham Hill and I used to go down there. At the start my personal life didn't interfere with my training but they [police] were on my case so often that my training started to suffer because of the attention I got from them," Barrett added.

Hughes disagrees. "His friends were evil. There are no wars in this gym. No blood on this floor. Out there he is involved with gangs, shootings and doing things I don't even know. That is what burns a kid out, not this, not in here. Out there."

Hughes offended many of Barrett's friends.

In one final effort to get clear and start fresh, Barrett went to America earlier this year. He fought and won but when he returned, the severity of his belligerent behaviour over the last few years caught up with him. His outstanding fines for failing to produce his vehicle details had mounted to almost £6,000 and shortly after returning he was arrested and sent to Risley. He served three months, is currently banned from driving and serving 12 months' probation. He needs to fight now.

"I knew a lot of people in jail," Barrett claimed. It was his fourth time in prison but his first sentence and there are presently no outstanding warrants. His probation officer knows where he will be on Christmas night.

"I set this fight up. I will try and do my best, that is all I can do, but if I do happen to get beat I will know there is not much point in being there," Barrett admitted. It is his last chance, he knows that from his recent failure to interest the men who once pursued him: the boxing promoters.

His three sisters, his big brother, all their children and Brian Hughes are waiting. They are expecting something this Christmas, a sign of intention from their Pat.