You’d be forgiven for forgetting that fact watching him train this morning at Alexandria’s Warrior’s Gym. Saturday, Barry clashes with Stefan Struve, the UFC’s tallest fighter at 6 feet 11 inches, when “UFC on Versus 6” goes down at D.C.’s Verizon Center. How did Barry prepare for his towering opponent? The New Orleans heavyweight had his sparring partner raise his punching pads so high that Barry leapt to reach them with his jabs.
It was a brief burst of comedy before a more legitimate workout. It also doesn’t mean the professional pugilist doesn’t take his opponents seriously – he just enjoys looking on the bright side before a brawl.
“You’ve got to keep it light,” Barry said. “I don’t have to hate your guts or want to kill you to fight you. I like being comfortable with the people I fight. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at anything.”
This philosophy has produced some of the most comical psychological warfare in recent mixed martial arts (MMA) contests. Barry drew first blood with an Aug. 8 “training video” on YouTube that showed him preparing for Struve by mounting a mannequin on a table and spring-boarding fist first into its head. Struve – apparently lighthearted himself – responded by posting a clip in which he punts a Barry action figure.
“We’re all friends,” Barry said of his UFC peers. “The closer you get to the top of the mountain, the smaller the amount of space is up there. We’re all eventually going to run into each other.”
Antics aside, Barry’s fighting is no joke. When he’s not splitting sides with pranks outside the ring, he’s splitting them with devastating kicks. During his 2008 UFC debut against Dan Evensen, for example, one of Barry’s low kicks collapsed Evensen’s knee.
Barry credits such raw power as a product of his time practicing kung fu and kickboxing before joining the UFC. His kung fu days were particularly formative, he said, given they allowed him to visit China’s legendary Shaolin Temple, renowned worldwide for its martial artists.
“The Shaolin Temple’s not like you’d think,” he said. “The guys there are actual wizards and magicians and they’re powerful beyond belief. They have a mental ability that I’ve never seen before in my life.”
The time Barry spent in China honed his skills so that when he became a professional kickboxer in 2004, it didn’t take him long to dominate his weight class. He soon turned to the UFC, he said, given that mixing martial arts seemed like the next step for challenging himself. He’s since amassed a 6-3 record in the octagon, letting his savage striking prove he’s a serious threat once the bell rings.
“MMA is taking over the world and so that’s what I evolved to,” he said. “If you want to be the greatest warrior of all time, you have to be able to fight any type of fighter in any type of terrain at all times. MMA is everything but actual swords.”
Barry believes proof of that fact can be found in his upcoming match with Struve. Barry stands 5 feet 10 inches, over a foot beneath Struve. This height disparity means that he’ll have longer to reach than Struve before landing a strike. So his battle plan is hitting Struve with close combat.
“I’m so short Struve can wrap his snake arms around me and I won’t even know it,” Barry said. “I’ll get extremely close and bang him out.”
Struve’s versatility may make this strategy dangerous. Though the Dutchman has a kickboxing background like Barry, he also has experience seeking submission holds.
“I’m very comfortable on the ground,” Struve said. “Every single time Barry comes at me he should be thinking in the back of his mind that I’m going to take him down and employ my will there.”
Barry would rather see if his American kickboxing can go toe-to-toe with the infamous Dutch brand. They’ll find out who can still stand when the two trade crippling leg strikes this Saturday.
“I’m ‘Star Wars’ when the jets wrap cables around those big walker things and trip them up right now,” Barry said. “I’m going to run up Struve’s leg like a roach. It’s going to be a kickboxing spectacle.”
Barry said he strives for such outrageous performances regardless of opponent – Struve’s merely loftier than most. His nickname – “HD,” short for “Hype or Die,” – represents his desire to win renown through talent. At day’s end, Barry would rather die than miss out on hype he could potentially earn.
“Whether you’re a seamstress, a ballet teacher, or a bus driver, if you do it with everything you’ve got, you’ll be the best at it,” he said. “Little guys can do big things.”
Mark Hensch is a freelance journalist and former intern for The Washington Times. An avid MMA fan, he believes his love for the sport stems from wrestling and doing karate in high school. It may also have something to do with his large martial arts movie collection. Readers can follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter.
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