FROM booze-fuelled evenings with Riddick Bowe and standing alongside Manny Pacquiao, to a chance meet with Julian Jackson and a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, it’s been a whirlwind five years for Ryan Barrett.
Boxing News caught up with the former Thamesmead welterweight in 2015, one year after a stroke ended his 30-11-3 (7) career. He’d just began helping his father Steve coach at Eltham & District ABC, after battling months of bed-bound depression.
His mind and body have strengthened since then, as has his life experience, all because of one trip. In 2016 Barrett watched former opponent Amir Khan take on Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas, before travelling to the Cayman Islands for an interview.
“I was asked to go over for a trial, and they ended up offering me the Cayman Islands head coach role,” Barrett recalls. “It all happened so quickly.”
Barrett bounced around the Caribbean for two years, visiting Barbados, St Lucia, Jamaica and the Bahamas while guiding his boxers to eight gold, eight silver and four bronze medals across two editions of the Caribbean Championships. He also took Cayman to the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, where his charges Brandy Barnes and Dariel Ebanks both fell short – the latter to England’s Ben Whittaker in the 75kg division. “We got a tough draw with both, but my light-flyweight Brandy was beaten by the Sri Lankan Anusha Koddithuwakku, who went on to win a bronze medal,” explains Barrett.
“It was a great experience for them and me, but the highlight was definitely the opening ceremony. To walk into the stadium as national coach in front of 40,000 people was mind blowing. Cayman only took 21 athletes, so there was huge pride among everyone.”
Additional perks of the job saw Barrett cross paths with boxing figures from the past, like former heavyweight champion of the world Riddick Bowe, who spent five days in Cayman.
“He was out drinking every night,” remembers Barrett. “I watched him devour vast amounts of chicken wings and listened to him reminisce about the fights with Evander Holyfield and Andrew Golota.
“I enjoyed his company, but felt sorry for him; he was repetitive and his speech was slurred. He bad mouthed Lennox Lewis a lot, and said he hadn’t spoken a word to former manager Rock Newman since retiring.”
The 38-year-old also met Manny Pacquiao. “He’s so tiny you could put him in your pocket,” jokes Barrett. “There was definitely an aura about him though. Cayman has a large Filipino community, and they worship him. He was pleasant to everyone.”
But Barrett’s favourite brush with former fighters came in the form of Julian Jackson, former two-weight world champion, and head coach of the US Virgin Islands. “Meeting Julian was a real nice moment, I walked straight past him and one of my assistant coaches was like ‘you know who that is, it’s Julian Jackson’. I wasn’t convinced, so went over to introduce myself and asked him to take his hat off. All I needed to see was that slick high top,” Barrett laughs.
“During that tournament we sat together in all the rules meetings. Unfortunately I didn’t get to share the ring with him as a trainer, but he was very generous with his time outside of it.
“I shook his hand and it was like a shovel. His fights with Gerald McClellan and Herol Graham always stuck with me, and when he picked up my accent it prompted him to mention the latter. He smiled and nodded a lot as I talked about that fight but never went into much detail.
“I tried to get him over to Cayman after that, but a hurricane stopped it happening. I still speak to him on WhatsApp, so hopefully I’ll see him again somewhere along the line.”
Now back at Gumshield Gym, Barrett continues coaching Eltham & District. He’s advancing in professional boxing too, recently returning from France where his fighter Maxime Beaussire lost to Matteo Signani for the European middleweight title. “Max got caught with a peach of a shot and although we were all devastated by the loss, the most important thing is his health and that he is ok. He can come again,” said Barrett.
Five years ago Barrett’s goal was just to get back in the ring and share his knowledge of the sport with others. Now it’s to one day train a world champion. Why not? As he’s already shown, a lot can happen in five years.