Michele Hewitson interview: Monte Barrett

By Michele Hewitson

This boxer sure can talk - about poetry, legs and other such silliness.

The story of Monte Barrett's boxing career is, like the story of many boxing careers, a rags to riches to rags one. Photo / Richard Robinson
The story of Monte Barrett's boxing career is, like the story of many boxing careers, a rags to riches to rags one. Photo / Richard Robinson

Monte Barrett, the American boxer is in town to fight Shane Cameron, the New Zealand boxer, which means there has been the usual pre-match verbal argy bargy and eyeballing. This is all part of the fun in the mad world of boxing, so Cameron has been rude about Barrett being so old (he's 41) he has to wear reading glasses and Barrett has been rude about Cameron having "his panties all up in a bunch", whatever that means - that he's a girl, apparently. "Well, he was acting kind of feminine. He's emotional."

Would I like an interview with Barrett? I've interviewed Cameron and he seemed rather a poppet but it would be fair to say that he's not the greatest talker. So, can Barrett talk? Can he talk! He said: "I heard you did an interview with Shane. He has a blank personality. He's just a plain Jane. He's a chalk board." I think he said a chalk board, although why that should be a bad thing to be, I have no idea. It's all just silly talk anyway. "You can call it that if you want."

He can talk all right, and he talks very fast and in his South Jamaica Queens accent (notable ex-residents: rapper 50 Cent and drug lord Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff who was had up for the attempted murder of 50 Cent, and Lamar Odom, now married to one of those Kardashians), so I may have missed some of the finer nuances of what he had to say, but I got the gist.

I was going to talk to a tough guy. His girlfriend, the beautiful Shanequa Crosby, said: "Treat him lightly. He's sensitive." His manager, former gangster Stan Hoffman said: "He's a gentle giant." They made a scary team. I just about got hugged to death and that was before I met the tough guy who hugged me so hard my ribs are still aching.

He and Stan had worked up a trick to play on me. It was a good trick which they decided in the end not to play, but they had as much fun telling me about it instead and giggling, possibly like girls, during the telling. The trick was that "I was going to have Stan come in and you're going to say, 'Hi, Monty!', you know, all gibbery, and 'how you doing?"' Then he was going to put his hand up to his mouth and whisper, to Stan, "tell her I said 'hello'. And he was going to say, 'he says hello to you'. And then you were going to start talking and I was going to answer through him a couple of times then you'd go, 'what the hell is going on with this guy?' and then I was going to say, 'April Fool!"'

It's June. But never mind. It was a good trick, or elaborate, at least, and was of course really a way of having another go at Cameron. "We heard you did an interview with Shane and you said that he was quiet and didn't have too much of a personality and didn't have too much to say."

Oh dear. Did I? I thought I'd better take Shane Cameron's corner to make up for it. I said: "Aren't you a bit old?" He jumped up and said: "Yeah! 41! Let me show you what 41 looks like," and lifted up his shirt. Not too bad. "Not too bad!", he said, flexing his biceps: "Want to feel that?" How could a girl refuse? Blimey. Are they real? "No. I bought these from the silicone shop. Tee hee." Does he look at himself in the mirror and think: Whoah! I look hot!

"I used to. I don't any more. I'm past it. I used to take a picture and put it on Facebook: Look at me! But I'm in a whole different space now."

He used to be a bad boy. He wouldn't tell me how bad. "I don't want to incriminate myself. I don't want the cops looking for me!" He was suspended from school eight times for fighting. "I lived in a rough neighbourhood." You could say that. It was a neighbourhood where people routinely shot at each other with AK-47s. He said, almost casually, that as a kid he got used to seeing brains splattered in the stairwells of the project building he lived in.

His mother had him when she was 16. He didn't know who his biological father was until he was eight and didn't meet him until he was 12. His mother has had, and is still having, a hard life. She's "caught up in the streets", meaning that she's a drug addict. He loves his mother and has tried to help her, going with her to a 12-step programme. Now, he says, he'll go on loving her but "I'm not going to give my mother all of me again. You wear yourself down."

He has been boxing professionally since 1998. He'll fight probably once more after the Cameron fight. He'd like to get David Tua back in the ring. They have history: He won in a controversial decision against Tua in 2010. Tua said he was a drug cheat. He says he's not - a long and complicated story about a banned substance being unlisted on a supplement - and that Tua is a girl and fat and so on.

The story of his boxing career is, like the story of many boxing careers, a rags to riches to rags one; of big dreams and broken dreams and broken contracts and rip-offs and falling-outs. He had the big house and two Mercedes and a Lincoln Navigator and then he was bankrupt. He had a bitter divorce and six kids to three different women. Then he met Stan and Stan (and Jesus) saved him. "That's my guy! He gave me $50,000. We did a handshake deal. Believe me: Nobody does that no more." He is not rich now but he doesn't care.

"When you come from nothing and you see people, you know, the players, the drug dealers and you see the TV shows, and you want the cars and the women and you want it all and after you have that, you say: 'It wasn't cracked up to all what you thought it was.' The grass isn't greener on the other side. You just got to water a little bit of your grass to see how green it can get, right?"

He became a born-again Christian in 1999. He believes in guardian angels, and, sweetly, in sharing them. "I'm pretty sure there's a million angels up there that can go round and take care of you and me and the photographer and everybody else."

He is sensitive. "I'm a sensitive person. I'm a Gemini." It is likely he wasn't always quite as sensitive. He says he was an adulterer and he is still a hopeless romantic. He had Shanequa's name tattooed on his arm as a Mother's Day gift to her. He believes in chivalry and opening doors for women. He said: "I love washing dishes."

He is an easy crier. Church makes him cry, for joy. He cries about his kids. He cried when he saw Mike Tyson on Oprah. He believes in redemption. "Of course I do. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't believed in redemption. I've been knocked down 17 times in boxing. And I've gotten back up all 17 times. I've never quit."

He has been the WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight Champion and the WBO Oriental Heavyweight Champion. He is said to have had a "respectable" career. He might once have dreamed of a starrier one. "Once you stop dreaming, you stop living and I think that with my boxing career, I'm happy because in life some people aren't competent at anything. So if I don't become world champion and I'm Asia and Pacific champion for the rest of my life, I'm okay with that. Yes, I am."

He is a secret writer of books and a proclaimer of his own poetry. I said David Tua wrote poetry too and he said, "I didn't know he had that much personality to write poetry." It is important to him to be a good person and to be thought of as a good person; one who whacks the hell out of other people for a living, which includes whacking them verbally.

It's a complicated business, being a boxer. He felt a poem coming on. "That's my mom and dad in me, but if you split the personality, and check the arms and legs and the feet, make sure that he is he and I am me." He said: "I'm very simple, you know?"

He is a very simple man who has a very big ego. "It's pretty big when I'm fighting." And when he's not? "I think that's like Superman and Clark Kent. He flies back to the phone booth and turns back into Clark Kent. After all these years you learn how to turn it on and off."

He has some funny ideas, about legs, for one thing. He has very good legs. "I think my best gift in boxing has been my legs." He abstains from sex for some weeks before a fight because "women weaken the legs". What could he mean? "You know it!" No, I do not. "It's true!" He learned this truth from the movie, Rocky! "I learned it from Rocky, but I learned it for myself." Medically proven, is it? "Yes it is." No, it's not.

"Yes, it is. I'm a doctor. I've got a degree. It's medically proven." That is, I suppose, another way of winning a fight: He wears you down with silliness. He said: "I hope I was better than Shane Cameron!" If only for the most bonkers exchange about legs I'm ever likely to have, I have to concede that he was. (And, oh all right, those biceps did make me go just a bit gibbery.)

The KFC Godfather of All Fight Nights is at SkyCity on Thursday night and screens on SKY TV pay per view.

- NZ Herald

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