Mardi Gras In Milwaukee
No matter what Pat Barry threw at Joey Beltran at UFC: Fight for the Troops 2, “The Mexicutioner ” would not go down.
“I knew going into that fight that Joey had a zombiehead,” Barry says. “Joe Rogan started laughing, but that’s what I told him—Beltran is a real-life zombie. He can get hit in the head with anything and he’ll still keep coming.”
Barry should know. As a native of New Orleans, the UFC heavyweight is familiar with the smoky voodoo tales of Creole culture. He’s also well versed in the Catholic traditions of his hometown, where neighborhoods are referred to as parishes and the resident NFL team is named the Saints. In “The Big Easy,” religion is hard at work.
However, life and training have taken Barry out of the bayous, transplanting the 31-year-old Sanshou Kung-Fu expert to Milwaukee, Wis. This winter, the city bore the brunt of a 24-inch snowstorm, the likes of which Barry had never seen.
“Years ago, I don’t know how anyone migrated across the country, stopped in Wisconsin, and said, ‘Man, this is it. We found it—The Promised Land,’” Barry laughs. “I drive around in a Jeep that’s pretty high off the ground, and you couldn’t even see the road under all the snow.”
And yet, it has become home for him. He trains with kickboxing legend Jeff “Duke” Roufus and UFC lightweight star Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Lightweight Danny Downes and featherweight Eric “New Breed” Koch round out the UFC roster at Roufusport Academy. They are a tight group and push one another intensely.
On this night, Barry’s teammates show up at Crawdaddy’s,a local eatery specializing in Cajun cuisine, to take a lesson from Barry. It is Fat Tuesday—Mardi Gras! No other American holiday is as intimately tied to a single city like Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. While Barry couldn’t be in his hometown, he was able to offer his UFC teammates a taste of the bayou in a town that’s known more for beer and brats than boudin and beignets.
Make no mistake, Barry is a fighter. But he’s a self-professed non-tough guy who jokes that he would gladly trade his gloves for a microphone. He’s gained a reputation around the UFC as an entertaining fellow, with a quick wit and off-the-wall antics. At Crawdaddy’s, Barry is a natural in front of the video camera that’s filming the festivities. He wears shorts in any weather, crediting a pair of tree-stump legs that make wearing pants uncomfortable. It’s either that or he really does enjoy running around in his underwear and work boots.
“Hey y’all, this is UFC heavyweight Pat Barry,” he says. “If you didn’t know, I am a native of New Orleans and today is Mardi Gras! We’re going to get busy with crawfish and seafood and hurricanes. So let’s go inside and check it out!” Barry does three takes, all with relative ease in 33-degree weather.
In Crawdaddy’s kitchen, a single bead of sweat streams down Chef Jonathan’s cheek. He is a native Milwaukeean, but Chef Jonathan certainly knows his stuff. He will be teaching Pat how to prepare seafood paella complete with mussels, clams, and other shellfish, as well as a staple of Mardi Gras—crawfish. As Chef Jonathan creates the paella sauce, Barry asks a question any serious Cajun would ask.
“Do you eat the tail of the shrimp?” Barry inquires. “I do, actually,” says Chef Jonathan. “Do people give you looks? Because I eat the whole thing, too. People look at me like I’m crazy saying, ‘You can’t eat that!’ Hell, yeah you can.”
They finish the two dishes, decorating one plate with mussels and crab and the other with a spindle of crimson crawfish paraded around a mound of yellow rice. Chef Jonathan jokes that Barry might not be at fighting weight after tonight.
“Yeah, man, in New Orleans—crawfish boils, crab boils, people just get together with family in parks or their own backyards. It’s a social thing,” Barry says. “My family and friends, we just all get together to eat food. No matter what you’re doing—everyone could bearguing—but when it’s dinner time, everyone stops talking and start seating. It’s like a religion in New Orleans.”
The restaurant is filling up quickly while a Zydeco band sets up. Beads are flying everywhere, and the pink potency of Crawdaddy’s patented Hurricanes are taking effect around the bar. At the back bar is Bob the Bartender, who is charged with showing Barry how to mix a Hurricane. Two glasses of ice sit on the bar mat. “Even I can’t fuck this up,” Barry says.
However, as Bob shows Barry that the Hurricane is comprised of equal parts Hurricane mix and rum, Barry’s version features a 15-second pour of rum and a dash of mix.
“Umm, Pat—that’s too much rum.” “What did you say Bob?” The rum continues to pour. “That’s probably enough rum, Pat.” Bob attempts to grab the bottle.“Get away from me Bob. I’ll punch you. Check it out y’all! This is New Orleans style!” Barry slugs it down.
The first teammate to arrive is Downes. He’s a good Catholic boy with a double-major from nearby Marquette University. But tonight, he’s thirsty. Soon afterward, Roufus shows up. Then Koch.
Koch admits he’s late because he just woke up. He was training for his March 19 bout against Rafael Assuncao at UFC 128. Earlier, when Barry texted Koch telling him he had to hurry up, Koch fired back “I don’t HAVE to do anything!”—spoken like someone fully salted from weeks of training camp.
While waiting for Pettis, Barry explains how Mardi Gras always reminds him of his love for New Orleans. It also reminds him of what he’s lost.
“I lost my grandmother because of Hurricane Katrina. Grandma didn’t die in the storm,” he says. “It was all the traveling around, living in hotels for a month and the stress of having to leave New Orleans. She was just heartbroken, and her body couldn’t take it. But when people wrote that she died in the storm, it made it sound like we were sitting on the roof and she grabbed onto a branch and floated away or something. It wasn’t like that at all. It was the side of the story that you really don’t hear about. But New Orleans is back. There are still places where stuff is wrecked, but it’s back.”
Pettis arrives with beads around his neck. The crawfish are still warm, and the team is ready to chow down. Before they can, however, Barry teaches them the finer points of tearing apart a crawfish. Barry isn’t known for a great ground game, but on the crawfish, he knows how to twist and grab with the best of them.
“Grab the head, then the tail with fingers pointing downward,” he says. “Pull the body off, and quickly suck down the juice from the crawfish head.” The crew dips their heads back in unison like they were doing a shot of Jack Daniels. “Tear off that first ring of shell from the tail. Pull the tail off, and pull the meat out and EAT!”
Downes nods his head approvingly, so does Pettis. It tastes good, but for four hungry fighters who train up to three times a day…well, they’re going to need A LOT more crawfish.
The crawfish and paella have been devoured, but the Hurricanes continue to flow. Barry orders more food. It’s like Thanksgiving for Cajuns.
“I love New Orleans, says Barry. “The place symbolizes perseverance. No matter what happens in life, you have a choice: you can either sit in a chair and rot or march forward. New Orleans marched forward. New Orleans will never go away. You could nuke it, and we’ll still be living in tents. It’s totally different from anything in the world. I call it the greatest country in the world even though it’s a city. It’s so unique.”
He might live in Milwaukee now, but for one day a year, Pat Barry gets to pretend he’s home.