This week, everyone in the DMV has an opportunity to do something we rarely do: Support an African-American from east of the Anacostia River.
With a career record of 20-2-1, not to mention 13 knockouts, perhaps Barnett should have a more robust local following. Don’t put all the blame on yourself though; boxing is a dirty game in which managers and promoters have much more power and control than many fighters ever do. Barnett admits as much.
“This is my coming-out party. It means everything for me,” says Barnett. “I haven’t gotten national exposure yet; this is a grand stage for me.”
Said stage will be ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, and Barnett will square off against undefeated Filipino boxer Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta. While for many an opponent nicknamed “No Mercy” would be reason enough to avoid the ring, Barnett can’t wait for his opportunity.
“They’re looking for this guy to beat me. It isn’t going to happen,” Barnett says.
His words are calm, matter of fact. This does not seem like normal prefight bluster.
“Usually a fighter with no manager and no promoter don’t usually get a shot like this,” he says. “Once I upset this guy, the sky is the limit.”
Barnett is not young, and he has been around. He will turn 30 in September. For a fighter, 30 is old. Without cueing up the Eminem lyrics, this really may be Barnett’s one shot.
“If you’re ready for the fight, take it,” he says. “DC or nothing. It’s a movement. I plan on representing the city well.”
Boxing insiders say Gesta is the next Manny Pacquiao. Hyperbole runs rampant in sports, boxing in particular, but the 24-year-old Filipino southpaw comes in with a perfect 25-0 record. Intimidation indeed.
But here in DC, we need to root for Barnett. Much of the sporting world expects him to lose—he is a sizable underdog in the gambling halls of Vegas—but who cares? For right or wrong, DC has a poor reputation of supporting its own, whether that’s emerging musicians, comedians, or artists. Friday night is a chance to change that.
There is something bigger here, too. As development marches on in our city, putting new luxury condos in previously undesirable neighborhoods, some people feel marginalized. For every new person who comes to DC armed with a graduate degree in sociology, other residents born and raised in the city feel pushed out.
The sociology guy isn’t wrong, but neither is the disenfranchised DC lifer. And maybe, in a weird and unintended way, Barnett can bridge that gap. While the rest of the country watches tape-delayed Olympic footage, find a TV Friday night and watch Barnett.
In a city with divides at every angle—political, racial, economic—sports can serve as a rare unifier. For decades, the Redskins brought lawyers, lobbyists, corner boys, and taxi drivers together. For a weekend, maybe Barnett can do the same.
Every day Barnett spends about six hours a day in the gym, preparing for his chance. Boxing has been all he’s known since he was a kid, and one of the few memories he has with his father. Barnett says his dad wasn’t around much as a kid, but when he was, they would be in the gym.
There is an ugly phrase in boxing used to describe an automatic win: tomato can. It implies that one fighter will be simply be outclassed by the other, and allow a young, up-and-coming boxer to pad his stats. Without much deductive reasoning, the phrase might be applicable for Barnett’s fight.
Barnett might be a tomato can, but he might not. That’s why they put on the gloves. That’s what makes this Ty Barnett’s chance.
So root for Barnett on Friday night. It’s a movement.
JP Finlay is a lifelong fan of Washington sports. Some of his fondest memories are of RFK Stadium and Redskins Super Bowl parades. Likes: hot dogs, Arrested Development, the beach. Dislikes: Duke, onions, The Big Bang Theory. Find him on Twitter @jpfinlay.