Pat Barry addresses criticism of Rose Namajunas cornering at UFC 274, what went wrong with ‘perfect’ game plan

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Pat Barry has heard the criticism directed at him and the rest of Rose Namajunas’ team.

Barry was one of the head coaches and cornermen for Namajunas at UFC 274, where “Thug Rose” dropped her strawweight title in a widely-panned rematch against Carla Esparza. Barry, who is also Namajunas’ fiancé, reflected on the disappointing performance and addressed the criticism on Wednesday’s episode of The MMA Hour, explaining that the game plan for Namajunas was to first draw Esparza into being the aggressor, then capitalize once she did. And in Barry’s eyes, that game plan would’ve been effective if other circumstances hadn’t gotten in the way once Namajunas tried to flip the switch.

“If you make mistakes at this level, the consequences are pretty heavy. The consequences are pretty heavy, man,” Barry told host Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “So we went into this fight with a strategy. We have Carla memorized, man. We know everything that she’s going to do before she does it. We know what it looks like, we know when to avoid, when to attack. This is a strategic, perfect game plan. And just so everyone knows, we went in there for the win. The plan was to win the fight. The plan was to do this thing in particular, and if you do this thing, people are going to start booing — they are going to start booing — but that’s only because they don’t know what’s going on. And when they do start booing, Carla is going to open up — and when she does, bam, there it is. That’s the game.

“In the fight, [Namajunas] did everything perfect, bro. Perfect. I love the UFC and I’ve loved everything that UFC does for everyone, and I love it, I love the organization. But I will say, in the fight, there’s three moments — but there’s two in particular — where bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, here it comes, this is the time, and when Rose went to throw the punch, her foot slipped. And I saw that. I saw it. I saw her foot slide. And when it did, I know my head went crazy. … And when the opportunity for that one thing that we trained for came again and she went — foot slipped a second time,” Barry continued.

“I love UFC and everything they do, but this is, out of all the fights I’ve ever had, even back in my career, this is the slipperiest canvas you can ever fight on. Which, at that moment, when she had the opening for the kill, the second time, when she went for it and that foot slipped, I had a moment of clarity, man. I don’t know. Just all of a sudden I went from this crazy [demeanor] to completely just calm. Apparently, the world is trying to make this very difficult for you. Apparently, something is going on. Because of course Rose and her spirituality, and we look at things so I have to think a certain way because she thinks a certain way — something is trying to stop you from winning this fight.”

Barry said he Namajunas locked eyes in the cage once her foot slipped a second time. The bout had been a listless affair up to that point, with both women fighting extremely defensively. So the second slip simply reinforced in both Barry and Namajunas’ minds the importance of sticking to their game plan, rather than getting discouraged by the missed opportunities and doing something out frustration of that Namajunas would’ve regretted.

“As a coach, yes, we’re there to win fights. But we’re really there for longevity and happiness,” Barry said. “That’s what my job is, man. Not only am I a coach, but as a partner, fiancé, whatever you want to label me as, that’s my job, is to make sure that Rose is happy, healthy, and safe for the rest of her life. So in that moment, I felt, ‘You know what? This is one of those scenarios where now that you’ve seen it twice and you’ve missed it twice, this is exactly the type of thing that’s supposed to throw you off your game and make you come out of your strategy. And when you do come out of your strategy and you really go for it, you might accidentally slip and throw yourself on the ground, and now you fell on the ground because you did something you weren’t supposed to do.’

“Now she’s on top of you and she’s got you in a scenario where you don’t want to be, and now you’ve got to battle yourself and you’ve got to battle Carla. And Carla is a two-time UFC world champion, which means she’s one of the best fighters on the planet.”

Barry pointed to past examples of Namajunas’ fights with Jessica Andrade as precedents for what can happen when “Thug Rose” loses focus. Namajunas was badly hurt in both bouts, including the brutal second-round slam knockout she suffered at UFC 237 that ended her first title reign. Namajunas had dominated the fight prior to Andrade’s vicious slam.

Barry said the team’s goal for UFC 274 was too ensure that same lapse in focus didn’t affect Namajunas against Esparza. They just never expected her to execute the plan too well.

“Every time the camera goes into Carla’s corner in between rounds, you can hear her coach Colin Oyama saying exactly what they were expecting: ‘Any minute now, she’s going to break. Any minute now, Rose is about to do that thing. And she when she does it, you know what to do.’ They were waiting,” Barry said. “She waited for Rose to do that thing that Rose does, and she was going to take advantage of it. They were waiting for that, and we knew that. We knew. This isn’t the moment where you flip out and start doing whatever it is that you want to do, because you might find yourself in a bad spot. You have to have control.

“Now, where I blew it is all of the training to have control, all of the training that I did, all of the training that we put together, to stay in control of your emotions, stay in control of yourself — we never once went over how to come out of that. Because at the end of Round 4, myself, when I got in the ring, and people are going to have comments always, when I got in the ring, I pretty much said, ‘Hey man, I think we’re up 4-0. You can feel free to kind of let go a little bit now and freestyle.’ … That was the whole training camp, is not to [freestyle]. The whole training camp was not to do that, expecting her to do it.

“So now we get into the ring, we get into the fight, it’s about to start Round 5 and we’re pretty much saying, ‘Hey, we’ve seen what we need to see. We know where you are and what you’re capable of. You can open up now.’ And it was almost as if you could see Rose go, ‘Ah, ah, no, no, no. No, you’re trying to trick me.’ We’re not. She was so prepared to stick to the game plan that she actually stuck to the game plan when we were telling her, ‘Alright, you can ditch it and go to something else now.’ She stuck to it. She stayed completely disciplined. She stayed completely disciplined the entire time, and so did Carla.”

Namajunas ultimately lost a split decision to Esparza in a bout that has been panned as one of the worst title fights in UFC history.

Much of the criticism in the days since has been directed not only at “Thug Rose,” but also at Barry — and to a lesser extent, fellow coach Trevor Wittman. Some critics have also posed the question of whether Namajunas would’ve been better served with Wittman more involved and Barry shifted to a background role, but Barry said Wednesday that neither he nor anyone else on the team is concerning themselves with listening to the outside noise.

“It’s fine,” Barry said. “I’m fine with [what] the world thinks of me, no matter what. Like, no matter what it’s my fault, right? ‘Pat, you shouldn’t be talking. You shouldn’t be nothing.’ I’m the closest person to her. I know what I’m looking at more than anyone else. I know what I’m looking at when I see — I know what I see when she’s in there, more than anybody. More than more than anybody, man. I’m 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like, I know what it is that I’m looking at. I know what it is that I feel. I know pretty much where Rose is at any point in time, based on her facial expression. People are going to say that, but those are the same people that I have to ask, like, what if Rose would’ve jumped in the air and started doing spin kicks and gotten taken down and crucifixed and elbowed in the face. Now what?

“That’s why what the world says about Pat doesn’t matter to Pat. It doesn’t matter to Rose and that’s why it doesn’t matter to Pat. If it mattered to her, if it bothered her, what the world said, then that would probably be a thing. But it doesn’t.”

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