I recently had the opportunity to catch up with one of this season’s TUF 6 contestants, Dan Barrera. We covered a myriad of topics, including his faith, various issues about this season of TUF, his hand injury, Matt Hughes as a coach, and of course, the now legendary “shadowboxing in the bathroom” incident. Dan was a great sport and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time out of his day to do an interview for us. Hope you enjoy!
Adam Morgan: A whole lot of people don’t know about how you got into MMA, so start out by telling us a little about your background and how you got involved with the sport.
Dan Barrera: Well, I started to wrestle when I was in junior high and it’s a pretty tough state where I was from. I’m from Idaho, so I grew up wrestling and then I got to state in wrestling. Then I got into the Air Force right after high school and I boxed for the Air Force team for a number of years and then I actually got to nationals a few times, got ranked, and then I started doing jiu jitsu once I got out here to Kentucky, so that’s how it all tied in.
AM: Can you tell us a little bit more about your military experience? You did a tour in Pakistan, correct?
DB: Yeah, I did six years in the military. I was a firefighter and I got to box most of the time so I didn’t really get to go do any GDYs. I competed as a boxer until I had an opportunity to go, I basically volunteered to go to do my tour over in Pakistan ’cause I wasn’t really selected. My GDY, my duty was to go and box. I go from fighting the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and then I would go to the nationals after that and represent the Air Force.
AM: Okay, so it was like a sponsored military boxing gig?
DB: Yeah, basically. Basically you travel around and you wear the Air Force colors and the Air Force logo and you go and you box against the best in the world.
AM: On The Ultimate Fighter, a lot’s been made of your connection with God and your spiritual connection. How did religion become such a huge part of your life?
DB: To tell you the truth I grew up in a home, where, you know, it was just kinda tough growing up. I have five brothers and my mom was by herself for awhile and it was like we were by ourselves, you know? God was just watching out for us because all my brothers are doing well, none of them are in jail. I mean we had our stints with the law growing up but everybody’s doing well, very well, successful and it’s just a blessing that we always had someone looking out for us and I believe that it was God that was looking out for us.
Nobody can tell me that he isn’t in my life because I have so many things and I really wasn’t supposed to get things. When I was in high school and junior high I was in juvenile detention center and these guys were telling me “you’re never going to get out of this place, man.” I wasn’t supposed to have these nice things, but it’s all turning out, so God’s always been there.
AM: On this season of The Ultimate Fighter, did you receive the bad news from home directly before your fight as it was depicted on the show?
DB: They edited it a little bit different. My hand actually was a little bit swollen a few days before everything and then I got the call. The call wasn’t like right before, but it was the day before. I did do those X-Rays right before weigh-ins, so that was right before I weighed in for the fight. It was hot outside, I was cutting weight, and I was getting agitated because they were wanting me to do three or four takes and I was like “C’mon, man, I can’t even drink any water right now!”
Some of the guys we had a problem with, like the cameraman and stuff. I understand they’re just trying to do their job, but man, when you’re cutting weight you just get agitated. You’re like, “Dude, what are you doing? It’s like 110 degrees outside, bro, can’t we at least do it in the shade or by the AC?”
AM: And is your wife okay?
DB: Yeah, my wife’s good, everything’s good and she’s okay. Everything’s good to go. I’m back home with her. A lot of people don’t realize that going onto that show is really a tough time if you ask any of the guys, man. Especially if you’re married or you have family because they don’t let you talk to them, dude. Nobody. You have like no connection with anybody.
Some of the guys have kids and they don’t even get to talk to their kids, man. Anything can happen on a day’s notice, you know? It’s a trip, man. When I went to Pakistan and did military things and did other things, it makes it a lot easier when you can have mail and you can email and there’s so many ways with technology nowadays. You can take a picture of yourself and forward it to your loved one and it’s like you’re there. But we had no connection with the outside world, it was like prison camp or something.
AM: How did your hand get so messed up before the fight and was it actually Matt Hughes that was responsible for it?
DB: Yeah, I think it was. To tell you the honest truth, man, that’s the only thing I can really come up with because I was going real hard with him. But, I mean, our practices were basically just gut checks every day. I can’t compare it to anything else I’ve ever done in my life. If you missed practice, everybody showed up early, everybody stayed, and they took their lickin’s, man. They didn’t show a lot of it, but they were pretty tough rundown practices.
Honestly, other guys got injured, too, you know? Like Billy Miles got his neck cranked hard. It was just tough love. Not to feel like Serra’s team wasn’t going through the same, but some of their guys didn’t even want to practice and stuff and we were resentful because if any one of us didn’t show up on this bus, it would be like “Hey, where’s this guy?” and then they would beat us up and be hard on us! They’d be like “Hey, where’s this guy at?” and we would be like “Hey, he didn’t wake up” and they would say “That doesn’t cut it here on this side.” It was like military fashion.
AM: How much did your hand injury affect you during the fight itself?
DB: After I threw that right and knocked him down and he had a broken nose, I thought that I broke my hand to tell you the truth, Adam. I felt like, a lot of people don’t know this, but I felt like I seriously broke my hand, I thought it was broken. I just got a shot of pain all the way up to my spine and I just kind of hesitated for a second.
If you’ve got that much adrenaline pumping and you feel that pain, then that’s not good, because usually you don’t feel your injuries until the next morning because you’re so juiced up on adrenaline. I felt it right then, instantaneously, boom. I just thought in my mind “I broke my hand.” I was really hesitant to throw after that. All around, that was a performance that I was highly disappointed in because of the situation. I was wearing an extra large glove and my hand almost didn’t fit into the largest glove they have. If it wouldn’t have fit in that glove then I wouldn’t have been able to fight.
AM: Did you get the hand checked out again?
DB: Yeah, it’s down now, but there’s still a little lump. People when they look at it, they say “Man, that’s still messed up,” but you know, it’s good to go. It’s a little bit elevated on the knuckles compared to the other side, I think there’s some circulation problems, but it’s good to go now. I’ll be throwin’, that’s for sure.
AM: Do you feel that there was any overtraining on Matt Hughes’ part?
DB: You know what, man? Overtraining? Under resting? I don’t really believe in overtraining, but under resting? I don’t think a lot of guys were recouping fast enough or not at all. That situation is different, you know, Matt Hughes is a coach in the house but that’s a lot different than being an actual fighter in the house. That’s a whole different story. We’re going back to the house and we live there and it’s just a lot more stressful than when you’re staying in a hotel room where you can call people.
Some guys liked to stay up late and other guys liked to go to bed early. If you’re in a hotel you can get a wake up call and everything is quiet, but if you’re in a house with sixteen dudes and some guys are drinking, then everyone else hears it too, you know? It’s not really a controlled environment. You can’t really control whether it’s going to be quiet that night or not.
AM: You mentioned on the show that you had a job with the Fire Department and said that your Chief told you that you wouldn’t have a job when you came back. Did that hold true?
DB: Yeah it did, buddy! Sure did. That was 100% true. It was crazy because I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and everything up to that point had amounted to me being selected to go and I felt that for me not to go would be a spit in God’s face or something. Hundreds of thousands of guys try out and to get selected and get an opportunity like that, I just felt like I had to do it.
I still have all my certs, I’m an EMT, Hazmat, all that, so for me to get picked up wouldn’t be a problem. Just the fact that it came at that time was and it was just like a blunt end when you’re so used to regular hours and everything, your medical and dental benefits, everything’s good, and then everything just stops. It was definitely a big decision, you know?
AM: Once in a lifetime opportunity for you, though, right?
DB: Yeah, man. I think about it, I pray about it, I think, man, I would have done the same thing. Any day. Any day of the given week. ‘Cause you, know what Adam, I’ve met so many guys in my life that I could see it in their eyes, man, they never took it to the next level. They never took that shot. They had all the talent in the world, they had all the opportunity in the world and they just didn’t step up, man. People have been on ESPN Magazine, USA Today boxing and all that and these guys sponsored them and they just didn’t step up and I can’t be one of those guys. I had to know.
That’s what I told my Chief. When I said “I’m retiring,” he said “Dude, are you crazy?” He thought I was going to go the other way when he told me I wasn’t going to have a job. I want to be able to look down the road in ten years, be able to look in the mirror and tell myself, man, “Hey, you know what? I went for it, man.” Whatever it ends up being, I went for it, you know? I went balls out and I took a shot, man. There’s a lot of guys that can’t say that, especially in the UFC.
AM: We all know there’s some tricky editing as far as putting the episodes of The Ultimate Fighter together goes. At one point during the episode with your fight, there are multiple scenes where you leave practice to go to the bathroom. Later on, they show us the camera angle from the bathroom and it was you shadowboxing in the mirror almost the whole time. Care to explain the situation for everyone?
DB: Yeah, you know what, man? These cats weren’t telling me they were gonna do this. They did me dirty with the shots of the bathroom. They didn’t tell me they were gonna do it like that, but honestly I shadowbox a lot but it wasn’t like that, man. I’ll tell you what it was. Hughes had us drinking Muscle Milk all the time and it was messing my stomach up during practices, like always right in the middle. I was getting torn up, my stomach was just torn up. Some guys wouldn’t even drink it, but like I said, it was just kind of like a military thing, drink your Muscle Milk. I mean, yeah, I would shadowbox in the bathroom a lot, but not that much like they were showing.
AM: You were 1-0 coming into the season, is that right?
DB: Yeah, that’s what they put it down as. For boxing I’m like 15-3 with some Olympic boxing. I’ve had about 6 MMA fights but they were all amateur fights but they just wrote down this all military MMA tournament where I beat everyone and that’s all they put down.
AM: How do you feel about the experience level of most of the fighters on the show this year?
DB: I’d say everybody was pretty legit. I think, honestly, as far as the fights go and the character of the people, I’d say it was top notch and this is the best season yet. Not just because it was mine, but I’ve watched all the episodes and watched all the seasons before where somebody’s an alcoholic, somebody’s doing something crazy, or somebody’s jumping the fence and runs off, gets kicked off. All of our guys, they were there and they went in there and threw down. I was happy and I hope all of the guys that were in the house, I hope they all do well in the UFC because that’s like my fraternity, you know what I’m saying? I hope everybody does well, I hope everybody beats those other guys from the other seasons and makes us shine.
AM: Outside of George Sotiroopolous and obviously Mac Danzig, it seemed like everyone was mostly rookies. Do you feel that it was fair that Hughes was going so rough on what seemed to be a rookie class of fighters?
DB: They only gave us a few weeks, you know? The way they run their corner and the way I’m used to my corner running was different. Everybody was just in a whole different environment. Do I listen to my corner or do you just kinda take me into your own hands? Some of the guys were just thinking “I’m just gonna do what I do.” As far as being too rough on anybody, I don’t think it was overtraining. More just the under resting part. You come back after a few hours and you just go at it again. There’s only so much a human body can take before it gets a toll taken on it.
AM: Do you think Hughes’ feud with Matt Serra ever clouded his judgment at all as far as training goes?
DB: I think he wanted us to be tougher and better because he doesn’t like to lose at anything. I found out when I was on the show that he’s just competitive at everything. It could be a first grade drawing contest, man. I think it’s because he has a twin and those guys maybe are just competitive at everything growing up. He just doesn’t like to lose at anything.
I know that they (Hughes and Serra) are in two different worlds. They don’t see eye to eye at all.
AM: I think everyone out there saw your fight with Ben Saunders as one of the better fights this season and one of the best in the history of the show. Do you wish there’s anything you would have done differently to change the outcome?
DB: I guess I could have just asked for another round, man. I don’t know, man. It was just, like, wow, with the judges that they thought the first round wasn’t going to be in my favor. I just had to roll with it, man. It’s gonna be a lot different comin’ out this time out.
AM: How are you physically feeling now that the show’s over?
DB: I’m healthy, no surgeries or nothing. Some guys I know came out of the show and people were busted up, man. Some guys have had surgeries that will pain them for the rest of your life, so I feel blessed to come out healthy and good, man.
AM: Who are you training with currently?
DB: Yeah, I’ve been working with the Army Combative and the black belt in jiu jitsu out here, Jason Keaton. It’s the same crew, man. I really don’t feel like I was out of shape at all. I felt like during the evaluations that I was probably in the best shape out of everybody the first day. Hughes picked me and I thought I was gonna fight first. I really did. I was kind of disappointed. They didn’t show that part on the editing, but I was kind of pissed when they said “Okay, Mac, you get to fight” and I was like, “Well, why is that? Why don’t we see who’s in better shape right now?”
It was a dictatorship, it wasn’t really a democracy. I got called out when things weren’t going so great on my end and I could have fought in week one or week two. I was closer than anybody else to weight. I came in at 176. I was ready to fight that day. I would have fought that night, but it is what it is, man.
AM: Well, thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this interview with us. Are there any sponsors you’d like to thank or anybody you’d like to give a shout out to?
DB: Yeah, you know, my sponsor is Jesus, man. He’s my sponsor. Just want to thank everybody that had my back and everything, but hey man, thanks for the interview.
Big thanks to Dan for doing this interview with us. He was a good sport and a very interesting cat to talk to. He’ll be fighting on the TUF 6 Finale on December 8th and Five Ounces of Pain will have the exclusive on who his opponent will be, so be sure to check back early and often.