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UFC on Versus 4: Pat Barry Faces Important Test in Cheick Kongo

<strong>Pat Barry </strong>celebrates his win over Joey Beltran. UFC Fight for the Troops Event Photo Gallery on January 22, 2011 in Fort Hood, Texas. (Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Pat Barry celebrates his win over Joey Beltran. UFC Fight for the Troops Event Photo Gallery on January 22, 2011 in Fort Hood, Texas. (Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

At this Sunday's UFC on Versus 4, the semi-main event will be a clash of Heavyweights as Pat Barry faces Cheick Kongo. Both men come into the fight with strong stand-up skills and professional kickboxing experience - a point which will surely be much discussed in the lead-up to the fight. Yet while the two fighters have a similar background, what they have chosen to do with those backgrounds is very different, and it is this difference that makes this such a pivotal fight in the career of Pat Barry.

Barry is a relative newcomer to the world of MMA. A 3 year veteran, Barry has so far put together a 6-2 record. The majority of his professional experience still comes from kickboxing, where Barry competed at a high level for 6 years. As a kickboxer, Barry trained largely under the legendary Ernesto Hoost - arguably the greatest K-1 fighter of all time. Under Hoost's tutelage, Barry entered the K-1 circuit, and while he did not make a huge name for himself, he did show he could compete at this level. Highlights of his K-1 run include a win over Gary Goodridge (video in the full entry), a pair of semi-final showings in the 2007 Hawaii and Las Vegas Grand Prixs, and a match at the prestigious K-1 Grand Prix Finals in 2005. When K-1 stopped promoting in the US, Barry moved on, having a brief stint in Chuck Norris's World Combat League before moving to MMA.

Since coming to MMA, Barry has remained essentially a kickboxer. He has used those stand-up skills very well, most notably against Antoni Hardonk and Joey Beltran - two fellow Heavyweight strikers who Barry simply outclassed on the feet. But we have not yet seen him develop a ground game to match those striking skills. Both of Barry's losses come via submission, with the Tim Hague loss standing out as a perfect example of Barry's strengths and weaknesses. There, Barry controlled Hague on the feet, but as soon as Hague dragged the fight to the ground, Barry was out of his element, and was tapped out within moments.

Check Kongo's approach to MMA has been very different. While he is also a skilled kickboxer, Kongo did not bring in the K-1 level of experience that Barry did, as most of his pro kickboxing fights came on smaller local promotions. When Kongo made his UFC debut in 2006, his striking was much discussed, and helped him move quickly up the rankings. But after a loss to Carmelo Marrero, Kongo made some changes to his game, adding a respectable ground game to his arsenal. It was this ground game that brought him success against fellow strikers such as Mirko Cro Cop and Antoni Hardonk. By adding these ground skills, Kongo both increased his ground defenses (his only submission loss comes against submission expert Frank Mir, and was largely due to Mir's striking) and gave himself options on where to take the fight. Essentially, Cheick Kongo took his kickboxing roots and evolved into a mixed martial artist.

It is Kongo's ground work that, to me, makes Sunday's fight so interesting. Because while it would be fun to see a kickboxing contest here, that's unlikely to happen.  Kongo has faced kickboxers before, and he has taken them out of the stand-up game and forced the fight to the ground. Considering Barry's weaknesses in this area so far, that seems Kongo's likely strategy again. And that makes this fight the perfect test for Pat Barry, and a key crossroads in his career. If Barry gets by Kongo, his striking will make him a unique threat to the upper levels of the UFC Heavyweight division. If he can't, then he will need to put in serious work on those ground skills.

The big question mark regarding Pat Barry is this: is he now a mixed martial artist, or is he still a kickboxer? Cheick Kongo is the perfect opponent to help us all find out.

Video of Pat Barry vs. Gary Goodridge in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC on Versus 4

Here is the 2007 K-1 fight between Pat Barry and Gary Goodridge, which is one of Barry's all time best kickboxing showings.  Notice how frequently he changes stances, as well as the similarity to the way he still fights in MMA today.

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