“It’s my time right here,” Barnett said after his morning training session. “I’ve been on the underground for too long.”
Raised in Southeast Washington, Barnett has spent most of his life overshadowed and underestimated. He was a promising amateur who won several tournaments, but his boxing career was derailed by jail and the streets. After coming back to the sport and turning pro in 2005, Barnett fought on undercards in seedy casinos for small purses for years.
Now it’s finally Barnett’s turn. On Friday, he’ll fight in Las Vegas for the first time on national television, against undefeated Filipino lightweight Mercito Gesta on ESPN. Barnett is the underdog, and few are picking him to win. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a test that many local fighters have failed in recent years. Win and the national exposure could vault Barnett to the same heights as childhood training partner Lamont Peterson, who earned a title shot on ESPN one year ago. Lose, and the young boxer will probably remain an unknown.
“He’s got a good chance, if he’s got any of that Ty Barnett stuff left,” said Barnett’s former trainer Barry Hunter. “Punchers always got a chance.”
Ticket to fame
There are many struggling boxers in the District, and like many of them, Barnett has always seen the ring as his ticket to stardom. The product of a fighting family — Barnett’s father was an amateur boxer in the 1970s — the lightweight always thought himself destined for something special.
But for years, the 29-year-old watched as friends he trained with as a young boxer appeared on television and challenged for world titles. Barnett trained with Peterson and his brother Anthony, who became fixtures fighting top competition on national television. The Petersons had a compelling story: Lamont rose to the top after being homeless and shocked the boxing world last year with a surprising win in a title bout at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Meanwhile, the undefeated Barnett didn’t get a mention in the local paper.
“I’m on that level,” Barnett said of his former sparring partner. “Out of the three, I’m the puncher, point blank.”
The Washington area has produced many former champions including Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Leonard and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. Barnett always wanted to fit into this local tradition, so he started training in eight grade at Hillcrest Gym in Temple Hills.