Mention the name Chris Barbera and the first thought that comes to mind is “Woodrow Wilson track star,” and rightfully so.
After this weekend, it might be Chris Barbera – boxing sensation.
Friday night, Barbera will set aside his track shoes and step inside the boxing ring at the 41st annual Southern West Virginia Budweiser “Original” Toughman Contest at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
The obvious question becomes, why boxing?
“I have always kinda wanted to fight and test my skills,” Barbera said. “I have always been athletic and I wanted to see how that would transfer over to boxing. I wouldn’t say boxing is in our family or anything, but the Barbera’s are like a tough fighting group. I guess this is just one way to express myself in that way. It was something I have always wanted to do.”
The accomplishments on the track and cross country circuit for Barbera have been numerous.
As a member of the Flying Eagles track team his sophomore year, Barbera took home a state championship title in the 1600- and 3200-meter run. He was also a member of the state champion 4×800 relay team.
As a senior he pulled off the trifecta state title run winning the 800, 1600 and 3200.
In the 2017-2018 season he was named Boy’s Cross Country Gatorade Player of the Year.
The former Woodrow Wilson standout didn’t become a state champion without hard work. The same effort has gone into his journey inside the boxing ring which also included seeking quality instruction. However, there have been a few surprises along the way.
“I have trained with (former WBF light middleweight champion) Tommy Smalls Jr. for a couple of months,” Barbera said. “I also trained with Carl Murdock down in Mt. Hope. Those are the guys that are known for boxing around here. If you want to be the best, you have to train with the best, as they say.
“A lot of the Toughman fighters I have watched are more like brawlers and not refined boxers. Tommy knows a lot about technique,” Barbera went on to say. “You get a lot more respect for the sport of boxing doing the training. I used to like to watch MMA, but now I like to watch boxing because I have more respect for the boxers and what they do. Hopefully I will be a little more refined than some of the others, but I will also need to be aggressive.”
Possessing an incredible ability to run long distances could be a huge advantage inside the ring, but Barbera is not so sure.
“I have wondered how it would transfer over. For the most part I would say it really doesn’t for regular boxing,” Barbera said. “However, for this event, maybe the track does a little bit. I know on the second day of Toughman, if you keep winning, you have to fight a lot of fights. It is the same thing with track, where I had to run multiple races each day. Maybe the ability to recover in between events will be a help.”
The conditioning that comes with boxing and sparring have also been unique experiences for Barbera.
“The boxing conditioning has been tough for me because I am not used to sports like this. Sports like boxing and wrestling – those kinds of combat sports are a totally different type of conditioning,” Barbera explained. “I have also done quite a bit of sparring over the past couple of months. Tommy is a big proponent of sparring. It was not as intense as Toughman will be, but it has helped me. I think it helped me realize that hitting the heavy bag is a lot different than hitting an opponent.”
Barbera will be fighting in the middleweight division (160-184lbs) that has over 25 fighters registered.
“When I started training I was maybe 167 pounds and now I have bulked up to 183 pounds. I still have about the same body fat as before,” Barbera said. “I am bigger now than I have ever been and I am 6-foot-1. Hopefully some of that power will translate over.”
Barbera has put in the work and will be confident when he steps into the ring. However, with this all being a new experience, there will be some nervous anticipation for him and his family.
“I think my whole family is nervous about me fighting and probably more nervous than me to be honest. They have never seen me do a sport like this,” Barbera explained. “I told them not to be too nervous. I definitely prepared and there is nothing else I can do right now to help me be more prepared. Everything I have done in my life they have fully supported. They’re all going to be there, so I will likely be a crowd favorite from all the people my mom has invited.”
Will this be a one and done experience for Barbera? Maybe and maybe not.
“I am also signed up for the Toughman next week in Huntington, so we will see how it goes,” Barbera said. “We will see how much I like it, because it will be a lot different than sparring and boxing in the gym. There will be a lot of people there and it is my first fight in front of people.”