Looking over Josh Barnett’s resume, the list of men he’s faced in his career is a mix of heavyweight royalty and tough, talented fighters a notch below the elite. After accumulating 31 wins over a 15-year career, you might be tempted to think that getting motivated is a challenge or that the end of the road is within sight for the 34-year-old catch wrestler.
“I really like the sport, and I like training,” explains the articulate, well-spoken heavyweight. “When I’m not training for fights, I’ll often play with other martial arts like Silat or Panantukan, whatever I can get my hands on. I enjoy the movement, and the challenge of learning something new, and adding to the skills that I already possess.
“When it comes to the fighting, the prime motivation is that I want to be the best in the world. I’ve still got years left to do this, and I’m not gonna stop until I can’t do this anymore. When that athletic window is over, I’ll know it, and I’ll at least be able to say that I have no regrets.
“And (it’s also) because I really enjoy fighting,” adds Barnett with a slight laugh, echoing the sentiments shared in the “I Am A Fighter” video he recently filmed for Showtime. “I enjoy the violence, the combat. I like being in there having this guy trying to hurt me, and having the free rein to do whatever it takes to put this guy into the floor.”
Saturday night in San Jose, the guy he will be trying to put through the floor is undefeated former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier, as the pair square off in the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Having already dispatched both Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov in dominant fashion, Barnett is one more win away from being the last man standing in the Strikeforce heavyweight ranks.
Achieving that feat will be no easy task.
Brought into the tournament as a replacement for Alistair Overeem in the semifinals, Cormier earned his place opposite Barnett with an impressive first round knockout victory over Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Many viewed the Brazilian heavyweight as the favorite following his opening round dismantling of Fedor Emelianenko and Overeem’s removal from the competition, but Cormier used his superior movement and improved striking to rock the former Elite XC champion before earning the stoppage just ahead of the four-minute mark of the opening round.
It was the type of performance that elevates a fighter from prospect to contender, and while Barnett is acutely aware of the dangers Cormier presents, defeat is not an option when your mission is to establish yourself as the best heavyweight in the sport today.
“I’ve gotta win this tournament, and I’ve gotta beat Daniel, but it’s not just Daniel — I’ve gotta beat everybody that I get into the ring with. I can’t really allow for…”
Barnett’s voice trails off as he stops to put his thoughts on losing together.
“Not that I ever allow for losses to have any precedent or any sort of space in my life — I know that that is something that you have to accept — but I really try my utmost to keep that so far from even acceptance because I don’t want to allow the concept of losing, anything other than complete and utter victory to be foremost in my mind at all times.”
Save for Barnett and Cormier, the Strikeforce heavyweight division has been boarded up, though the Grand Prix champion will remain in the organization for at least one more fight after Saturday night.
For the most part, the best of the best in the big boy ranks reside in the UFC. It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of seeing Barnett return to the Octagon seemed impossible, but UFC President Dana White has said that he’d be ready to have Barnett join the rest of the former Strikeforce fighters on the UFC roster at the conclusion of the Heavyweight Grand Prix, win or lose.
Barnett last fought in the UFC more than a decade ago, departing after being stripped of the heavyweight title he won from Randy Couture following a positive post-fight drug test at UFC 36.
While most would assume returning to the UFC would be one of the chief goals of a fighter determined to establish himself as the best in his weight class, Barnett says not so fast.
Though he allows the current MMA landscape makes it very difficult for a fighter to considered the best in their respective weight class while competing outside the UFC — “Yes, to a degree, this is true.” — Barnett’s focus is on who he beats, not where he beats them.
“To beat all those guys is very important, and this may seem contradictory, but it’s not important to get back to the UFC. It’s important to be the best fighter I can be, and be as confident and devastating in the ring as possible, and the rest will work itself out.”
Comments like that are part of why Barnett remains an intriguing figure in the heavyweight ranks 15 years into his career. Not only does he deliver entertaining fights and pile up victories, the part-time pro wrestler also isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind, before he’s stepped in the cage or after he’s had his hand raised in victory.
“The inherent similarity is there, and it’s plain for all to see,” says Barnett of the relationship between wrestling and mixed martial arts. “It’s just that most fighters don’t have much personality or lack the ability to put it out there in a very interesting way. Not my fault.
“I’m gonna go out there and put my feelings out there, let the world know what I’m thinking, create interest, and give them something to hate or love, but nonetheless care about, and I don’t see any other way to really be the best I can be without bringing that part of the equation into play.
“I don’t think it’s for everyone — everyone’s going to find their own way to do it — but just gimme a mic, gimme a camera, and a room full of people, and that’s all I need. The stage is set.”
It is for Saturday night in San Jose, where Barnett will look to add another name to his impressive list of vanquished foes, and take another step towards reaching his goal of conquering the heavyweight division.