It takes a special fighter to not only come into New York City and beat a New Yorker fighting in his final bout, but to win over the crowd in the process.
Chris Barnett is a special fighter, and he pulled off that feat last November when he stopped retiring Long Islander Gian Villante in the second round at UFC 268 in Madison Square Garden. As for the secret to getting the NYC crowd on his side?
“It was the original ‘Harlem Shake’ dance by Puff Daddy and G. Dep,” he said. “I'm telling you, if I had not come out dancing, it might have been a whole other thing. But the fact that I came out dancing, I saw the crowd, and they were like, 'You know what? He gets it.' And they respected it, and I respected them for respecting it.”
A Beastboy Banger: Chris Barnett vs Gian Villante
A Beastboy Banger: Chris Barnett vs Gian Villante
All dancing aside, Barnett is one of the most likeable fighters in the game, both in and out of the Octagon, and while he was going to be painted as the villain competing in the Big Apple against the equally likeable Villante, by weigh-in day, Georgia’s Barnett knew that if the crowd wasn’t with him, at least they wouldn’t be against him.
“I knew I had the fans by weigh-ins,” he said. “When I went to weigh in, it was nuts because they were cheering for me, so it threw me all the way off. I was waiting for the boos. It's New York, I know y'all are tough, man, so I was waiting on the boos and what not. And once we got to the weigh-ins and I walked out, they were like, 'AHHHHHHHHHH!" I heard somebody go, "BEASTBOY!!"
"They know me, and they kinda like me? That actually helped me get back out there and be calm. So it was cool to have it like a neutral playing ground. And on top of that, Villante being as cool as he was, I knew our weigh-in wasn't gonna be no shoving match or nothing like that.”
Plus, there’s this:
“I was born in Spain, but the first place I ever touched was New York, so technically I'm a New Yorker,” said Barnett. “That's why they loved me.”
The way he ended the fight, with a spinning wheel kick followed by some ground strikes, may have helped his cause, too. It was a big win for the 35-year-old, a 29-fight veteran who made a short notice debut against Ben Rothwell last May, getting submitted in the second round.
The Villante fight obviously went a lot better, and now he can settle into life in the UFC, which continues on Saturday with a bout against Martin Buday.
“It's wild, man,” Barnett said. “Honestly, just the other day, I noticed UFC sent me some random money. (Laughs) I guess it was for my NFT and my jersey that you can buy. People really do love me, but my whole thing is, I'm not gonna say it happened at the right time. I really feel I could have been signed a little sooner, but now that it's happening, it's kind of good that it worked because, literally, I have no choice but to give my all because of where I'm at in my career.
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"But I absolutely love it, and the love that I've gotten from it. A lot of people that have been following me for a while, they're like, finally. Finally, they've got a great personality in there, and I'm bringing something different. I'm getting the feedback from the fans and I get the entertainment aspect of it because I'm a fan first. So I know if I go out there, I've got to give what I would want to see. So the transition's been beautiful. You feel solidified.”
Barnett also gets to focus all his time on a fight career that began in 2009 without worrying about balancing fighting with his day job in customer service at Lowe’s. The fact that he made it to the UFC while doing both is a testament to his talent and determination, both of which saw him score big wins over the likes of Walt Harris and Travis Wiuff. But now, it’s a whole new story for the “Beastboy.”
“One of my friends just retired because the UFC didn't reach out to him,” said Barnett. “He was 14-0 and I was like, you've only been doing this for like four years. (Laughs) I got ADD, so therefore, I'm constantly needing to do something. I wouldn't mind going back to it (the Lowe’s job), but it was always a balancing thing. It was tougher when you're not in the UFC and you gotta tell your job, ‘Hey, I'm gonna be gone a week.’”
“I'm a fighter.”
“Yeah, nice try buddy.”
“But now, I was like, I got signed to the UFC and it was a completely different thing. The things I wish I could have done when I wasn't in it, I'm able to do now without having a job. The training aspects, the little things. I could evenly balance work life and the fight life, but now with the UFC, I don't have to because they're taking care of me.”
Don’t get it twisted, though. Barnett isn’t just happy to be here. He wants more – more wins, more accolades, and maybe even a world title. Yeah, he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
“We were cool with getting that little piece of cake they were giving us,” said Barnett. “I was almost satisfied with it, but now that they gave me that taste, is that red velvet with chocolate sprinkles? I need some more of this. I need more right now. So that's where we're at with it. And with this camp, I never had this much time to get ready. I feel like a monster.
"I really can't put it into words because of how much I've been through with it. The UFC's given me the opportunity to go above and beyond what I actually thought I could do. My reaction to that is that I've got to blow this out the roof. I have to. I have no choice but to go out there and give them my all. You haven't seen nothing yet.”
UFC Fight Night: Luque vs Muhammad 2, took place on Saturday, April 16, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!