For years, Josh Barnett has been regarded as one of the world’s best heavyweights, despite his decade-long absence from the UFC. Following a successful run in Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships, Barnett competed for Sengoku, Affliction and Dream before signing with Strikeforce, where he submitted Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov in the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix. Most recently, “The Warmaster” ran into Daniel Cormier in the tournament finals, dropping a unanimous decision to the former two-time Olympic wrestler on May 19.
“The Warmaster” will now face Austrian heavyweight Nandor Guelmino on Jan. 12 at what is expected to be Strikeforce’s final event. Last week, the former UFC champion spoke with Sherdog.com on a variety of topics, including his hard-fought loss to Cormier, his potential return to the UFC, his thoughts on Saturday’s Junior dos Santos-Cain Velasquez rematch at UFC 155 and his motivations behind his recent participation in the Baja 1000, a grueling off-road race across Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Sherdog.com: On Jan. 12, you will be fighting Nandor Guelmino, a guy who is likely unknown to most UFC and Strikeforce fans. How do you view this fight? Is it tough to get up for this one, or are you keen on making a statement before you are potentially presented with an opportunity to rejoin the UFC?
Barnett: The way I see it, the guy is a professional fighter, and he wants to fight me. That’s all I really need to know. It doesn’t matter if he is famous or Joe Shmoe. It doesn’t matter if he is 30-0 or 0-30. The guy is coming into the ring because he thinks he can beat me, and I’m not going to lay down for that or take him lightly in any way, shape or form.
Sherdog.com: Your last fight with Daniel Cormier was one of the best heavyweight bouts in recent memory. It was reported that you broke your left hand in the first round, but I had heard it even happened within the first 30 seconds. I also heard that your game plan going in was to use your jab extensively. Tell me what happened and how it affected you over five rounds.
Barnett: That’s true. I think we figured I broke it something like 23 seconds into the first round. It was a left hook I threw, and he managed to pull his head away just in time, and I clipped him on the top of the head. It broke immediately. My fault [after that] was that I tried to load up too much with one punch instead of maybe using my lead leg and doing different stuff. My mindset went into a fight to the death. But it’s not a fight to the death. It’s only a five-round fight, and it didn’t work out for me.
Sherdog.com: What were your thoughts on Cormier’s performance?
Barnett: Daniel was on point. His strategizing in the ring was impressive. I know it comes from his freestyle wrestling background, knowing how many rounds you’ve got and what the time is and what the score is. He knows how to use all those confines of the match itself. It was so evident, even while I was in the ring, that this guy has it down. He knows exactly how to fight in a system effectively, and he’s a bad dude, just as an athlete and as a fighter. I thought, “Well, s---. It doesn’t matter how much damage you do [at this point]. If you don’t take this guy out, he is primed and ready to put you in a bad spot, because he is always coming out on top.” It’s not just about going out there and trying to murder somebody. It’s also trying to win a fight. I think most of these guys would have a tough time even lasting three rounds with him, let alone five. If they can go five, good luck trying to outwork and outscore Cormier. He is the kind of guy that it’s going to take either a lucky shot to get him or the right kind of fighter [to beat him], like myself.
Sherdog.com: I think that just about everyone is hoping to see both you and Cormier transition to the UFC. Is that your wish? Would that be your ideal after your last Strikeforce fight?
Barnett: It would be nice. On one hand, I want to see Daniel go out there and fight people in the UFC just to watch him maul them and take these dudes out. I would sit back and say, “I’ve been saying for a long time that Daniel Cormier is one of the absolute best fighters in the world right now.” I know you [media] like to look at our fight like, whatever, because it’s not in the UFC, but people don’t understand that.
Sherdog.com: Who likes to look at it that way? I don’t like to look at it that way.
Barnett: Well, you’re in the minority. Most of the press doesn’t really give a lot of credence to anything besides the UFC, and a lot of the fans are really UFC fans. We don’t really have the mass MMA fan base anymore. That’s not any fault of the product itself, but the fans, for whatever reason, don’t have any concept of trying to understand the game as a whole. That’s fine that you don’t really understand this, but I would argue that the fight between me and Daniel was probably the best heavyweight bout of last year. Look at the fight between me and Daniel, and then look at the way we’re ranked. I think some [outlets] have me ranked, like, 10th or 11th. OK, you really think that those nine guys ahead of me are really that much better than me? I don’t know what the [expletive] you think, but at the end of the day, I just gave up on rankings and all that crap. It didn’t really matter, because I just wanted to go out there and smash everybody anyway. I’ll let everybody else sit back and bicker about who belongs where, but it’s not like I’m blind. It’s not like I don’t see it.
Sherdog.com: The rankings don’t necessarily mean that if someone is ranked lower that he can’t beat someone ranked above him on that list, and I think the heavyweight class is one of the better examples. You could potentially have the chance to fight some of these guys ranked above you if you join the UFC. I know you say you want to smash everybody, and that has been your attitude for a long time, but are there maybe one or two guys, specifically, who you are chomping at the bit to fight?
Barnett: The thing is, I’m not really chomping at the bit to fight anyone. I’m chomping at the bit to fight everyone. There are names that keep coming up. Personally, I would love to take out [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, once and for all, because I don’t like the way our last match ended. I felt that it was politically derived to try and make for a rubber match between us in order to make more money. I don’t really feel like I lost that decision. Although, my philosophy is that if you don’t finish your opponent, then you have to accept whatever is given to you. I just want another crack at him, but I don’t know if he’ll be around long enough to even make that fight happen. Other than that, I keep seeing that everyone always wants me to fight Frank Mir for some reason. Everyone thinks it’s going to be the two American grappling heavyweights putting on this spectacle of grappling extravagance, I guess, but a fight’s a fight. Sure, I’ll fight Frank Mir. At one point, he was considered a Top 5 guy, I think. He’s a well-known staple of the UFC, but I don’t sit around at night waiting for an opportunity to fight Frank Mir or to fight Cain or any of these other guys who are the top guys in the UFC. I just want to fight them because they are there. It’s like mountains. Why do we climb them? Because they exist. With people, why do you want to hurt them? Because they breathe.
Sherdog.com: One UFC heavyweight who seems to have taken a personal dislike toward you has been Antonio Silva, who was also a part of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix before losing to Cormier. Do you know what that is all about? Do you feel the same way toward him?
Barnett: Well, I don’t like him specifically because he started talking smack about me for reasons that I don’t really know, man. I think he’s probably just overly sensitive. Personally, I couldn’t really tell you, because up until he started dogging me, I had never really spoken to the guy. I hadn’t interacted with him a whole lot, save for saying hello here and there. Actually, the night that he started trying to dog me out in public was the night that he beat Fedor [Emelianenko]. Even before he got to the press conference, [Strikeforce] had me speak about the fights that night, and I actually talked about how well Silva had done, and how well he executed his game plan and how he was constantly working for the finish. I said he had improved a lot over the years and showed a lot of varied skills, and he did. He looked good, and I applauded his efforts, only to find out that he just went on a tirade about me for reasons [of which] I have no understanding. For the most part, I don’t talk about it, because if I don’t like you, I ain’t gonna help you. I’m not going to make you a press-worthy item. My whole thing is that if anybody ever wants to fight me…if you have a problem and really want to fight, don’t sit around and wait for some promoter to take his thumb out of his butt and make it happen. Just come and find me, and I will fight you anywhere and anytime. If you want it to be personal, then it will be like that.
Sherdog.com: You’re talking about out of the cage? Like, come find you in a parking lot?
Barnett: Exactly. Or if you have such a problem that if we’re fighting in the ring and you’re still sour grapes about it, we can just go finish it off in the back until nobody can walk anymore. If you have such a big, personal problem with someone, then go do something about it. That’s the way I see it. If I’ve got such a huge beef with someone, even if I go out there and beat his ass in the cage, I’ll probably come up to him in the back and be like, “You know, this s--- ain’t over, bud. You can put the gloves on, or whatever. I don’t really care, but in about three seconds, I’m going to start swinging on you.
Sherdog.com: The UFC obviously has a big heavyweight title fight coming up Saturday at UFC 155. Who do you like in the rematch, Junior or Cain?
Barnett: Well, Junior is on such a roll that I think it’s going to be hard to supplant him from where he is sitting right now. He is massively confident, and he’s even talking some smack about being the best guy in the world, now. That’s some stuff I hadn’t heard out of him before, so I know that his confidence has to be at an all-time high. With Cain, it really depends. The guy seems to be somewhat injury prone, but it’s up to Cain and his team to see how well he can implement a game plan. He didn’t really use one at all last time, and he just got one-shotted. Once the fists start flying, is that going to sit in the back of his mind and cause him to hesitate some? I think stylistically that there is good potential for either fighter to win, but I think Cain’s timing in his takedown game needs to be on point right off the bat. As the fight goes longer, Junior will just pick him apart. [Dos Santos] just has so much speed and so much range, and his feet are so quick. You have to figure out that timing right away for taking him off his feet, and if you don’t do it early on, I don’t think you’ll have the gusto to do it later.
Sherdog.com: Tell me about your decision to race in the Baja 1000 off-road race in November. What was it like, and why did you want to do it?
Barnett: We had three pairs of drivers and co-drivers that were operating the vehicle, and we would switch out at different points. My co-driver and I did 400 miles together, but it was a substantial chunk of the race, and it was quite a brutal piece of it. I had no off-road experience, and I had never been to Baja. Basically, why I did it was they asked me to. If you ask me to go out and race something, I will say yes every single time. I got called on Thursday, and I was in Mexico on Tuesday. It turned into quite an adventure, actually.
Sherdog.com: When reading about the race, I learned that people scout this course extensively for safety, but you were essentially flying blind on this dangerous terrain. At one point, your ATV rolled and collided with a motorcycle racer, right?
Barnett: Yeah, I managed to roll the buggy at one point. It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t even have bumps and bruises. I was caught in somebody’s wash and couldn’t see anything. I tried to haul ass and get around this guy and lost control of it. I saw some rocks pop up and ended up rolling. When you feel it go, you just cross your arms and relax. I clipped a bike guy on his peg and his foot. He was stuck in the silt, and I was coming up on this section of the course that drops off on each side, so I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and I’m already going 70 miles an hour down this road, and I didn’t want to get stuck in the silt, so I dropped off to the edge as much as I could to try and scoot by him. I couldn’t quite get around him, because he was right in the middle of the course, and I clipped him. So I pulled the buggy over and jumped out. I picked him up and looked at his injury, and they radioed a chopper to come get him out of there. I’m not sure [about the extent of his injury]. It might have fractured his foot. According to what I’ve heard, if the world was to end during the race, they would just chalk it up to being Baja. That is the catch-all for anything horrific or anything that could possibly happen down there. It’s pretty much Murphy’s Law times 1000 anywhere you go.
Sherdog.com: We’ve talked a lot about upcoming fights and potential fights and recent history, but in closing I want to ask you about something that is rooted several years in the past. For years, you were looked at as one of the few guys who might give Fedor Emelianenko trouble when he was at the top of his game, but fans never got to see that fight, either in Pride or Affliction. When you look back on your career up to this point, is that a regret for you? What would beating Fedor then have meant to you?
Barnett: The whole thing is just a disappointment. How could it not be? It was just a terrible, terrible thing, and it would have been great to have had that fight happen. At that time, it was a big deal, and it would have been an awesome event for MMA in general, but that moment has passed. That’s just the way it goes, man. When opportunities are there, you’ve just got to be ready to capitalize on them.