One of the most vocal and active proponents of female MMA, Josh Barnett (Pictures) appeared more than pleased at his stable's showing at last Friday's Smackgirl tournament in Tokyo. He spoke with Sherdog.com after the event and elaborated on the performances of his affectionately labeled "Angels of Destruction."
"I think they all did great. Akano was one that I wasn't able to work with for several months beforehand, so she was working much too hard to get that win," said Barnett of Hitomi Akano (Pictures), who had armbarred open-weight champ Hiroko at the event. "With a better strategy, she'd have won that fight much easier.
"Not that I think Hiroko isn't tough, but Akano has such a good submission game and judo background. I think she should have been able to push forward, take her down and submit her much quicker than she did. Still, I don't think the fans will complain, since it made for a very dramatic finish."
With her win over the imposingly large Hiroko, Akano advanced to the Smackgirl open-weight tournament final to face another Barnett product, Ginele Marquez (Pictures), who defeated Atsuko Emoto (Pictures) by unanimous decision the same evening.
"Ginele also did very well," Barnett said. "She wasn't in as good of shape as I'd have liked for her to have been, but it was a good start. One thing she was able to show was that it's going to be hard for anyone to manhandle her around the ring.
"Emoto is known for being, at the very least, very powerful, but Ginele just picked her up, flung her around and suplexed her. It's good to get this fight out of the way so she can concentrate on Akano next because Akano is very, very tough. I think with both of them meeting each other in the finals, it's going to be a good representation of world-class talent."
"The Babyface Assassin" also discussed long-time student Megumi Fujii (Pictures) and her win in a 115-pound tournament bout.
"She defeated Seo Hee Ham (Pictures) in the first round, by armbar, which is a first. [Smackgirl's] champion Yuka Tsuji (Pictures) couldn't put her away, and it took Miku Matsumoto (Pictures) at least until the second round to get a choke," Barnett explained. "Megumi took her out by armbar on her first takedown, and that was it.
"You know, I always say it: Megumi is clearly the best Japanese fighter, male or female. In my opinion, she could be the very best fighter, male or female, in the world. If she fought men in equal scenarios -- let's say if she was 170 pounds and had to fight St. Pierre, I'd put my money on her."
As bold a statement as that may sound to most MMA fans, it is nothing new with Barnett. Although his progressive beliefs are often cited, the reasoning behind them has perhaps been overshadowed by the achievements of his fighters.
"You know, I've always been the kind of guy who doesn't like to do what everyone else does," he said. "But one thing that really played into all this was that from the beginning, when women started wrestling in high school, I wasn't against it at all.
"I had two female wrestlers on my wrestling team, and it wasn't about, ‘Oh, there are chicks here now.' It was about these persons wanting to wrestle just as bad as anyone else. There's no reason to stop them or limit them from developing skills and technique just like anyone else. There's just no reason they should be overlooked. Women athletes are some of the best athletes in the world.
"Sometimes I prefer to coach women more because I don't get any ego from them, and they work hard. I'm not sure if it's because they believe that they have to because they normally wouldn't get the opportunity, and so they think they should make the best they can of the chance, but either way, it's in their nature and it's great.
"Plus, they smell a lot better too," added Barnett with a thoughtful smile. "I don't think that helping women athletes is charity work, but what I do think is that they're serious athletes like anyone else. And when I see someone who I believe has the potential to do something big, and is someone I believe I can work well with, then I'll work with them, male or female. Some of the best fights I've ever seen in my life were female MMA fights, and I think it's important and it's something that needs to be there in the sport."
On Monson and Heavyweight MMA
Barnett's next bout is set for May 18 in Sengoku against long-time training partner Jeff Monson (Pictures).
"Again I'm fighting a friend, like when I fought Yoshida, but this one's even more difficult for me because [Monson] was on my team for the Ring of Fire, spent some time with me at AMC Pankration, and I've been in his corner for almost all of his UFC fights, and I've helped him get ready for many of his fights in his career," Barnett said. "I guess that's the thing. When you're in the business long enough, you meet enough people, make a lot of friendships and relationships, but when it comes down to it, you can fight anybody. I can do that, but it doesn't mean I always enjoy it.
"I talked to him a little bit beforehand, just let him know they brought his name up, asking him, ‘What should we do about it? Should we accept this fight?' And in the end, what it came down to was that nobody was going to fight us, and so the only people that could put on a match was us. We're professionals, so we're going to go out there and do what we have to do and fight."
Outside of the Monson bout, there had been rumblings of Barnett's participation in Affliction's endeavors to promote its own MMA event. Despite not being officially signed, Barnett appeared optimistic at the idea of fighting for the clothing brand turned fight promoter, given his involvement with the company's apparel in the past.
"I think that if anyone would be a perfect fit for that, it'd be me, since I'm the second MMA guy behind Justin Levens (Pictures) to get involved with their custom T-shirt designs," Barnett said. "Before even Randy got involved, before there was anyone else in MMA involved -- I've got T-shirts you can't even buy that were produced by Affliction."
One name circulating in the rumor mill as an opponent for Barnett is a man he has a history with -- Pedro Rizzo (Pictures), who holds a knockout victory over him from seven years prior, at UFC 30.
"Now that would be nice," said Barnett regarding a potential showdown with Rizzo in Affliction. "You know he's got a win over Jeff [Monson] and [Justin] Eilers, so he's back on the winning track from those performances in Pride. Right after I lost that fight [to Rizzo], when Frank Shamrock (Pictures) was interviewing me, asking me, ‘What happened?' I said, ‘I just got caught coming in and I got knocked out, but you know what? I'm going to come back here and fight him again and knock his ass out.'"
Though no deal is official, Barnett is confident as always that the fights will come to him. Even as the UFC acquired most of the top heavyweights in the world, he stayed patient.
"The only thing I can say is that I sat back, and yeah, I had to suffer for a year by not fighting. But I stuck by my convictions and I knew what I was doing," he said. "I've been in this business long enough to know that once you start to think something is set in stone, and that that is the only way it is going to be and has to be, you're in for a surprise because chances are you're going to turn out wrong."
"I still get many people telling me to go to the UFC, but I don't need the UFC, and I knew it was only a matter of time until the wheel started to turn and these other big fights would come. Now you've got Affliction possibly promoting big cards, and I've already got Sengoku here who are giving me fights and are telling me they want to do a grand prix."
Exciting as those prospects may be, Barnett does apparently realize the tenuousness of the situation. While things are changing, he is not quite secure just yet.
"Though I wish I had something that was a little more scheduled, like, ‘I have two or three more fights at these times,' so that I can plan ahead, things are only just starting to pay off now," he said. "But I'm a pro-wrestler, and I go on tour and fight every night. I have no idea who I can fight or even when I can fight. But I'll be ready. I can deal with it.
"I had to sit out a year, but I'm finally back and have one fight under my belt. I'll be fighting in another one soon and will just be chugging away here, proving myself by putting strength behind my words. Saying what I do, doing what I say. All those who took me off their rankings, don't worry. I'll be right back there at the top again sometime in the near future."