A skilled and technical fighter. A champ. A killer of struggling promotions. A rule breaker who abhors playing the game. Josh Barnett is all of these things, and thanks to an ambitious Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix and an athletic commission in Texas that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the inclinations of other jurisdictions, we get to see the “Baby-Faced Assassin” in action on Saturday night in a tournament quarterfinal bout against slugger Brett Rogers. So just who is this catch-wrestling monster who chews up jiu-jitsu black belts on the mat and spits them out like they’re nothing? Spend a few minutes talking to him and you’ll realize Barnett is a cool, down-to-earth dude, a fighter’s fighter, and a man who knows Godzilla flicks like few gaijin do. I’d say that deserves a career retrospective, no?
SuperBrawl 13 Heavyweight Tournament – The exact moment Barnett appeared on the collective radar of ardent MMA fans everywhere was on September 7, 1999. It was on that night that the Hawaiian promotion SuperBrawl assembled eight of the toughest, most promising non-UFC heavyweights, and pitted them against each other in a tournament you either saw live or waited for up-to-the-minute results to be posted on the Internet (i.e., pay-per-view? Ha!). Barnett submitted a powerlifter and a jiu-jitsu guy and out-pointed a brawler to win it all. Yeah, it was pretty badass.
Barnett vs. Randy Couture, UFC 36 – About a year later Barnett was in the UFC, and after a setback against fierce Brazilian striker Pedro Rizzo, he was soon on track for a shot at the title. At UFC 36 that shot came to fruition, and though champ Couture got in some licks, the Baby-Faced Assassin was simply too big and too skilled, and Barnett went home with the belt. Sadly, Barnett was soon stripped of his UFC title for a positive steroid test. But for a while he was the UFC champ.
Barnett vs. Yuki Kondo, Pancrase 10th Anniversary Show – Once upon a time, the moniker “King of Pancrase” was something that commanded respect and made women lose their panties. So Barnett traveled to Japan, fought and defeated Japanese star Yuki Kondo in the Pancrase organization, and earned himself one gargantuan trophy. No matter what, “King of Pancrase” does look good on a resume.
Barnett vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Pride Final Conflict Absolute – He may have had trouble with Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic in his first two Pride outings, but when Pride’s 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix rolled around, he was beating dudes left and right. One such dude was “Big Nog”, who Barnett defeated by split decision en route to a rubber match with the Croation. Too bad an accidental eye-poke had Barnett submitting to CroCop in the tournament’s finals.
Barnett vs. Hidehiko Yoshida, Sengoku 1 – Yoshida was one of the Land of the Rising Sun’s biggest heroes, and with a shiny Olympic gold medal in judo, it’s not hard to see why. But you know what they say about judo, right? “Good at armbars, crappy at leglocks.” So, boom! Barnett heelhooked Yoshida at Sengoku’s inaugural show.
Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo and Gilbert Yvel, Affliction: “Banned” and “Day of Reckoning” – Remember Affliction? Yeah, they were that short-lived promotion that tried to challenge the UFC’s dominance by throwing buckets at cash at fighters for pay-per-view events few bought. In the organization’s debut, Barnett avenged his loss to Rizzo with a crushing knockout, and in Affliction’s second time at bat, Barnett earned himself a crack at the legendary Fedor Emelianenko by smashing Yvel. Too bad another hot urine test killed the Fedor match-up – and Affliction’s third and final effort – before it could materialize. Oh well. At least we have them both in Strikeforce.