Josh Barnett fights on American soil at this weekend's Strikeforce: Overeem vs Werdum card for the first time since failing to be licensed to face Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction III in 2009. He'll face Brett Rogers in the opening round of Strikeforce's heavyweight Grand Prix.
Modern fans may mostly know Barnett as a poster boy for failed drug tests and an utter lack of repentance, but old school fans can remember when he was a rising young gun, carrying the flag of catch wrestling and moving up the heavyweight ranks.
Jonathan Snowden spoke to Barnett about the win that got him invited to the UFC -- beating former UFC champ Dan Servern at Super Brawl 16 in February 2000:
The "Beast" had been an early UFC standout and was still wreaking havoc on the independent scene all over the world. He had three losses on his record - to Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Mark Coleman, all cream of the crop athletes. Since his loss to Coleman, he had gone 21-0-3 over the next three years. In short, Dan Severn was still a force to be reckoned with.
"Dan was one of my favorite fighters from the early UFC's. He was a pro wrestler of course and when you rolling German suplex a guy, you tend to leave an impression on people's minds, especially mine," Barnett remembered. "Besides me, Dan is the only person to pull it off in an MMA match. But he did it first. When I had a chance to fight him, he had already beaten Lance Gibson and Doug Murphy, two guys from my gym. So him being an idol wasn't on my mind. The only thing on my mind was to kick the living crap out of him. At the time he hadn't lost in years. And it was my chance to show everybody that I'm one of the best in the world."
In typical Severn fashion, it wasn't pretty. The two men spent most of the first three rounds clinching against the ropes or charging each other like two bull elephants. Severn managed a takedown in each round and was likely ahead on the cards as they entered the fourth and final round. But when the tide turned, it turned quickly.
"He thought he was going to ride it out. But come that fourth round, (trainer) Matt (Hume) slapped the sh*t out of me and it really woke me up," Barnett said. "I just went out there berserk, swinging on him. He tried to lateral drop me and I blocked him. That was the end of the fight."
Barnett trained with Matt Hume in his early days but also trained catch wrestling under the legendary Billy Robinson at the UWF Snake Pit in Japan. Unlike Ken Shamrock and other early MMA fighters who learned catch wrestling in Japan but referred to the style as "shoot fighting" or pancrase, Barnett has always proudly carried the catch wrestling flag.
His early climb, including winning the eight man Super Brawl heavyweight tournament whose field included future stars like Ricco Rodriguez and Heath Herring as well as fierce competitors like Bobby Hoffman was a thing of beauty. Super Brawl effectively brought the best young heavyweights from the emerging U.S. regional MMA scene into one tournament and Barnett rose above the pack.
He would go on to win the UFC belt against Randy Couture at UFC 36, only to be stripped of the title after failing a drug test. That was his second drug test failure with the promotion as he also failed a non-binding test the Nevada State Athletic Commission conducted at UFC 34.
After refusing to abide by the terms of his suspension by the NSAC, Barnett fought in Japan's Pride Fighting Championships for most of the next decade. He returned to the states under the Pride banner and passed the necessary tests both there and for the first two Affliction cards. Then a surprise drug test caught him doping again and the rest is history.
We'll see if Barnett can put all the controversy behind him Saturday.
In the full entry is a video highlight of Barnett's win over Dan Severn.