As someone that was deeply affected by the financial crisis of September 2008, it's difficult for me to be objective when it comes to employment. While others are more than happy to call for the dismissal of athletes in each and every sport, there's a large part of me that's deeply uncomfortable with rooting for someone to lose their job. Certainly, performance has to matter, and the UFC prides itself on being home to the best mixed martial artists the planet has to offer - still, however, you'll rarely catch me complaining about a fighter giving another opportunity to make as much money as he or she can within their short athletic window for doing so.
Unless, of course, that fighter is named Josh Barnett.
Barnett is a unique situation in MMA - in all of sports, actually. An undeniably talented grappler, Barnett quickly rose through the heavyweight ranks, culminating in an upset "victory" over Randy Couture at UFC 36 that made him the youngest UFC HW champion in history. Victory is in quotation marks, of course, because following the bout, Barnett's urine sample tested positive for three separate banned substances, and he was subsequently stripped of the title - the win, however, remains on Barnett's resume, as does Couture's loss in that bout, for a reason that no one has ever satisfactorily explained to me. The NSAC's failure to properly adjust the record books in this case is even more puzzling when one realizes that Barnett had already been caught by the NSAC for using steroids, but the commission did not have a punitive policy in place for such violations at the time.
Following Barnett's first publicized positive steroid test (second overall), he absconded to Japan, taking a couple of smaller bouts before moving up to PRIDE for the duration of that promotion's existence. Now, since PRIDE simultaneously wasn't overseen by an athletic commission and didn't really give a damn about the safety of its fighters, we don't know what was coursing through Barnett's veins - or, to be fair, that of his opponents - but what we do know is that he went 0-3 against Cro Cop, lost his rematch with Nogueira on NYE 2006 (Barnett's most recent and possibly final bout against a top ten heavyweight) and passed an NSAC drug test to be licensed for PRIDE's short-lived USA jaunt. Ironically, in Barnett's first officially sanctioned MMA bout in four years, it was his opponent - the immortal Pawel Nastula - that popped for steroids.
PRIDE's death left Barnett without a world class employer, and he signed a non-exclusive contract with World Victory Road. When it became clear that neither he nor PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko would be going to the UFC (and that UFC champion Randy Couture would be returning to the organization after attempting to retire/leave), Affliction CEO Tom Atencio decided to incorporate Barnett into his three-card monty and planned to have the two fight in his promotion's final event. Barnett held up his end of the bargain, avenging a previous KO loss to Pedro Rizzo at Affliction: Banned and TKOing Gilbert Yvel at the second event (which, originally, was headlined by a possible Barnett fight against Andre Arlovski; Andre instead had his soul stolen by Fedor at the top of that card). Everything seemed set for Affliction: Trilogy, arguably the most anticipated card of 2009 (after UFC 100), to give Fedor/Barnett to those that had salivated over it for years.
That, of course, didn't happen.