[Image via cdn3.sbnation.com]
An odd mix of karma and justice has conspired against Josh Barnett, with help from nemesis Dana White.
Even if Barnett defeats Daniel Cormier to become the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion, it probably won't mean a thing to the people signing the checks. Josh Barnett is a cheater. And while single-handedly sinking an entire mixed martial arts promotion may have helped the UFC in the long run, his unrepentant attitude, pro wrestling-style post-fight rants, and inventive suggestions for urine testing probably haven't endeared him to the Zuffa group, much less the hardcore mixed martial arts fans.
But does it really matter?
As Barnett stands now, the fact remains that he's still a "Top 10" heavyweight MMA fighter. He hasn't lost a fight since 2008, with his recent smashing of a guileless Sergei Kharitonov marking his eighth win in a row. Heck, those eight wins aren't so bad either, including names like Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo, Brett Rogers, and Geronimo dos Santos.
For what's it worth, at least Barnett's been fighting better competition than Ricco Rodriguez.
If Barnett wins (and even if he loses), there's plenty of good fights for him in the UFC. I'll even argue that his villainous persona and infamous history of steroid abuse make him a good contrast to the current crop of honest, hard working heavyweights like Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar. Barnett's also done a complete "180" on winning the tournament, saying that he now wants a "real" title belt. It's no surprise. After all, the former Baby-Faced Assassin likely wants to make himself look as good as possible for a call to the UFC after Strikeforce is dead, and a title belt helps.
But the real question is, could Dana White and Joe Silva really stomach having Barnett back in the UFC?
To Dana White's credit, he's made a career out of working with people he doesn't like. His frequent negotiations with M-1 Global went nowhere, and not for lack of trying. Tito Ortiz has gotten chance after chance despite genuine bad blood between the two. Jon Fitch still keeps a job despite being a thorn in his boss's side for several years. White's gone on record saying he doesn't like Josh Koscheck, yet granted him a coaching stint on TUF with a title fight against GSP to boot.
Point is, Dana knows when to shelve his dislike for a fighter for the good of the promotion.
But can he do it if Josh Barnett wins the Strikeforce Grand Prix? As a fight fan, I'd like to think so — Barnett would be a great match-up against Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir, or even Alistair Overeem, who "The Warmaster" was obviously intended to fight in the finals after Fedor's unexpected loss, re-entry, and second loss.
I'm not entirely convinced they've buried the hatchet, but I can always be wrong.
Honestly, I don't know what to expect from Dana White — there's more than enough heavyweights in the UFC for him to justify that Barnett isn't relevant to the division. Or maybe he'll simply say, "Barnett had his shot," and never address the issue again. But regardless of who wins or loses in the Strikeforce GP Finals, I'd honestly like to see Barnett (and Cormier) get tested at least once by the best of the best.
[McKinley Noble is a staff editor at GamePro and an MMA conspiracy theorist. Follow his Twitter account for crazy talk, 1990s movie references, and general weirdness. Or you could just stalk him on Google.]