In those days you spoke of Pride's holy trinity - and then, separately, at arm's length from divinity, you spoke of Josh Barnett. An afterthought only. Somehow the qualifier great escaped him. It was strange; he fit seamlessly into the equation, the wrestler adjacent the striker and the jiu-jitsu player. And of course Fedor on his separate plane, equal in all parts and greater than the sum.
But it was never Nogueira, Filipovic, and Barnett. You didn't say it all in a line like that - he was never quite their equal. Cro Cop had his Grand Prix trophy; Nogueira and Fedor had their belts. Barnett never even fought Fedor to secure his link to the trinity. He was never out of place in their company, and yet he wasn't often mentioned in the same breath.
And later on, when the others fell and Barnett kept winning, it was easy to gloss over his steady record. There was no room for an old-time catch wrestler under Lesnar's watch. His skills were limited, his style was antiquated. With seemingly inferior wrestling and a body like melted candlewax, Barnett belonged nowhere in mixed martial arts; not an erstwhile giant of history, never to become a modern champion.
To declare yourself a Barnett fan was unthinkable. He was goofy at best, repulsive at worst. Most days he only inspired disgust. Cheater, scoundrel, clown. Failure and laughingstock of the MMA world. All the while he tallied up his victories and tightened up his game.
The holy trinity is gone now. Barnett remains. A perfectly preserved artifact. Eight good wins since leaving Pride. Zero losses. Maybe more than perfectly preserved. His peers have fallen, they're not what they used to be. Barnett is better.
He is the last one. The last enduring heavyweight of Pride's jewelled ranks. Greatness eludes him still - but on he goes. He hasn't been put down yet. Maybe it's luck, maybe it's by design; who knows. Maybe he's been evading unfavorable fights. Maybe he hasn't fought a worthy opponent in years.
Whatever the case, he hasn't lost a step. His time has not passed, his skills have not dulled. When he fights Cormier he will fight him in full.
Who would've thought? Josh Barnett, last king of Pride.