In one of the most anticipated Heavyweight bouts of the last year, Josh Barnett is set to face-off against former Olympian Daniel Cormier on May 19th at the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Finals. Daniel has been a highly touted and impressive prospect since he was signed by Strikeforce. After racking up 7 wins and remaining undefeated, Cormier was tapped as an alternate for the Grand Prix. When Alistair Overeem was dropped from the organization, Daniel got the call to fill his spot against Antonio Silva. In the biggest test of his MMA career thus far, Cormier impressed with a TKO victory and earned his spot in the finals. There's no doubt that win or lose he's looking at an exciting future with the UFC.
The picture is not so clear for veteran fighter Josh Barnett, however. At a glance, the choice seems easy. He's an uncontested top 10 fighter. He's charismatic. He's widely recognized as being a part of some of the best fights in the sports history in his battles against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. And he breezed through the first two rounds of the tournament without a scratch. Easy call, right? Not so fast. There's a reason Barnett is one of the most infamous fighter's in MMA's short history. Namely, PED's.
Barnett started strong, rattling off 10 consecutive victories before losing to former UFC champion Pedro Rizzo at UFC 30. He recovered well, though, and finished his next two fights earning himself a shot at the title against Randy Couture. Josh scored the TKO victory late in the second to win the Heavyweight title, but his triumph would be very short-lived. Barnett tested positive for three different banned substances and was kicked out of the promotion by UFC president Dana White (Note: Mike Sloan of Sherdog has reported that Barnett also failed at UFC 34, but was not punished. I was unable to find any other confirmation of this report). Barnett was sentenced with a six month suspension and forced to find somewhere else to compete.
This failed test would be a turning point in Barnett's career. He wouldn't fight again in the United States for four years as he established himself as a fighter and professional wrestler in Japan. He took a year layoff from fighting before hopping around Japanese organizations and finding a home in Pride Fighting Championships. Without a doubt he competed against the best heavyweights in the sport during this time and his resume includes fights against legendary fighters like Nogueira, Cro Cop, and Mark Hunt.
Everything was looking good for The Babyface Assassin again, even when Pride folded and was bought by Zuffa. He competed twice before signing with startup promotion Affliction, who was looking to buy up all the available top talent they could find. As Fedor Emelianenko was busy knocking out former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, Barnett avenged his loss to Rizzo and KO'd Gilbert Yvel in the lead up to a fight with the undefeated heavyweight in August of 2009. His fight with Fedor never happened, however, as Barnett failed a prefight drug test and has been historically blamed for the fall of the organization.
Again Barnett fled to Japan where he fought for Dream and Impact FC against much lesser competition. However, all was not lost for Josh since Strikeforce was building as a big competitor in the United States and needed to fill out there roster. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker signed Barnett in September 2010. Yet, there were still big issues to deal with since Josh had never addressed his issues with the California State Athletic Commission. This was further complicated when Barnett, after being granted a continuance n December 2010, skipped multiple hearings for re-licensing. On top of that, Josh decided to engage UFC president Dana White in a war of words, going as far as to off to "pee in his mouth."
None of these issues held up Coker and Strikeforce, though. They announced their plans for the Heavyweight Grand Prix and Barnett was favored from the start to win his bracket. The pesky licensing issues were resolved through simple commission shopping where they had Barnett compete in Texas and Ohio. For his part, Barnett rose to the occasion finishing both Sergei Karitinov and Brett Rogers by arm triangle without ever finding himself in to trouble.
Now, still in the wake of the Zuffa's March 2011 acquisition of Strikeforce, Barnett's future is murky. Scott Coker has already announced that they have no idea who the Grand Prix winner will face. So there's no knowing how long either fighter will be held up if the win. On top of that, Barnett's steroid history and his words with White may have hurt his potential to get signed with MMA's premier promotion. Although this picture suggests the two may have buried the hatchet. More positive news is that Barnett finally rreceived his license from California just two months ago.
At this point, it's impossible to say what will happen with Josh whether he wins or loses his match against Cormier. The picture is so convoluted with his drama with Dana White and his historical problem passing drug tests. Recent UFC headlines aren't helping him, as the company has already had to deal with the failed tests of big stars like Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz, and Chris Leben in the last year. If he loses, Dana and Co. could try to dismiss him as unqualified to compete with UFC talent and if he wins his future could be suspended in purgatory as Strikeforce struggles to find a challenger for him.