In a video interview with Bleacher Report, ahead of his fight with Daniel Cormier to finally finish the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Josh Barnett gives us a brief historical account and philosophical take on Pro Wrestling, Catch Wrestling and fighting. When a lot of interviews typically center around how a fighter has been training, their performance in their last fight and speculation on their next fight, and of course their thoughts on their upcoming opponent, this video thankfully bucks the trend.
Talk of Pro Wrestling on this site is often met with scepticism and derision unless a satisfactory link to MMA can be ascertained, and while my own articles on Catch Wrestling tend to be received favourably, it becomes doubly interesting and relevant when we get to hear directly from an experienced, elite fighter on the subject.
Barnett recounts his early interest in Pro Wrestling, what he liked about the 'Shoot' style of pro wrestling in Japan, what can be learned from the old legends of Catch Wrestling, how sport rules dictate the evolution (or devolution) of grappling styles, his first time working for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and more.
Strikeforce: Heavyweight Grand Prix Finale Fight Card | Dana White Open To Josh Barnett In The UFC | Interview: The Return of Catch Wrestling's Snake Pit | Judo Chop: Josh Barnett and Unorthodox Submissions | Judo Chop: Josh Barnett's Invisible Grappling | Josh Barnett and Reintroducing America to Catch Wrestling
I've transcribed some choice quotes after the jump.
On what attracted him to 'Shoot' style Pro Wrestling:
I was a huge fan of all that was American Professional Wrestling. But at the same time I also grew up with 'Bloodsport', and Bruce Lee movies, and so on and so forth, and the idea of taking a tournament and taking the toughest guys in the world and having them fight off against each other: the Kung Fu guy versus the Karate guy, versus the Judo guy. Coming across New Japan Pro Wrestling tapes and UWFi tapes, and I just go 'Woah! Holy Crap, this is different' ... it didn't have the histrionics and the dramatics as much as American Professional Wrestling had in terms of the promos, and the ring appeals and things like that, but the fighting -- if you would call it that -- was so intense. I really dug it.
On what he can take from the legends of Catch Wrestling technique-wise for MMA:
They all came from a wrestling background, just like myself. I think that you've got to start with basics with anything. I believe that basic body positioning on the feet and takedowns ... I mean, you go from there and then you can start adding all the submissions that you want, as long as your foundation is strong. And that foundation being just simple movement, control, levers. Wrestling is essentially the best building blocks and foundation I feel for developing every aspect of your game off of.
On rules dictating the approach to a combat sport, and if he's had to modify Catch Wrestling techniques that originally had the goal of pinning:
Rules often dictate the ways and philosophies in which you'll approach a game. It has to ... there are a good number of Jiu Jitsu guys out there that have absolutely no takedown game; because it is unnecessary for the rules of the sport to succeed, it's not a penalty, so instead of diverting energy into that it's easier and makes sense to -- let's say you're a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guy, in that scenario -- to work more on his sweeps, on his guard passing, on maybe his lapel chokes and things like that, it's more beneficial to him.
But even still, in MMA pinning is important. Knowing how to control a guy, how to put him on his back and keep him there and continue to hit him, and control him and ride him out, is very important. But there are adjustments that must be made to best incorporate Catch into the modern MMA landscape, and even the modern Grappling landscape, which is largely Jiu Jitsu based in terms of even rule set most of the time.
The way I see it ... it's just like when I went to New Japan, and they go "Ohh, you never Pro Wrestled before!", I go "Moves are moves, anybody can learn moves". If you have an ounce of athleticism, and a mind to conceptualise and understand what it is you're doing, you can teach me how to shoot a double on a guy with an elbow post, or you can teach me how to run ropes and hit a clothesline. A move is a move is a move. I don't see any trouble with adapting or even adding to a Catch Wrestling arsenal, even from learning from a very old school standpoint."
On his first match being for the championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling:
Not only was my first match against Yuji Nagata in front of 50,000 people, I was coming down with chicken pox at the same time! I went out there and I worked almost 12 minutes straight with that guy. I'd only had 2 days of Professional Wrestling training in my entire life, and I'm out there taking Exploders on the head, Wrist-Clutch Exploders, I was throwing Yuji around, you know I did my whole thing, and at the end of that 12 minutes I felt like I was on fire, fever was going and the lights were on me, but it was an amazing experience.
On Tatsumi Fujinami paying him the ultimate compliment:
I remember one of the coolest compliments I ever got ... the first time I showed up at an event -- just to cut a promo, against Nagata -- these guys are in the ring, working out, and so I go in there and they all want to wrestle with me. They all want to grapple with me, and so I go "Alright". So I'm tapping everybody out left and right, just tearing them up.
Fujinami comes up to me and goes, "Man, you know I was watching you in the ring right there, you move really well. You reminded me a lot of when Karl Gotch was here." And I was just, woah dude
On being proud about his roots and hating people that call Pro Wrestling fake:
... I feel really proud of a professional wrestling lineage, I feel pride in trying to re-connect those Amateur Wrestling roots to the combat aspects of wrestling, and also the history and the lineage of where Professional Wrestling came from. It's not fake, you know? I can't stand it when people go "Oh, but it's fake, right?" ... It's not fake! You can call it whatever you want, but don't say it's fake. I'm not joking out there, I'm not playing around, it's not a game to me. It's real, and I take it very seriously because I'm trying to show everything that we have as athletes out there in the ring, trying to show all the emotions and aspects that go into a fight and a struggle between two competitors.
... Pro Wrestlers used to be considered some of the toughest guys in the world back in the day. It didn't matter if they were out there working, their pedigree was otherwise, and anybody that wanted to step up to them learned the hard way. I remember hearing all the stories of the old school guys at New Japan, about when they used to take out ads in the newspaper saying Professional Wrestling Is The Strongest Of All Martial Arts, and Karate guys, Judo guys, you know, Aikido or whatever, would show up at their dojo and say "Hey, we don't believe in that, we think this is crap, we're going to come in and we're going to beat ya, and we're going to show you otherwise".
And Gotch would just -- or Inoki -- would say, "Hey, Osamu Kido, go wrestle that dude", and he'd just tear them apart. They never lost. They beat everybody up who showed up at their gym.