One of the greatest movie quotes-at least in my opinion-was when the Mongol general asked Conan, ‘What is best in life?' to which Conan replied without hesitation, ‘To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women.' If ever life were to imitate art, Josh Barnett would be the very embodiment of Conan for the MMA sector. His violent displays in the cage are more than memorable, and his attitude towards life in general is reminiscent of the character beloved by so many.
At the age of 36, he holds an outstanding record of 33-6, and has a career that spans three decades. The sole blemish on his resume over the last seven years was a decision loss to Daniel Cormier that was actually a testament to his grit and determination, as he suffered a terrible fracture to his hand in the first round, yet slugged it out for the duration of five grueling rounds. If you ask him how he was able to fight those 25 long minutes, he'll tell you it was because he felt he owed it to his fans.
Tomorrow night, at UFC 168, Barnett faces a tough challenge in Travis Browne on his continuing journey to the title. Browne's last fight was a come from behind knockout victory over former Heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem, while Josh is coming off a TKO victory over former Heavyweight champion, Frank Mir. Both fighters present formidable skillsets and durability, and will no doubt give fans an exciting slobberknocker, worthy of the main card of the year-ending event.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Warmaster for an interview, where he discussed WADA testing, how he avoids the injury bug, training for peak fight condition, referee stoppages, fan perception, women's MMA and more. There is also a quickfire personality close-up to round out the feature. Here's your serving of the most metal guy in MMA.
Steph Daniels: I want to talk about your upcoming fight with Travis Browne. Everybody seems to think that because he walks around a little lighter, he's going to have the better gas tank. You've gone five rounds before and you never seem to gas, though. What's your secret?
Josh Barnett: Training hard. Putting yourself through fight like conditions and concentrating on fight conditioning. I know a lot of people jump on the latest, coolest fad, or what ‘science' said, or some new crossfit thing, or whatever, but that's not fighting. Fighting is what gets you in better shape for fighting. Your body has not only muscle memory, but it learns how to do a movement the easiest way possible. The only way to give your body the ability to learn that movement and to do it with the most efficiency, is to do it. You've got to get out and there and you have to fight. You have to feel the pressure of fighting, you have to feel the adaptation of an opponent, and you have to work with that.
You can go on to create a deficit with the old shark tank setup, where you have multiple guys coming in every two minutes or so, or every six minute round. Now you're getting a fresh body, but you're still putting yourself under the pressure of being in a fighting scenario. That's what builds conditioning, and I come from the old school; if I want to be a better fighter I don't run more, I don't lift more; I fight more. While I think running and lifting are important and can be very helpful, it's all supplemental. Anything that reduces my ability to fight more is put aside until a later date.
Steph Daniels: Outside of your hand injury you haven't really faced a lot of injuries in your career. I can only think of maybe one or two. What's the key to your durability?
Josh Barnett: One, I always believe in lifting weights. I think lifting weights helps to strengthen all of the joints and connective tissues and prevents injuries. I'll be honest and say I've had plenty of injuries, but they're usually not enough to pull me out of fights, or keep me out of training, or require surgery or anything like that. I've taken care of a lot of injuries with simple rehabilitation, strength work and care.
If you're a professional fighter you have a ton of injuries on a regular basis that can accumulate and become an issue, but often you're able to just work through them. I've dislocated my shoulder and broken my hand and that's enough. If I can get by with less, I really would appreciate that. I try to keep training smart, too. I avoid things that are going to cause injuries.
Sometimes you've just got to get in there and spar with people, and sometimes even the safest opponent you've got can injure you. That's just the nature of it when bodies are flying in different directions, but having good sparring partners does help, and Erik Hammer is by far the best sparring partner I've ever had; he can adapt, he can try and touch my face to the floor, or we can flow, and move and work on very specific, very high-level stuff with a lot of technique emphasis. Developing a relationship with a very good partner for all of your training, drilling and sparring can make a big difference to how good and durable you can be as a fighter.
Steph Daniels: Cain Velasquez seems very injury ridden. Over the past couple of years he's been out more than he's been in. Do you ever sit back and think, ‘I could give this dude a ton of advice?' Lots of the heavyweights, lots of the roster period, are training in a way that has the injury bug at an all-time high.
Josh Barnett: It sounds incredibly egotistical, but there's not a fighter in the world I can't give advice to. I've trained a lot of fighters already, and I know I can produce world champions; I've done it before. Cain's an adversary... Well, he's got what I want, he's got what all of us want; the heavyweight title.
I'm sure he has a good team around him to help him with his injuries and with his training, and sometimes things can't be helped. Sometimes people are more predisposed to injury via genetics or earlier sports played. Things happen. Perhaps Cain has had shoulder injuries because he has an impingement somewhere, or because he's too tight in one area... There's a number of things that could have led to this.
I had my shoulder put back together by Dr. Larry Pedegana at Orthopedics International, and they did a really fantastic job. There have been times I've felt like my shoulder is better now than it was before I tore my labrum.
Steph Daniels: I saw your interview with Karyn Bryant, and you mentioned that WADA have already been out to test you multiple times, like eight or nine times. Do you find that it's more a pain in the ass than anything else, or is this a kind of necessary evil to propel the sport as a whole in the right direction?
Josh Barnett: It is somewhat of a necessary evil. I've said before that I don't want to talk about it, I'm going to be about it, and I'll put my money where my mouth is. If anyone has any questions about my sincerity or my adherence to the rules in terms of banned substances and things like that, the tests speak for themselves. I told them, ‘Go ahead. Whenever you need to come by and ask for something, just show up. If I'm asleep or whatever, just hit me up on my phone and I'll meet you, wherever you're at.'
I know that the idea of this testing has become more and more prominent, and it tests for a greater range of substances, and in more detail. There's this idea that the commissions aren't doing their job, or that the fighters are somehow managing to sneak by and avoid detection by the means the commissions employ at this point. Well, this is the first true, full on, random testing scenario that's ever been enacted in MMA. I think that Travis and I are proving by example.
Steph Daniels: Would you say that this is a necessary move to propel the sport in the right direction? Especially since we're trying to get the sport legitimized in New York. Do you think this is something that needs to happen across the board over the next year or two?
Josh Barnett: It's hard to say. I think it could help, but it's very expensive and I don't know that all the commissions even have the infrastructure to get behind it, but I think it's a useful thing. With this testing, you know, it's okay, but there's still all this testosterone usage exemption stuff, and it's really still kind of cloudy. Maybe they should make sure the testosterone usage exemption people follow the same standards, where you're never ever out of the allowable range as long as you're licensed or training for a fight. It's unfortunate that it comes to that, but that's the way it is.
Steph Daniels: Let's talk Werdum. If you beat Travis Browne you'll be facing Werdum next. He's been on the shelf for six months, by the time Cain comes back a year might have passed by, and he wants to sit and wait that whole time. What's your take on that?
Josh Barnett: I can see his point of view from a management side. I really don't concern myself with the affairs of others or what their wants and needs are. All I care about is beating Travis Browne, and doing so in a really explosive and decisive fashion. Beyond that, nothing really holds any interest for me.
Steph Daniels: Dana White has said that Werdum is definitively fighting the winner of your fight next.
Josh Barnett: At this point I don't have a contract, so I can't say that's exactly what's going to happen. The intent or idea might be out there, but until I've signed and the ink is dry, nothing really holds water to me.
Steph Daniels: I want to ask you a little bit about referee stoppages. People had a lot of thoughts both ways after Travis' fight with Alistair. What's your thoughts on late stoppages? Do you feel like they should have stopped that fight a little earlier when Alistair was beating on Travis, or do you think it was ok?
Josh Barnett: Well it turns out that Travis wasn't out of the fight, and Alistair gassed and got knocked out himself. I've seen guys back in the day getting mauled from mount. Just getting caved in and beat up, but they manage to hang in, keep their elbows up and guard, and then watch the guy in mount gas out, roll him over, and finish him. I've seen things no referees would allow to continue in today's MMA landscape, and that guy on the receiving end turn the tide and win the fight.
I am more in line with the old school way of thinking. I like it that way, but at the same time I'm not going to be belligerent and only try to see it from one direction. As a sport, and as an entertainment sport, I think that the referees do the best that they can. They are human, so mistakes will be made, and I would like to see fights go, on average, longer than they do before calling the fight off. Referees will vary, commissions will vary, and sometimes the referee that's in there just panics, thinks he's seen the worst of it, and then slaps himself on the head and says, ‘Ah crap, I should have let that one go a little longer.' Education for the referees and education for the fans is the best thing.
Steph Daniels: Are you still with Marvin Cook, and do you still train Savate with Nicholas Saignac?
Josh Barnett: I actually helped out at a Savate seminar that Nick held at CSW. He was recovering from knee surgery, so I hadn't been able to train with him. I haven't trained with Marvin in quite some time, but he's still at CSW, still working with guys at night, and still getting people in shape. Whether I'm working with them currently or not, they're always around and we're always aware of each other and there to help each other out.
Steph Daniels: Do you think the fans are being a little hard on Ronda Rousey after TUF? Did you like what you saw, or do you think it's too much too soon for the females to go that route?
Josh Barnett: I haven't watched TUF. I don't own cable or anything, so I couldn't really say. I think that fans in general, across the board of anything fans may be a fan of, will often run to the extremes in the public view in places like forums, Twitter and Facebook. I think that if people feel strongly enough that they want to say something, that they'll usually have a strong viewpoint one way or the other. The middle of the road folks will just sort of sit back and don't really have an interest in letting the world know how they feel about it.
Even if Ronda has hurt her reputation in some way, the idea of people talking about everything concerning her can still be good. They say there's no such thing as bad press, well the only thing about bad press is, if you're getting a lot of notoriety from bad press, and you're not able to either turn it around or continue, for lack of a better word, ‘winning' in whatever sense that may mean, it can be an immediate drop. They're waiting for that. Still, up to that point it can be very, very useful and create a lot of attention.
Steph Daniels: Do you think it's a little too soon for the women to have that negative attention?
Josh Barnett: You know, it doesn't really matter. It's going to come. It's been around; I've had plenty of negative experiences in dealing with women's MMA, and just MMA in general. It just is what it is. Now it's just that the women are on a bigger stage with a brighter spotlight. I can't say it's any worse than things I've seen from the male fighters, and it'll unfold the way it'll unfold.
Steph Daniels: You've been a strong competitor over three decades now, 17 years, and you're still acquiring fresh fans that view you as a new face because all they've ever seen is the UFC. What's that like for you, especially having competed at the top level for so long?
Josh Barnett: It's unusual sometimes, but I just stick to the same formula that has worked for me from the beginning. That is to do things for my own reasons, for myself, and to be sincere. Everything else really just falls into line after that. I don't try to win fans over or create any sort of sentiment amongst the fans or the media. I just be the person that I am, and I think that's a much better tool or scenario for creating whatever this is on an entertainment level rather than trying to create some false persona or idea of things for the benefit of fan attention.
Steph Daniels: Do you see any chance of the catch-as-catch-can style returning to the US, and is there any part you could play in its revival as a grappling sport?
Josh Barnett: I take part in its revival every time I take to the ring or the mat, or my fighters take to the ring or the mat. Anything that you want to create has to start with you first. You have to be the drop in the water that creates the ripple that will widen out and touch others. I think catch wrestling can make a comeback. I think it would be the perfect component to USA wrestling.
They tried a grappling formula, and I was actually a fan of the first iteration of that grappling formula and the ruleset, but it took on a more jiujitsu aspect afterwards. That's not about hating jiu-jitsu, it's more about the idea of creating separate arts. Jiu-Jitsu is an art, with a full spectrum of competitors, events and rules that have been around for quite some time. To create a grappling structure that's the same doesn't really make sense to me.
I think jiu-jitsu is it's own art and has its own place, but I see jiu-jitsu as taking place in the gi. If you don't have a gi on, I don't see any reason why it should still be just like jiu-jitsu. You might as well have the ability to create a different environment with that.
Steph Daniels: What do you think it would take to revive MMA in Japan? Or do you think those days are gone?
Josh Barnett: I really couldn't tell you. I'm so removed from the Japanese scene at this point that it would really be hard. Even when I was in there it's hard to know exactly what would work. I know a major Japanese star of some sort will always be a catalyst for some interest. Can the entire scene be revived, by which I assume you mean to the level it was at the peak of Pride? I don't know. Maybe not for some time, but potentially in the future.
Steph Daniels: You vs Fedor was the fight that everyone wanted to see. Do you ever have any regrets about it? When I spoke to Randy Couture he said the one fight he regrets never having fought was with Fedor. Do you have any regrets that you never got to fight him?
Josh Barnett: Sure. I think it would have been a fantastic match. It's one of the biggest regrets of my career and it will always be an issue for me. I can't change that and I can't go back. Just like you can't get back your losses, you can't get back things that slip through your fingers. If it's ever meant to be, perhaps Fedor and I could at least just spar one day, or just hang out and train all day long, just for the hell of it.
Steph Daniels: You and Dana once had pretty harsh things to say about each other, but you guys came to an understanding and are pretty amicable these days. What do you make of this current Ben Askren situation?
Josh Barnett: I don't know. Ben's living his life, I guess, so let him have at it. I'm not his keeper, that's for sure.
Steph Daniels: Since you've been around pretty much all of modern MMA's history, as well as the dark ages, how do you view the current landscape?
Josh Barnett: I think we're on a bubble. We've gotten to quite a high level with interest and saturation, but I think we're at a bubble where we're really floating around the ceiling and we're just not quite there to break through and go to that next level. What's necessary to get past that is a complex question and would involve a lot of speculation, but I do think that we're at a ceiling right now and we need to find a way to get through that.
Steph Daniels: There was a time when for the briefest moment you were a man without a country. Strikeforce was closing and you couldn't come to a deal with the UFC. Do you see any options for big time fighters like you or other big names that are outside the UFC, or is the UFC pretty much the end all be all at this point?
Josh Barnett: The UFC is the biggest and best show for MMA in the entire world, there is no getting around that, but I think that Europe is starting to grow quite a bit, and if a fighter wanted to ply his trade at a higher level then Europe may be an option for some folks. Getting into that position is going to be tough, and you've got to understand that they're going to want their stars to shine over you, and the competition is not light, but I think if you want to fight there are still opportunities out there. If you want to be the best in the world, though, you've got to be in the UFC now.
Steph Daniels: Since you're a pretty big MMA and wrestling history buff, who do you think is the most important figure to the sport that is forgotten or overlooked by the fans?
Josh Barnett: Wow... You know, I don't think people quite remember or recall Royce Gracie as much as they should. He was an incredibly important piece of this MMA puzzle. Dan Severn, Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. People are aware of Ken, but not for the reasons I think they should be. They think more about some of his feuding with Dana recently and maybe the WWF.
I don't mean Ken just in terms of fighting in the UFC, but the idea of developing MMA talent, taking them abroad and having an MMA fight team. Not a jiu-jitsu team, or a kickboxing or wrestling team, but an MMA team; guys specifically training to be well rounded fighters. He took them to fight in Pancrase, and the UFC, and King of the Cage and Gladiator's challenge, and tried to develop full bred MMA fighters.
That could be a really deep list. People have short memories and it's really more about what have you done for me lately. I would really have to sit on that to be entirely sure where even a top 5 should be, but I think some of the people I mentioned are important.
Steph Daniels: What fight of yours during your Pride career paid the best purse?
Josh Barnett: Um... I think... The first fight with Nogueira.
Steph Daniels: Would that be the most lucrative fight over your entire career including outside of Pride?
Josh Barnett: I'm not sure.
Steph Daniels: Shogun recently said that he felt like Pride rules, with stomps and soccer kicks and everything are safer than the unified rules. As a guy who has fought extensively under both sets of rules, which do you think is safer?
Josh Barnett: I don't think there's any real safety difference between the two for the most part. I think the Pride rules allow for a more dynamic environment and allow you to use more of your martial ability than the unified rules do.
Steph Daniels: I have some quick fire personal questions now. First one, iPhone or Android?
Josh Barnett: Android.
Steph Daniels: What's the number one location on your bucket list that you haven't visited yet?
Josh Barnett: Europe as a whole.
Steph Daniels: What is at the top of your bucket list, period?
Josh Barnett: Watching the world burn while I stand atop a pile of bloodied bodies.
Steph Daniels: What is your favorite food in the world?
Josh Barnett: Anything barbequed as a general rule. Any sort of barbequed and sautéed meat, that kind of thing.
Steph Daniels: Favorite movie of all time?
Josh Barnett: Blade Runner, the final cut.
Steph Daniels: Do you watch any television at all, and if you do, what do you watch?
Josh Barnett: I don't, but if I did I would watch ‘The Venture Brothers,' and ‘China Illinois.'
Steph Daniels: Favorite book?
Josh Barnett: I'm not sure, but I would say Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is up there.
Steph Daniels: What was the deal with the dude in the mosh pit? Everybody wants to know.
Josh Barnett: He's a rad dude that is a die-hard for metal and for ‘Everytime I Die'. I saw him the first time they played at The Roxy and he asked if I would chuck him off the stage, and I did it that time. He was there at this show, and he asked if I would go two for two, and I more than obliged.
Steph Daniels: What was the first fight that you ever saw that holds significance to you?
Josh Barnett: Man, I don't really know. Pat Smith versus the Ninjitsu guy, Scott Morris. The guy comes charging across the ring and shot a double, but got bowled over and elbowed in the face. That was one of the first UFC fights I think I ever saw, and I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘Oh my god. Wow'. That and Remco Pardoel versus Orlando Wiet; head-locking him and elbowing him into unconsciousness.
Steph Daniels: Over the course of your career, give me something that stood out to you because it was just crazy.
Josh Barnett: I was once in a karaoke room with a bunch of notable fighters and suits, and watching a high level, well known fighter taking a shower in this windowed bathing area with glass around it. He was shaking his naked butt up against this window and showering himself in front of all of us while there are pop stars and crap all around. That night ended with a dude, really drunk with a bunch of other dudes, falling down and slicing open the artery in his wrist and me, being the soberest one around, administering emergency first aid to him by applying pressure and a tourniquet to his arm, and getting him to hospital.
You can follow Josh via his Twitter account, @JoshLBarnett