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What's Next for Josh Barnett and Why It Matters

Josh-b-affliction_mediumZach Arnold runs down the problems facing Josh Barnett in the aftermath of his positive steroid test and the collapse of Affliction:

  1. He lost a lot of money for the Fedor fight and a chance to solidify himself as the top heavyweight fighter in MMA.
    This fight was probably one of, if not, the highest-paying fights Josh was ever going to get in his life. Whether you believe the figure is $300,000 or $500,000, that’s a lot of money to make for one fight. He’s not going to get that money anywhere else – not in Japan and not in UFC. ... What Barnett has to hope for is that there is still interest in Japan to book this fight on New Year’s Eve.
  2. Casual fans will think that Barnett’s drug suspension brought down Affliction for good.
  3. Barnett’s image in Japan is that of a steroid fighter and he will have to deal with a culture that still values shame.
    On August 9th in Tokyo at Ariake Colosseum, Barnett will be wrestling on Antonio Inoki’s show. There will be a lot of media writers .... Barnett can’t get away with issuing a ‘no comment’ because that will make it look like he’s hiding something or trying to run away from the heat. If he declares his innocence 100%, he’s still going to have to answer questions about how the Affliction fighters lost paychecks because of what happened. And if Barnett comes out and admits that he made a mistake and did in fact use steroids and apologizes to the Japanese fans, it might help his situation out but it would destroy his appeal in California.
  4. Limited job opportunities and little leverage.
    This is the big long-term problem Josh Barnett is facing. If he ever decides to eat crow and go to UFC, he’s going to have to take a deal where he may get $75,000 to show and $75,000 to win. He will never get a deal like the one he got in PRIDE or with Affliction, never. Plus, he would have no leverage in working with Dana White. He would have to do whatever Dana told him to do. That’s not really in Josh’s DNA.

Certainly Barnett has no one but himself (and maybe his black-market steroid connections) to blame for what has become of his career. He has been punished already and he will continue to suffer for his mistakes. This is only right. He's the goat of MMA and that's only fitting.

At the same time, those heaping derision on Barnett for his serious failures as a human being should take a moment to remember what an accomplished mixed martial artist he is. When someone like Josh Barnett does their best to flush their career down the toilet and shame their legacy, it's not just Josh Barnett the individual who loses, the sport and its fans lose too.

Sergio Non makes the case that Josh Barnett mattered and breaks out his greatest MMA bouts:

  • vs Dan Severn: February 2000, Superbrawl 16.
  • vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira II:December 2006, Pride Shockwave 2006.
  • vs Aleksander Emelianenko: May 2006, Pride Total Elimination Absolute.
  • vs Gan McGee:November 2000, UFC 28.
  • vs Pedro Rizzo I:February 2001, UFC 30.
  • vs Randy Couture:March 2002, UFC 36.
  • vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira I:September 2006, Pride Final Conflict Absolute.
    Other fights have more significance in MMA history, but for its drama within the ring itself and the technical artistry displayed, this semifinal bout of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix 2006 is the greatest fight I've ever seen, without exception. There has never been a bout before or since from a major promotion that spanned the full range of mixed martial arts at such a high level from both participants.

His win in the eight man heavyweight tournament at Superbrawl 13 should also be mentioned. That tournament excited hardcore fans very much at the time as it established a sort of de facto American regional MMA heavyweight champion. Several of the small promotions that had arisen in the late 1990s sent their best heavyweights to contend in the tournament and the field was the cream of the crop of young American talent at the time. Some of the fighters went on to bigger and better things, some didn't but nonetheless, Barnett's victory over a field that included Heath Herring, Ricco Rodriguez, Bobby Hoffman, and Travis Fulton was a notable moment for Barnett and American MMA.

Barnett is also important because he is one of the rare heavyweights to be a true master of submission grappling. Only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir can be considered his peers in that among heavies.

It should also be pointed out that Barnett has been one of the few active American fighters to study and understand the tradition of catch wrestling that is arguably the well-spring of all MMA. His knowledge of arcane submission holds and the hook and shoot traditions of legends like Billy Robinson, Karl Gotch, Billy Riley, Ad Santel, Ed "the Strangler" Lewis, the Great Gama and Georg Hackenschmidt.

His understanding of and respect for Japanese fighting culture is also virtually unique among American fighters. This is only fitting since Japanese wrestlers such as Antonio Inoki, Satoru Sayama ( Tiger Mask) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara have done as much as any living human beings to keep the traditions of catch wrestling alive.

Barnett's seeming willingness to seek illegal advantage in the ring has again brought shame on his reputation and hurt the sport. I hope that this time, he can be man enough to admit wrong-doing and work hard from there to repair his tarnished legacy because its a proud one.

Best of luck Josh, I for one will be rooting for you to do the right thing, now and for the rest of your career.