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Josh Barnett's Strange Journey to the Strikeforce Cage

Photo by Dave Mandel for
Photo by Dave Mandel for

Eight hundred seventy-two. That's the number of days since Josh Barnett last fought on U.S. soil (when he forced Gilbert Yvel to tap to strikes). In the interim, we've seen three Super Bowl champions. Two major scandals involving self-portraits of penises. Two earthquakes near 9.0 in magnitude in Japan and Chile. Flooding in Pakistan. The deaths of both Michael Jackson and Osama bin Laden. The rise of Twitter and Facebook. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien playing hot potato with the Tonight Show. Uprisings in Egypt and Libya and across the Middle East. And so on and so forth.

With his Texas license in hand, Barnett will put an end to his exile from American MMA at 875 days when he enters the Strikeforce cage on Saturday night.

It's a strange journey, and one that began on July 22, 2009. Just ten days out from the biggest fight of his life with then-number-one heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, the California State Athletic Commission announced it had denied Barnett a license due to a positive test for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone. The bout's promoter, Affliction, scrambled to find an opponent to replace Barnett. Names like Fabricio Werdum and Brett Rogers (both of whom later fought the Russian for Strikeforce) floated around. Even Vitor Belfort, who had recently dropped to middleweight and was scheduled to fight Jorge Santiago that night, offered to step up to the main event.

Instead, Affliction, either unable or unwilling to find a replacement, scrapped the card, folded their promotion company, and hopped back on the UFC Express as one of the chief sponsors.

Barnett denied using steroids, telling Dave Meltzer that he had "a pretty good idea" what caused the positive test.

SBN coverage of Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum

By October, he had already filed for two extensions with the commission (and good luck finding any information about them via Google). The hearing was delayed a third time in December when a blizzard in the Northeast shut down air travel and prevented his lawyer, Michael J. DiMaggio, from making the trip to California.

February of 2010 saw the hearing delayed for a fourth time. Reason being? Barnett no-showed his appearance in favor of "fighting" Bob Sapp in a pro wrestling match for the Inoki Genome Federation in Japan. Shannon Hooper, Barnett's manager, claimed her client "wasn't aware" that his presence had been requested by the commission.

At this point, it appeared that Barnett had no interest in resolving his situation in California. He took two fights (of the unscripted, MMA variety) outside of the United States. The first against K-1 kickboxer Mighty Mo under the Dream banner in March. The second, for the short-lived Impact FC, in July against Geronimo dos Santos. Who's Geronimo dos Santos, you ask? Well, he fought the infamous Zuluzinho a few months after meeting Barnett in Australia.

Barnett made short work of both men.

Strikeforce signed Barnett in September (on my birthday) despite his ongoing difficulties resolving the mess that, at that point, had progressed for over a year. That Strikeforce was based in San Jose and ran most of their shows in California added another interesting twist to the saga.

Barnett was next scheduled as the special attraction on the undercard of Chael Sonnen's hearing in front of the California commission in December. Many wondered if Barnett, who had made no public acknowledgement of the hearing, would even appear. He showed up -- sans counsel.

From my live blog of the hearing:

[4:27 p.m.] Commission member is confused and asks Barnett if he is denying the use of anabolic steroids. Barnett confirms his denial. Someone to Barnett's left jumps in and asks about the procedure with regards to testimony, witnesses, etc. Some member of the commission admits to not knowing the procedure. Barnett admits to not having counsel with him. This is now officially a mess. Commission debating the point of Barnett's presence.

[4:31 p.m.] Commission debating whether this is a new application of a license or reinstatement of an old license. Apparently, some record of rehabilitation is needed for reinstatement. Commission member is suggesting the commission give Barnett the option to come back with counsel. The commission member explains to Barnett that he is liable to answer "probing" questions if he goes through with license reinstatement today. Barnett denies prior knowledge of the procedures, and requests he be allowed to return with counsel.

The commission granted Barnett's request for a continuance, and left us with the proverbial blue balls once again.

The next month, Strikeforce announced their plans to stage an 8-man heavyweight grand prix tournament. Despite the non-resolution in December, Barnett found himself scheduled to fight Brett Rogers on April 9 in the first round of this tournament.

No less than a week after the announcement of the tournament, Barnett skipped a deadline to address a fight-license application he filed with the CSAC two months after signing with Strikeforce. The commission was prepared to make a ruling without Barnett until the latter withdrew the application at the end of the month.

"There's 49 other states, there's a gazillion different countries in the world," Barnett told Inside MMA. "I don't need anybody to tell me to do it or give me permission, I just want to fight."

In early March, Strikeforce (who by the end of March would be owned by the UFC and Zuffa) announced the April 9 show would instead be headlined by Nick Diaz, pushing Barnett's tournament date with Rogers back to June 18 and into the welcoming arms of a lax athletic commission in Texas.

And that's where we stand now. Barnett, who up until yesterday had still yet to receive his license, is set to fight Rogers this Saturday in Dallas, Texas.

The story it far from over, however. Should Barnett triumph on Saturday, the questions of where Strikeforce will schedule the second leg of his bracket and when, if ever, Barnett will clear up his mess in California will arise once more.

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