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Interview: Josh Barnett says 'MMA in Japan is not dead'

Barnett believes that Japanese MMA is not done yet, and pro wrestling may be a key in helping it regain popularity

If there is one American fighter with his pulse on the Japanese combat sports beat, it would be Josh Barnett. I spoke with "The Warmaster" recently to discuss his new role as an english-speaking commentator alongside Mauro Ranallo on AXS TV's "New Japan Pro Wrestling" show, which debuts January 16, and the topic quickly went into whether or not Japanese MMA was completely dead, and if it could ever attain the same status that Pride FC once held as top promotion in the country.

Barnett was adamant that the sport has not seen its last days, and that pro wrestling is currently enjoying a huge boost in popularity, which could be leveraged to help push MMA back into the limelight. "It's tough, every country that you go to, culturally, is not going to respond to everything in the same way," Barnett said. "What may barely register in one culture will completely set an industry back in another, and that's just really the way of the world. But I think that Japanese MMA is making somewhat of a resurgence and I think that pro wrestling can be a big help to that, especially if some of those wrestlers are potential fighters as well, and that is actually very tough to come by. But it can be great for cross-over work. Also, the fight industry is always, whether they want to admit it or not, has always had some reliance on the professional wrestling industry, and the pro wrestling industry has been hurting and the fight industry has been hurting even more so."

He continued, "There is a potential to bring back a big company but it's not so easy to say well, we are just going to reach out to these guys and they're just going to love it, not necessarily. It's not so easy to say we are going to put in these foreign heavyweights and they are going to batter each other and we are going to love it. That is not so easy either. Part of that I think is because Japanese fans, or the ones that you are trying to reach to immediately, they've already seen pretty much everything that you can throw at them, so it's tough to bring MMA back into the status that it was, but it isn't dead. Far from dead. And pro wrestling being great right now is fantastic for the bis overall, it's great not just for NJPW but for every pro wrestling company out there. I personally am an IGF guy, and I am working with them right now... I want to see all of those companies be successful because in the end, it's just going to help everybody."

Josh also discussed his excitement to be part of this commentary team for the NJPW show, and broke down his performance at this year's Inoki Bom Ba Ye, where he tag-teamed with Naoya Ogawa to take on Kazuyuki Fujita and Ikuhiza Minowa, who had just returned to action after a rough leg injury in this pro wrestling bout of former Pride FC veterans.

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