“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” Hugh Mackay
Some relationships aren’t meant to be. Josh Barnett and the UFC felt like it should’ve happened. He’s been consistently rated among the Top Five heavyweights in the world for over a decade. He fought the best in the world in Pride and with the dissolving of Strikeforce it felt like Barnett should’ve been one of the guys to finally return to the UFC. He is a former heavyweight champion, after all, and the UFC is about making the fights that matter among the elite of the division. He couldn’t be the guy that doesn’t wind up in the Octagon for his final fights, right?
Wrong, as it turns out.
As reported here and all across the web Barnett and the UFC couldn’t quite get a deal going. Why? His manager’s reasons made the final call to be more than just money, which they agreed to.
“However, there are some outlying issues — one in particular — that as of this point we were unable to agree on,” he told MMA Fighting. They would never clarify the issue, of course, but it boiled down to one of two things in most speculation. Either the UFC wanted him to undergo random drug testing due to his multiple failed steroid tests or they wanted him to fight, exclusively, and give up his days of being one of the top gaijin on the Japanese pro wrestling circuit.
The latter seems more likely, given the UFC’s wants to pass off drug testing policy and punishment to governmental athletic commissions outside of an inaugural drug test to sign with the company. Barnett makes a considerable living overseas on the Japanese scene, which values his more athletic style instead of American audiences which are much more aesthetically oriented, and giving it up for a full time MMA career would be a substantial monetary sacrifice. And while his final MMA contract will probably come far away from a major audience, as he’s more likely to continue to ply his trade for someone like One FC in Asia instead of Bellator because of his substantial name recognition in Asia, it’s almost appropriate that it’s not in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Why?
Because all the negatives he brings will eventually outweigh the positive, which is that he’s a first rate fighter.
The one thing every fan always worries about with Barnett in the U.S is when he’s given a cup to pee in. Barnett, he of three failed drug tests, has been an unrepentant steroid user and in an era where steroid use is a much bigger thing than it used to be. Eventually as the UFC expands further, and the issues of PEDs in MMA is given a much bigger spotlight, having a three time drug testing failure who never apologized or admitted he used them will look remarkably bad for the UFC.
Anyone who complains about PEDs in MMA will be unable to justify Barnett’s continued employment in the UFC, either. If Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and others can be labeled by some as “drug cheats” for using Testosterone Replacement Therapy than Barnett is significantly worse because he’s the reigning king of failed drug tests in modern MMA. Barnett is the poster child for using PEDs, tanking one promotion already with a failed drug test
. No one wants to be the promotion responsible for his professional MMA career if and when he tests positive a fourth time.
The other major negative will be Barnett’s “pro wrestling” style promotional pieces. Chael Sonnen’s shtick has gotten old and repetitive over two years because he’s been featured so profoundly. Barnett’s will only do the same. His shtick hasn’t been over-valued because he hasn’t fought in the U.S with the sheer regularity Sonnen has. Eventually the mouth-breathing, low-information types will stop eating it up like they will for Sonnen.
And unlike Sonnen he has had an extensive pro wrestling career. People never truly accepted Brock Lesnar because of it and he had a brief stint in that profession by comparison. Barnett has an extensive history in it and the sporting crowd, the one that detests the fake competition, will never really accept Barnett either. He may be an elite real fighter but being a fake one is never good for your credibility. Throw in his antics, which have included staging a pro wrestling match at a pre-fight open workout and grabbing microphones so he can cut promos after victories, and eventually people would tire of it.
Nothing says getting credibility with a sports crowd by having an elite fighter do a pro wrestling match during fight week, right?
By not being in the UFC Josh Barnett gets to remain in the same role he’s been since being cut from the company following his first failed steroid test: as an elite fighter who never has to prove his elite ranking. He can fight people not in his league, collect wins and never have to justify being one of the top fighters in the world. He’ll still be ranked until he loses, of course, but Barnett has carefully picked fights ever since Pride folded. Barnett can discuss how he’s elite, and how he’d beat the top guys in Zuffa, without ever having to do. He can still be a pro wrestler and never have to really worry about another drug test, either. In a way it’s better than being in Zuffa; he gets all the perks of being an elite fighter without ever having to prove it.