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Bellator MMA added another UFC champion to their ranks – this time former heavyweight titleholder Josh Barnett.
In what was not an April Fools prank, Barnett signed his Bellator contract during the April 1 edition of the “Ariel Helwani Show.”
Barnett’s MMA career has been on the shelf since 2016 when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) informed him of a doping violation from an out-of-competition drug test. In March 2018, Barnett was cleared to fight and received a public reprimand when it was determined the cause of the doping violation was a contaminated supplement. Barnett requested and was granted his release from the UFC.
Before the USADA debacle, Barnett had gone 3-2 in his second UFC run, winning bouts against fellow former heavyweight champions Andrei Arlovski and Frank Mir, as well as a victory over Roy Nelson. He won the UFC heavyweight title in 2002, but was later stripped of it after failing a drug test.
While many fans associate Barnett with the UFC, the “Warmaster,” has fought in numerous promotions like Pancrase, where he held the Openweight championship, and Stirkeforce, where he was a finalist in the promotion’s 2013 heavyweight grand prix. My first exposure to Barnett was in Pride Fighting Championships, where he had two great bouts with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, and was the runner-up in the 2006 Openweight Grand Prix.
In addition to his lengthy mixed martial arts resume, Barnett has quite an extensive professional wrestling background, wrestling in TNA, Inoke Genome Federation, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. One of the highlights that caught my eye was his IWGP Heavyweight title match against Yuji Nagata at Wrestle World 2003 in the Tokyo Dome—a Jan. 4 show that was the precursor to Wrestle Kingdom.
As a fan of pro wrestling, I’ve always been impressed with Barnett’s trash talk and way he’s implemented catch wrestling into his fighting. He’s also one of the toughest heavyweights in the sport and never has a boring fight.
At the risk of sounding like an MMA know-it-all, I’m not surprised to see Barnett sign with Bellator. He and Bellator President Scott Coker have known each other for years, and it was only a matter of time before the Warmaster was brought to the Bellator cage.
Like many previous UFC champions, Barnett brings name recognition and nostalgia for fans who yearn for the old days of MMA.
There are different dream matches Bellator could make with Barnett, one being a super fight between him and Fedor Emelianenko. The two were set to square off at Affliction: Trilogy in 2009 until the California State Athletic Commission announced Barnett had tested positive for anabolic steroids.
A fight between Barnett and Emelianenko was a highly anticipated bout in 2009, and I believe there are MMA fans who would still watch it 10 years later—including Coker.
Another opponent for Barnett is Ryan Bader, who knocked out Emelianenko to win Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament and earn the heavyweight title.
Bellator would have a field day promoting this fight because you have an established veteran in Barnett taking on Bader, who has become one of Bellator’s top stars. Some may argue that Barnett hasn’t earned a shot at Bellator’s heavyweight title—but I don’t think that will stop the promotion from making the fight.
There are other potential fights for Barnett, such as a rematch with Mir, or bouts with Chael Sonnen. Quinton Jackson or Matt Mitrione. As Barnett said on Ariel Helwani’s show, “There's a lot of tender morsels over there at Bellator that I can sink my teeth into.”
The Warmaster didn't reveal a date for his Bellator debut, only saying "I do love my team and crumpets," an obvious reference to England. Bellator is scheduled to host an event at the SSE Arena in London on June 22 where Gegard Mousasi will defend the middleweight title against former Legacy FC middleweight champion Rafael Lovato Jr. Barnett may make his debut on the card, or he might just show up in the cage or crowd.
Barnett has found a new home in Bellator and there’s no doubt he’ll receive a warm welcome from the fans.