While we're already six months into the new year, one of MMA's elder statesmen, heavyweight Josh Barnett, remains curiously absent from the UFC's upcoming event schedule. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been a busy man.
After recovering from a knee injury in February and filming a movie in Romania with Steven Seagal, "The Warmaster" is now expected to square off against leglock specialist Dean Lister in a submissions-only grappling match at Metamoris 4. Barnett was a surprise addition to the card, which also features fellow mixed martial artist Chael Sonnen, and on Monday he appeared on The MMA Hour to explain why he jumped at the chance to don his old wrestling shoes one last time.
"One, it's a challenge. Two, it's an opportunity for me to take catch wrestling and put it in front of all these jiu-jitsu folk and show ‘em what a real man looks like," Barnett said with a grin.
"Ralek (Gracie), I've actually trained with before, and he's been asking me to do Metamoris from the first (event) all the way up to this point, and [Metamoris 4], scheduling-wise and opportunity-wise really seemed to be a great chance. Dean is such a fantastic opponent and I have such respect for him, and I know how tough he is. I know how dangerous he can be with his leglocks, and I like the aspect of going in there with an opponent that people are going to think, well at any moment this guy could end the match."
Barnett, who is also preparing to launch a new podcast on FOXSports.com, said that he hopes to use Metamoris as a springboard to return to the UFC heavyweight fray before the end of the year.
"I think fighting in 2014 would be ideal," he explained. "I think fighting maybe sometime around the end of the year on a good card, I think it can happen. With Metamoris coming up, it gives me the opportunity to get into a camp for something to train, but at least I'm still here and local and it's not going to interfere with my ability to do the podcast.
"So I think it's a good step towards getting right back into the cage."
Despite his recent inactivity, Barnett remains ranked within the top-five of the UFC heavyweight division. His manager, Leland LeBarre, issued a challenge to former champ Junior dos Santos on last week's edition of UFC Tonight, and on Wednesday, Barnett echoed LeBarre's desire for the match.
"I want to fight fights that make sense," Barnett said. "Fights that are interesting, fights that people want to see, and fights that are challenging. That's it. Junior's challenging, he's a top fight, he's one of the best of the division, so yeah, of course. If it's not him, then I'm sure there's somebody else they can find. But the fact of the matter is just getting a good fight and a fight that makes sense, which is almost any of them, and going out there. I'm not one to go out there and pick fights, and I also don't call people out because I don't see a point in it. If you want to fight me, I'm not hard to find."
A fight that Barnett isn't interested in, however, is one against fellow top-five heavyweight and Strikeforce alumnus Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva.
With the Brazilian closing in on the end of his nine-month suspension for elevated levels of testosterone, Silva recently called out Barnett for his comeback bout, reigniting a rivalry that seemingly erupted out of nowhere in 2011, when "Bigfoot" told Sherdog that Barnett was a "filthy person" and a "classic kiss-ass" who "makes me sick."
"I don't really care (about Silva)," Barnett explained. "Here's the thing, if you really didn't like somebody, most people think, ‘aw, well the thing is you've gotta itch for that time to get him in the cage.' Look, getting in the cage is a privilege. You're going to make money by fighting me. You're going to gain notoriety, even after I smash your face, and all I'm doing is making your life better, if you can sorta see past the face smashing.
"For me, I'm not trying to help this guy out. ... I don't like him, and I don't like the way he approached anything about what he did back in his Strikeforce days and all of that. I had never even talked about this dude. He brought up all this stuff, made this huge kerfuffle, so my response is: F him. I'm not going to help him gain any ground in any way, even by losing to me. I'm not going to get him paid. I'm not going to going to get him anything, if I can help it."
Barnett went on to elaborate about the circumstances that led him to harbor such contempt for Silva.
"It was the fact that he just started talking trash on me out of nowhere for reasons that didn't make any sense," explained Barnett. "He doesn't know me. I don't know, it was like he got super butthurt over something that didn't really make any sense -- my lack of talking to him, I guess. This isn't the Best Friend Fighting Championship. This is MMA. I don't have to be friends with everybody, but I didn't have any problem with you.
"And the funny thing was, he slags me on the mic in public, maybe 15 minutes after I had just been up there on the mic talking about how much he's improved as a fighter and continued to improve, and how impressive he was; saying basically good things, although entirely true. I didn't have to dig to find a positive thing to say about his performance against Fedor. I mean, it existed for itself. And then his very next response is to talk s--t on me. So you know what, dude, I have no understanding of where that guy comes from, what his emotional maturity really is or anything like that. But I do know, I'm not trying to help his career out. At all. Ever. Never. In fact, us even mentioning him is beyond what I'd ever do."