Hardcore fans have followed Josh Barnett on a world tour of MMA promotions he’s worked for since leaving the UFC in 2002.
Barnett (33-6 MMA, 5-1 UFC), 36, has fought in every major show in addition the industry-leader, and a few minor ones, as well. He’s fought world-class competition, fading stars, and a few guys who probably didn’t deserve to be in the cage with him.
But now is the time for the former UFC heavyweight champ to seize opportunity, according to his longtime trainer. In fact, it might be the last time.
“I told him, ‘This is your last run,’” Erik Paulson told MMAjunkie Radio in advance of Barnett’s fight with Travis Browne (15-1-1 MMA, 6-1-1 UFC) tonight at UFC 168, which airs on pay-per-view from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Paulson, an MMA pioneer who’s worked with Barnett for more than a decade, made his statement as the fighter contemplated signing a contract with the UFC earlier this year.
Before he mended fences and signed a multi-fight deal, Barnett’s relationship with the promotion was a well-known roadblock to his octagon return. UFC President Dana White was hardly a fan of the fighter, who in 2002 was stripped of the UFC title after testing positive for steroids. Barnett, in turn, dismissed the executive.
It’s taken mere months to turn things around, however. Barnett stole the show at the press conference for Saturday’s event, cracking jokes about his veteran status and his preparation for Browne. White was among those laughing.
The public relations push means little, though, if the veteran fighter can’t capitalize on opportunity. He is in the running for a heavyweight title shot and could be one fight away from fighting champ Cain Velasquez if he’s able to beat the younger Browne tonight.
Paulson told Barnett he’s got to make the best of his time.
“I just told him you have to make a statement,” Paulson said. “When you fight, everything you have to do, everything has to be absolute. You’ve fought so long, you should be able to surgically dissect every single one of these fighters you’re up against because you have a ton of knowledge, a lot of skill, you’re smart, and you have a lot of aggression.”
That’s exactly what he brought to the table when he returned to the octagon at UFC 164, where he battered ex-champ Frank Mir en route to a first-round TKO win. There were other motivating factors to help, as well.
“Apparently Frank said something that upset Josh that I think it had to do with (his opinion that) Josh [had] a padded record,” Paulson said. “Josh really took it to heart. That’s why he was so angry and pissed off.”
Barnett isn’t wound up on a personal level for Browne, but Paulson said the fighter is as well-prepared as he could be to win tonight.
Barnett has served stints at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, the Air Force Academy, and the Henry Tillman Championship Boxing Club, in addition to his work at Paulson’s gym, Combat Submission Wrestling.
“We have one of our fighters, he’s 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8, and he’s perfect (to emulate Browne),” Paulson said. “He’s basically what we’re going to be dealing with as far as length and reach goes. We have someone for each aspect of the game, which is the striking, the clinching, and the ground.
“What happens is [Barnett] likes to learn martial arts. There’s a lot of cool stuff that he could implement, so we have a lot of good resources to draw from.”
Barnett will need them all to match the explosive Browne, who knocked out Alistair Overeem with a front kick in his previous performance.
Paulson, though, is confident that Barnett might the right choice to come back, and that “The Warmaster” is right where he needs to be.
For more on UFC 168, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.