luke-barnatt-2.jpgAs Luke Barnatt tells it, even those closest to him didn’t necessarily like his chances against Andrew Craig. But after a one-sided beatdown in the October bout, “Bigslow” is eyeing big opportunities.

“It’s definitely been something that’s got people talking, the fight in general,” Barnatt told MMAjunkie. “I think the most important thing to notice about it as that before the fight, I was ranked 56th in the UFC and 177th in the world. I was fighting a guy who was ranked 32nd in the world, which is one of the biggest mismatches the UFC ever put on, in my opinion.

“I’ve studied matchmaking very, very closely. I look at who’s matched with who, why they took those fights, how close they are in rankings, when’s the last time they fought, who’s the last person they fought and all that because then I can generate who I’m going to fight next. Andrew Craig was not in my list of people who I would have fought because he was so highly ranked. Taking that on, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m fighting a guy who’s ranked 32nd in the world. What a huge opportunity for me.’ That’s the way I looked at it.”

Barnatt (7-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC), a 25-year-old Englishman, was a relative unknown on the international scene prior to earning a slot on “The Ultimate Fighter 17.” He was ultimately selected as the overall No. 1 pick by head coach Chael Sonnen but suffered a loss to Dylan Andrews in the quarterfinal round. However, UFC President Dana White offered the entire cast a lifeline, admitting he was so pleased with the efforts of the middleweights that all 16 of them would earn at least one official UFC appearance.

Barnatt made good of his first opportunity, downing fellow cast member Collin Hart at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale. Then came the surprise booking with Craig, which Barnatt said even his new mentor Sonnen initially admitted was perhaps a little too much, too soon.

“It probably meant that (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva wanted me to lose, wanted me not to be a part of the UFC because I have such a small record, and he had to take on all those guys from ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” Barnatt said. “I think it was his way of testing me and whether I was worth having was giving me an opponent like Andrew Craig. Obviously I passed that test with flying colors. My training camp for it was intense.”

The contest was memorable not only for Barnatt’s scintillating performance but also for the manner in which he won, seemingly finishing with Craig with strikes in both the first and second rounds before ultimately using a submission to net the win over a dazed and battered opponent. The rousing bout earned the pair the evening’s “Fight of the Night” bonus, and Barnatt thinks his premature celebrations likely helped him secure the extra paycheck.

“Having that fight was perfect for me because I could rise to the challenge and knock it down,” Barnatt said. “Maybe celebrating a couple of times during the fight was not part of the plan, but having said that, all those celebrations made the fight a little more exciting and earned me $50,000 by getting ‘Fight of the Night.’ So it all worked out perfectly.

“I’m into self-belief. It’s something I practice. I practice my mental capabilities as well as my physical ones. I believe in myself completely, but there’s a different between believing in yourself and having others believe in you because nobody believed I was going to win that fight.”

With the naysayers silenced, the 6-foot-6 middleweight is now establishing new goals for his MMA career. While he’s always believed in himself, those around him are now jumping on board, as well, and Barnatt eyes a few big opportunities.

With the UFC returning to his home country in March for a UFC Fight Night event, Barnatt believes it’s a logical slot for his next fight. “Bigslow” also believes a chance to coach on an English version of “The Ultimate Fighter” would give him the perfect opportunity to share the wisdom he gained from his “TUF” experience with a few of his countrymen.

“Right now, I’m thinking about it, and London in March sounds very appealing,” Barnatt said. “I’m not 100 percent sure what I want right now, but 2014 is going to be a big year. I think starting off in March would be great, fighting on the London card, but there’s a few goals I have. I want to coach ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ in England. That’s a big part of what I want to do. I went through the process not that long ago.

“It’s unheard of for someone with as many fights as me coaching ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ but that’s what I do. I do unheard-of things, and I want to be coach on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ in the U.K. That’s one of my goals, and to just keep winning fights. The next guy I fight is going to know I can finish people. He’s going to know that I deserve to be in the UFC, and I wanted to prove that in the Andrew Craig fight, so I was already training for the fights to come.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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