UFC 164’s Josh Barnett on MMA Then and Now: “They Fight for Glory; we Fought for Blood and for Honor”
By Kelsey Mowatt
When Josh Barnett steps into the Octagon on August 31st to battle Frank Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champ will be doing so for the first time since March, 2002, when he stopped Randy Couture at UFC 36. Of course, not only has Barnett gone on to fight in numerous organizations since then, and over 20 more times, but the sport’s landscape has changed dramatically. As a result, there’s a bit of a ‘then and now’ narrative surrounding Barnett, as he prepares for his promotional return at UFC 164.
“There was no money for fighting really,” Barnett (32-6) noted during a recent media call, when asked to compare the sport he entered in 1997 to the mainstream attraction it is now. “I fought when you couldn’t really buy MMA gear at your local sport store, whatever, we had to make it ourselves. I fought when most of the time we didn’t wear gloves.”
“We were under attack from all angles; a lot of the providers who could offer our pay-per-views had disappeared, so there wasn’t really an audience, hardly, there wasn’t much fame. The only reason to do it was because you had a never ending desire to get in there and bathe in blood.”
Unlike ten years ago, many of today’s top tier fighters are recognizable figures to mainstream audiences. During Barnett’s first run in the UFC, however, the average person had little idea of what mixed-martial-arts was. The rewards of being a fighter, even at the sport’s pinnacle, were extremely limited.
“Today’s there the opportunity to branch out and be a part of things outside of fighting. Broader acceptance brought the mainstream public and there’s a lot more notoriety and a much bigger public spotlight that comes with it,” “The Warmaster” noted. “As far as making a living, it’s a far better opportunity now than it was when I first started.”
“I think that a lot of guys fight not for the reasons we used to fight for, and there’s a lot of guys who get in here, and they just think they’re going to get famous, make a lot of money, what have you,” Barnett added. “They fight for glory, where we fought for blood and for honor.”
Of course, due to Barnett’s lengthy and accomplished career, the 35 year-old has had to battle many of the sport’s best heavyweights, and has witnessed first hand the evolution of fighters. Prior to joining the UFC in 2000, Barnett fought and submitted UFC Hall of Fame member Dan Severn. Earlier this year, he fell by unanimous decision to one of the sport’s fastest rising stars in Daniel Cormier.
“There’s still great, true fighters coming out of this, but these guys aren’t quite as tough as they used to be,” added Barnet. “They’re way better athletes, they’re much better prepared, but some of these guys don’t have that grit.”
And how does Barnett envision his latest run with the UFC unfolding?
“First time around, I went all the way to the top and won the heavyweight championship of the world. I don’t expect any different,” said the charismatic Barnett. “Other than to probably get paid a lot more money and get a lot more stardom and fandom out of this whole thing, because of the explosion of MMA as a whole.”
UFC 164 will be hosted by Milwaukee’s Bradley Center and will feature lightweight champion Benson Henderson taking on Frank Mir in the main event.