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Five Ounces of Pain: Q&A with former Pride heavyweight Josh Barnett

July 16, 2007
By Sam Caplan
Special to CBS

The UFC's heavyweight division has undergone a dramatic makeover within the past year with the additions of Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fabricio Werdum and Heath Herring to its ranks. The UFC's current group of heavyweights also received a big boost by the return of Randy Couture as well as the rapid development of Gabriel Gonzaga.

But one fighter who could increase the level of professionalism in the division is one of its former champions, Josh Barnett.

Barnett defeated Randy Couture for the title at UFC 36 but left the promotion after running into issues with UFC management and then being suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for reportedly testing positive for steroids. Barnett then departed for Japan, where he fought for several promotions before making a new home for himself in Pride.

While there he helped form the deepest heavyweight division anywhere in MMA, and in the process waged wars against the likes of Cro Cop, Nogueira, Mark Hunt and Aleksander Emelianenko.

Now Barnett again finds himself without a heavyweight division to call home due to the recently completed sale of Pride. It's a time of uncertainty for Barnett, who had been contracted to Pride's former parent owner, Dream Stage Entertainment, up until he was able to secure his release just a few weeks ago.

Barnett informed CBS during a recent interview that he has been contacted by several major MMA promotions since his release but surprisingly, the UFC is not one of those promotions.

Is Barnett interested in a return to the UFC? And why wasn't his contract transferred automatically at the time Pride was purchased? We asked the man known to many as "The Babyface Assassin" those questions, and more.

CBS If you could, can you update your current status right now?

Josh Barnett: As of right now? I'm a free agent, plain and simple. And I'm looking to get back into the fight.

Q: The fact that you got your release from Dream Stage Entertainment and not Zuffa (the current parent company of the UFC) is interesting. In fact, I even think it caught Dana White off guard during a post-UFC 73 press conference. How come your contract was not transferred over once the buyout was completed?

JB: Because I never signed away the rights for the contract to be transferred.

Q: I interviewed Denis Kang recently and he said the contracts were transferable but that a fighter had to sign a consent form in order for the contract to be transferred over to Zuffa. Did anyone ask you to sign a document that would have transferred your contract over?

JB: I might have, but at the time my lawyers were already speaking with DSE over a contractual dispute at the time so they probably would have been the ones to deal with that and report the information to me. Really, that's the reason why nothing was signed over because I wasn't going to help DSE make money when they hadn't paid me in full.

Q: So even before the sale of Pride was completed you were having problems with Dream Stage?

JB: Yes. It would be since September of last year.

Q: It was an issue of payment?

JB: Yes.

Q: Was there anything beside payment that you had issues with?

JB: Certainly some things came to light with some of the ways they dealt with me and some of the ways they negotiated. They did some pretty underhanded things and I certainly wasn't going to let it slide.

Q: Can you talk about some of DSE's underhanded tactics on the record?

JB: I don't know what I'm at liberty to say so I don't necessarily want to go against any law against speaking of some of these things but I'm sure in time I will be able to tell my whole side of the story.

Q: Since securing your release I'm sure your phone has been ringing. Can you comment on what fight promotions have contacted you?

JB: I don't necessarily want to name any specific names yet. I don't like to be the kind of guy to throw a lot of stuff out there because usually that's the stuff that always fails. I'm not trying to jinx myself. But I've received at least four calls or e-mails so far, not to mention three or four other companies that are putting together packages to try and woo me to fight for their company.

Q: I'm assuming that you're hearing from all the major promotions out there but do you ever get any wacky offers from small promotions nobody has ever heard of?

JB: Well, some of those offers I mentioned are smaller promotions that might not be aware of just how expensive the top level guys are. Especially if it is that you read a CSAC or NSAC report following a bout and they say "Joe Schmo made $100 to fight." Well, often he didn't make -- well, he did make $100 to fight but somewhere in the back he's getting paid an extra $100 maybe $200 on top of that in addition to whatever it may be for pay-per-view. I even had to explain to a guy "You know I think you know what the top guys are getting but that's not what they're getting. They're getting a lot more than you think they're getting."

Q: So when people complain about fighter pay scale in MMA do you think that most of the people that make those observations don't know the full story?

JB: There's that and also they're thinking about it from a completely emotional and sort of an uneducated standpoint. I've worked behind the scenes, I've worked in promotion and booking, and as a fighter. The thing is, it's easy for someone to say "Oh, they're making money they can easily give that money to that fighter." But it's not as if they didn't pay all the money out to put the event together; pay all the money to get people to shoot it for pay-per-view; pay all the money to have all the staff to work the event for them; and then pay the money for this guy to go out and fight as well.

The thing is, most of those guys that are getting paid $3,000 didn't sell $3,000 worth of tickets or pay-per-views. And in most cases those guys are probably making more money than the UFC makes off of them -- certainly in the immediate future.

Q: Is there a timetable as to when you'd like to fight next?

JB: It just really depends on who the opponents are and where I've got to go. I think it would be nice if I could say at least two months out, maybe? But I understand that in this game sometimes you've just got to be ready to go, especially when you're dealing with Japanese organizations. Or, if you just don't want to let a good opportunity to pass you by. The biggest thing right now isn't just getting a good contract but going somewhere where I feel appreciated and a place that really wants to work with me as a fighter and an entertainer and everything that I bring to the table. I'm not just here to suck money out of a place and I'm also not just here to have someone use me until I'm done and throw me away.

Q: You mentioned the business practices of some of the Japanese promotions and there was a report in the Wrestling Observer several months back that your name turned up on a list of bouts for the June 2 "Dynamite USA!!" show in L.A. I believe your proposed opponent might have been Sergei Kharitonov. Was there any truth to that report?

JB: No. No, I was still under contract with DSE so I couldn't negotiate about taking any fights and I certainly couldn't have signed to take any fights at the time. I spoke with K-1 just in a friendly matter (but there was) nothing to do with me making a contract where I was fighting anybody, let alone Kharitonov.

Q: There's been a lot of confusion as to why the UFC has had to sign a lot of Pride fighters to new UFC contracts in light of the fact that the Fertittas bought Pride. Can you shed any light on the situation?

JB: There were so many different contracts and different types of contracts that I heard of. I had heard that there are some handshake deal contracts and also a lot of us from the United States and some in Europe had to go through the DSE USA office, and they did all their contracts in California, so those are more to the standard side of things. But in Japan, who knows!? There could be some really wild ones. I'm not privy to everyone's contracts. Maybe I knew how much they made, but that's as certainly as far as it ever goes.

Q: Do you know any names from Pride besides yourself that are free agents?

JB: No, I'm not entirely sure. Mark Coleman is available, actually. So if anyone is looking to book a tougher than nails legend in the sport of MMA then you have to look no further than Mark Coleman.

Q: You mentioned in a previous interview that you would like to fight Fedor in the future and were considering contacting him to see what his next career move would be. Have you had a chance to get a hold of him?

JB: No, unfortunately I lost my old cell phone in Vegas when I was there for the U.S. World team tryouts for grappling and his number was in there. I haven't given him a call but I do have a contact in Russia so maybe I should give it a whack.

Q: Do you think you might wait to see where he ends up before you make a decision?

JB: Things like that do play into the equation. I was talking to Kurt Angle over in Japan and he's talked to several organizations about fighting and you know, if Kurt Angle were to go to a certain organization that was not the UFC -- I know the UFC is the biggest game in town with the most publicity -- but there's a chance with a guy like Kurt Angle, Fedor, myself, Brock Lesnar, James Thompson, Mark Coleman and some of these other guys floating around out there that we could create something that would be really monumental.

Q: You have had a rocky relationship in the past with the UFC, but things seem to have calmed down based on public comments issued separately by you and the UFC. Can you talk about what were behind some of the past issues and how you categorize the relationship at this point?

JB: I don't really know exactly how they feel about me now. I've spoken to them but I don't know what really goes on in their heads. I haven't heard from them yet so I suppose there could be that, not to mention that Dana made a comment about lawyers having to disagree with the fact that I'm a free agent. I don't understand why he would even be concerned about whether I was a free agent or not from the UFC because I was not a UFC fighter. I don't know if they wanted to keep me from fighting, or what? I have no idea, I just want to go out there and fight.

In the beginning, they had issues with my representation. They didn't get along very well. We had issues with the way they were promoting me, which was pretty much nonexistent at the time. So when I took that fight with Randy (Couture at UFC 36) on six weeks notice when I was just coming off knee surgery, I went up there and did the best I could and won. Then some things happened.

But at this point I'm not with the same management or same representation anymore, and that was a long time ago. I'm not trying to have some personal battle or grudge with anyone. I'm here to be a professional. If people don't like that or they don't want to be professional themselves then I guess you don't have a lot to talk about. But I'm certainly willing and able to fight in the UFC.

Q: Do you feel like Dana White with some of his behavior toward you in the past wasn't professional?

JB: Hard to say. I'm sure we all make mistakes but he didn't necessarily deal with me as he dealt with my representation.

Q: I think when he (Dana White) made the comment about the lawyers in regard to your free agency during the post-UFC 73 press conference he might have not been fully aware of your situation. From my understanding, Joe Silva got up and whispered something in his ear after he made that initial comment and then Dana recanted a bit.

JB: Well, I don't know why he would have thought that because he knew I didn't sign it over and Lorenzo (Fertitta) knew as well. And I told them what the problem was and that it had nothing to do with the UFC and that it had everything to do with Pride. After that they all sounded very optimistic and wanted to talk, yada yada. But we've yet to really speak. (Sigh)

I'm sure they've got a lot of things going on but at the same time I'm not going to wait. I'm going to go out there and go to work and make some business happen. Even if I was signed over with the deal and the sale, if I was able to fight within the UFC or I was a UFC guy, then they certainly weren't trying to ask me to fight (laughs) or booking me or making me an offer. I don't know -- it was strange. I don't know why he would have said that. It was beyond me, I guess.

Q: So they haven't even given you a courtesy call or sent you an e-mail to let you know that they want to get in touch with you at some point?

JB: I haven't heard from them in quite some time now.

Q: Do you have a gut feeling as to whether we'll ever see a show conducted under the Pride banner again?

JB: I have heard rumblings and anything is possible. But honestly, no, I don't really feel that. And even if it was it wouldn't be Pride so they can call it whatever they want but Pride is gone. Those rules, their image, everything about it, that would be something different. And even if they called it Pride, like I said it just wouldn't be Pride.

Sam Caplan is a Philadelphia-based sports talk show host and freelance sportswriter. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]. Sam also has a blog ( ) and can be reached via MySpace.