After more than a decade away from the UFC, Josh "The Warmaster" Barnett entered Saturday night's fight against Frank Mir as the decided favorite. He exited the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis., with a victory to his credit and a new lease on life in the world's premier MMA company.
It didn't take long, either. Early in the first round, Barnett connected with a knee to Mir's face, sending the big man into a heap on the mat. The referee almost immediately called for a stoppage at the one-minute, 56-second mark and handed The Warmaster a decisive victory.
Fans were particularly excited about the fight due to Barnett's UFC hiatus, and he quickly reminded them why he is one of the world's most dangerous heavyweights. Barnett hasn't been given a great deal of respect in the rankings over the past several years since he competed largely in Japan and for Strikeforce, but he didn't miss a beat on Saturday.
There was plenty of controversy surrounding Barnett's original departure from UFC. After defeating Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in 2002, Barnett tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of the title, according to Franklin McNeil of ESPN.com.
It appeared as though there was plenty of bad blood between Barnett and the UFC after that since Barnett refused to return until just recently, but UFC fans have to be thrilled that the differences between the two sides were worked out.
It was obvious when the fight was announced that Mir vs. Barnett would be unlike most heavyweight encounters. The bulk of heavyweights seem to go for standing knockouts or resort to the ground-and-pound technique, but both Mir and Barnett are established grapplers who excel as submission fighters even more so than most smaller competitors.
Entering Saturday's affair, nine of Mir's 16 career victories had come by way of submission, while Barnett had forced his opponents to tap out on 19 occasions. As expected, both fighters attempted to soften their opponent up in order to set the table for a potential submission, but Barnett was able to overcome Mir's calculated attack.
After having a great deal of success in Japan as well as in Strikeforce, the signing of Barnett was considered to be a major coup on Dana White's part. Despite the fact that Barnett is getting up there in age at 35 years old, he entered Saturday's fight having won nine of his previous 10 fights, so most believed he could be a draw moving forward.
Competition in the heavyweight division has dwindled in recent years as current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has been a dominant force since originally dropping the title to Junior dos Santos in 2011. Velasquez won the belt back from dos Santos, though, and suddenly seems unbeatable.
Should Barnett challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his next fight?
Provided Velasquez is able to defeat dos Santos in a potential rubber match, he'll be searching for a deserving challenger. Barnett could conceivably be that guy following his impressive triumph over Mir. With wins over some of the biggest names in the sport over the course of his career, including Mir, Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Dan Severn, Barnett is better equipped than anyone to challenge Velasquez.
With that said, it will be interesting to see where Mir goes from here. Mir has been a good soldier for UFC over the years, so it's likely he will continue to be placed in high-profile fights. At the same time, though, Mir has now lost three consecutive fights, and at the age of 34, it is certainly possible he is entering a downturn in career.
If this loss to Barnett was Mir's last big hurrah, at least he had the opportunity to face a guy many thought he never would. Barnett proved he was the better fighter on Saturday night, but Mir has nothing to hang his head about as he put forth an honest effort.
Barnett reigned supreme at UFC 164, though, and fans will eagerly anticipate the announcement of his next fight in the near future.
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