Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett lets it be known fighting is what he lives for, and he expects to showcase he can do it better than Brett Rogers—or any other competitor in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix—Saturday night for his promotional debut on Showtime at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
“The Babyfaced Assassin” has tournament experience dating back to September 1999 when he secured three victories in one night in pioneering Hawaiian promotion SuperBrawl. Seven years later he would lose to Mirko Crocop in PRIDE Fighting Championships’ Open-Weight Grand Prix finals. Barnett, 33, holds signature wins over legends Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his 14-year career. Still, the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix represents a defining opportunity for the former King of Pancrase.
"I think its one of the biggest tournaments I've ever been involved with. The amount of credentials coming into this with all the competitors, it’s my show to win,” the former PRIDE star told Bleacher Report. “I've been at the top of the food chain longer than anyone in this tournament and I'm going to prove that."
A definitive favorite against Rogers, Barnett isn’t looking past “The Grim” because there are no semifinals if the quarterfinals don’t go as planned. Rogers was last seen in Strikeforce suffering back-to-back losses—the first of his career—in main event outings versus Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. Barnett understands he’ll be standing across the cage from a hungry fighter who puts food on his table with pure power punches.
"Don't let him put his game plan on me,” said the Washington native. “Don't let him lay his big gloves on my head. I'm not gonna let that happen."
Anchored at Erik Paulson’s CSW in Fullerton, Calif., Barnett has been working with heavyweight sparring partners no smaller than 6’3, 270-pounds to prepare for a potential three-fight run to a Strikeforce tournament win. On the opposite end of the bracket, Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum meet in Saturday’s main event. Overeem has been tabbed as the tournament favorite—a tag that doesn’t ring true to Barnett.
"I am [the favorite],” offered the catch wrestler, “but I don't really care about that.”
Barnett, who spent the majority of his career in Japan, hopes to add to the accolades he amassed during a 34-fight career (29-5) and give the Land of the Rising Sun a reason to celebrate after the Japanese people endured a destructive earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The American plans to do them proud as their adopted-star representing stateside. He will return to Japan in July for a pro wrestling engagement. With just three fights in the United States--all wins--in the last eight years, Barnett is also eager to make his mark in his homeland beginning with his performance in Dallas.
"Zuffa has a big machine behind them. I hope they put their big machine behind me,” said Barnett of Strikeforce’s parent company, which also owns the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “Get my face, my work and my fights out there so it reaches people living at the farthest reaches of 'Parts Unknown' so they can see what I can do."
The tournament win is about more than notoriety since the winner may emerge as a no. 1 contender to the UFC's heavyweight crown. Bouts between UFC and Strikeforce champions are in high demand yet the opportunity is not on his mind—just Rogers.
"Until I get to that point, I don't care,” said Barnett. “I know that stuff matters but until there's a contract or a real offer, it's irrelevant."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend