For a grown man in a teddy bear costume, Chris Barnett may be the most unassuming heavyweight fighter on the planet.
Physically, the man who goes by “Huggy Bear” is a walking contradiction to everything the common fan might associate with being an MMA fighter. There is no ridiculously chiseled physique, angry walkouts or no over-the-top pre-fight banter.
What you see is what you get from Barnett—an exceptionally large man (5'9", 295 lbs) with an even bigger smile.
There is nothing wrong with being different, and Barnett is one of the few fighters in the history of the sport to truly understand that notion.
But for opponents, it has to be a bit off-putting to have the man they're about to fight smile and dance his way to the ring in a life-sized bear costume with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” blaring in the background.
Fans, on the other hand, tend to view Barnett as a breath of fresh air.
“It’s almost like you have to have [a character], or you’re just another fighter,” Barnett said in a phone interview. “A lot of fighters, some of them love to fight, some of them it’s just for a check. I love to entertain. That’s my whole thing. I win fights because of my fans, like especially over in Japan. I want to say they almost worship you just for you being you. It’s me being me when I’m coming out in a bear suit, when I’m out there dancing and whatever.
“You can see me doing the same dance moves in the ring in the club later on that night. I get the factor of these people paying their hard-earned money to come see me. So why not give them a show? What’s that [movie line]? Are you not entertained!? Even when I lost to Eric Prindle, I still danced for the crowd and whatnot just because if it was me in those seats, I’d want to see a show. I came for a show, so please give me a show.”
Who isn’t entertained by a super heavyweight performing handstands, flying knees, spinning heel kicks and superman punches?
Don’t let the costume and jovial entrance music fool you. Barnett is a talented fighter with the unique ability to perform some amazing techniques for a man his size. His footwork and striking movements are fluid and almost seem effortless. The combination of an exciting fighting style and an alluring personality is typically the recipe for success in the fight business.
But Barnett has yet to test himself on the big stage.
The two biggest hurdles in his career thus far have been his weight and an excessively long layoff. Barnett credits the latter to a dispute with Xtreme Fighting Championship.
According to him, the promotion stopped booking him for bouts, and his contract made it impossible for him to continue to compete and make a living elsewhere.
“Me and that promoter at the time, he wanted to prove a point,” said Barnett. “This was a time when XFC was making some noise and getting on AXS TV. He had fighters coming up, and they wanted to fight on the outside of the organization because he wasn’t putting on shows. So my thing was, if you’re not honoring your side of this contract, then shouldn’t I be able to go? It was nasty.
“I still have text messages of them saying, ‘Oh, you’ll never fight here, and I’ll call this promoter and tell them that you’ll never do this.’ It was just bad. I initially signed with them because I was green, and I was happy to be a part of something. In my mind, it was, ‘Oh there’s no way they’ll ever take advantage of me. They love me.’ Boy was I wrong.
“There was so many times where that doubt set in because I would talk to a promoter, and it would turn into, ‘Well, we just talked to this guy from XFC, and he told us that you said you didn’t want to fight for us and our show and this and this.' I was like, ‘I’m talking to you right now telling you that’s not true.’ But because he had pull as far as, ‘I’ll help you and I’ll help you out,’ they went with what he was saying.
“They didn’t want to bring drama to their organization because of what me and him had. There were many times where that was it. I was like, ‘I’m glad I got to do it.’ It was tough. It was very tough to fight that feeling of I may never get to fight again.”
But the tough times didn't last.
Barnett finally figured out his contract situation and returned to action in February for Square Ring Promotions against Demoreo Dennis. It was the first time he had stepped foot in the ring in nearly three years.
Ring rust didn’t appear to be much of a factor in the bout, as Barnett picked up a second-round TKO. He would then go on to win his next three bouts by TKO to extend his professional record to 11-0.
Despite having four fights already under his belt this year, Barnett plans on competing two more times—once on December 5 against The Ultimate Fighter 10 cast member Darrill Schoonover and again on New Year’s Eve in Japan against Shinichi Suzukawa.
After these two bouts, Barnett hopes to shed the extra pounds so that he can make his long-awaited heavyweight debut in Bellator, WSOF or UFC.
“It’s a goal, especially with Bellator. That’s one big thing I’m shooting at because Bobby Lashley is in there, and we were supposed to fight a couple of times, and I’ll just say that stuff happened to where it didn’t go down. Bellator is definitely a big goal, but other than that, I’ve been fighting at super heavy, and none of the mainstream and American leagues have a super heavyweight class. 2015, I’m dropping back down to 265 because that’s where I started at.”
If Barnett makes the 265-pound limit and continues to win, everything else will take care of itself. You can’t help but be pulled in by his beaming personality and wicked breakdancing moves.
Far too few fighters possess his entertainment value. As the saying goes, the world is Barnett’s oyster. Speaking of oysters, the price of fame is an incredibly steep one for the now 295-pounder. When asked what food he misses most from his current diet, he gave the only answer he could think of.
“Man, I’m just going to say food," said Barnett.
Barnett is slated to fight Schoonover on Friday, December 5 at Square Ring Promotions' Island Fights 31. Fans can stream the event live on GFL.tv.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.