There’s a lot at stake for former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett on Saturday night. When he takes on Daniel Cormier in the finals of the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix in San Jose, Calif., the outcome may decide whether he’s UFC-bound in the near future or left in limbo yet again. While we know that the winner of the tournament will stick around for at least one more bout in Strikeforce, what’s far less certain is what will become of the loser, especially if it’s Barnett, who has had a tricky relationship with the UFC brass at times.
But as Barnett told Ariel Helwani on Monday’d episode of The MMA Hour, he’s not ready to beg for a place at the UFC table just yet, regardless of how his fight with Cormier turns out.
"For me, it’s not always about whether I can get in there. It’s also about whether we are amenable to the offer," Barnett told Helwani. "It takes two to make these things work. Sometimes you just don’t find that common ground. That’s difficult, but that is just something that happens in any aspect of business. But I’d love to be in the UFC, beating up all their guys and being the best heavyweight in the world, which I believe I am. So why wouldn’t I want to be there?"
Of course, while the winner of the Grand Prix should find himself in a strong negotiating position, the same might not be true for the loser. Barnett’s a minor favorite according to oddsmakers, and he does have more than three times as many MMA bouts as the former U.S. Olympic wrestling team captain. Though Barnett described Cormier as "a good dude" with an impeccable wrestling pedigree, he isn’t quite sure that his counterpart in the Grand Prix finals is truly ready for the big time in MMA just yet, he said.
"I think it’s too early to say that about him. I think, give him some more time. Plus, I think he’s fast-tracking. With his inherent athletic ability and his wrestling background, it allows him to do that. In the current MMA landscape, being a good athlete -- or, I should say, being a great athlete, because he was an Olympian -- with an extensive wrestling background, that can take you very far, very quickly. I don’t believe that that alone has enough staying power to it at the top, but he’s got time to acquire all the things that will be necessary to be a long-standing figure at the top of the heavyweight heap. With just the skills that he has now, he’s proven that he can take just about anybody out when given the opportunity to get in the cage with them."
And while we all know by now that Cormier is an excellent wrestler with heavy hands, Barnett added, "I also know that he’s smart. I know he’s working on his submission game. I know he’s working on his hands and his feet and becoming a more complete fighter. But he hasn’t really had the great luxury to open up his skills all the way and go into the areas that are likely the most difficult for him."
Barnett also pointed out that he’s leaned down for Saturday’s bout with Cormier, dropping from about 262 pounds down to 252, in order to better deal with the smaller man’s quickness over the course of a five-round fight. And the secret to shedding those pounds? It wasn’t too difficult, Barnett said. He just "started loving a lot more ladies."
What he has yet to figure out is how he’ll follow up on his memorable open workout performance during the opening round of the Strikeforce Grand Prix. He called upon his pro wrestling experience to entertain reporters the last time around, but how can he possibly top that now that he’s in the finals?
Even Barnett doesn’t seem to know just yet. But, he told Helwani, "I always will have something to say. That’s for sure."