There have been few people as polarizing as The Warmaster, Josh Barnett. The man formerly known as the Baby Faced Assassin has done it all, fought in Pride, captured the UFC heavyweight title, beaten a who's who of MMA royalty. Randy Couture, Dan Severn, Semmy Schilt (2x), Big Nog, Yuki Kondo: all men with storied careers who fell beneath Barnett's attack.
However, for all of his accomplishments tell us, it seems his losses tell us more. The people who have defeated Barnett went on to become bonafide superstars. Think about it: in 16 years competing as professional fighter, only 4 people have ever claimed victory over him. Those people were/are the best of the best.
Pedro Rizzo was the first to do it. The Brazilian wrecking ball had beaten everyone except the former UFC heavyweight champion, Kevin Randleman, and was on quick and devastating road back to the title. He had blasted away at MMA pioneer Dan Severn's legs and stopped the former UFC Superfight champ in less than two minutes. A title shot would not be too far off.
Barnett had made his UFC debut by knocking out Gan McGee on the same card where Couture had taken the heavyweight title for a second time. In a bit of matchmaking brilliance, the brass would pit the former title challenger against the unbeaten rising star. At UFC 30, after a round and a half of fast paced, heavyweight violence, Pedro Rizzo sent Josh Barnett to the canvas with a vicious punch, which signaled the end of the scrap. Rizzo would go on to fight for the UFC title twice more, but would never capture that gold. Further on in his career, Rizzo would suffer from fighting far past his prime. Nevertheless, Rizzo's place in the MMA history books as one of the greats was there. And it was set up by a Barnett defeat.
After his loss, Barnett would rebound with eight straight victory (although one would be marred by a positive steroids test). In that run, he would capture the UFC heavyweight title, and the Pancrase openweight championship. In October of 2004, he would run into his career Moby Dick.
Josh Barnett made his Pride debut against the man called Cro Cop. After 46 seconds, Josh Barnett was done. A shoulder injury made his Pride debut less than memorable, giving Cro Cop the win. A little less than one year later, the two would rematch. Cro Cop would properly and comfortably win a decision against Barnett, moving on from a one sided loss to Fedor. Barnett however, would suffer the only back to back losses of his career and his second loss to Filipovic. The two would end their trilogy in the finals of Pride’s 2006 Openweight Grand Prix.
Barnett rode into the tournament finals with four straight wins over Pride staples: Nakamura, A. Emelianenko, Hunt, and Big Nog. Each of those fighters would go on to have to respectable, even legendary careers, with some memorable fights, each a scalp worth collecting on his resume. However, the Grand Prix championship would elude him.
A prime Mirko Cro Cop weathered the frenetic kicks of Barnett to ground and pound the submission wrestler, coercing a tap after a particularly nasty punch to the eye. Barnett fell again, and it was to a legendary heavyweight. The Cro Cop trilogy ended with three losses, and his opponent’s legacy sealed.
After defeating Pawel Nastula, Barnett would rematch the already legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at PRIDE Shockwave 2006. Barnett had edged Big Nog in his run to the Grand Prix finale, and it was by the slimmest of margins. For Nogueira, it would be an immediate rematch, a chance to defeat the man who cost him a rematch with Cro Cop. It was on, 3 months after the first.
Nogueira soundly handled Barnett in the rematch. Barnett was game, as he is always, but there was no doubting who was the better man. Cementing his status as a legendary heavyweight, Nogueira ended his Pride tenure on a high note, moving into the UFC with as one of the sports best. For Barnett, this would mark his time on at the top of the heap.
Barnett would go mercenary for several MMA promotions, unbeaten for five years, including a run through the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix. However, he hadn’t beaten anyone of anyone note during that time. He’d beaten several fighters on the tail end of their careers, Yoshida, Yvel, Kharitonov, Rizzo, some one-trick ponies such as Mighty Mo, Monson, Rogers, Geronimo dos Santos. He’d fallen into a journeyman status, while not having lost to anyone but the divisions greatest. At the pinnacle of the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix, he would get to recapture the glory he had stripped away from him in the UFC. In his way stood an undefeated, former Olympian who looked to put his mark on the sport.
Daniel Cormier had looked like a world beater, running through the competition in his first 10 fights. In Barnett, he faced a man who was game, but not nearly as powerful or as skilled a wrestler. During the fight, Cormier through around the former UFC heavyweight champion, picked him apart with superior striking, and sent Barnett back into his role as gatekeeper. Cormier had ascended past Barnett, and now looks poised to take a shot at either the heavyweight title or the light-heavyweight title.
Barnett, in his defeat, defined another fighter’s greatness. His losses, more so than his victories, have defined him. He’s the eternal gatekeeper. His lone title of relevance captured was taken away on the heels of a steroid test. His chance to topple the great heavyweights all went to nil: a knockout loss to Rizzo, three losses to a prime Cro Cop, a solid loss to Big Nog, and absolutely being dominated by Cormier. Even the fight that didn’t happen, Fedor, kept him from glory. Steroids and key losses made Barnett the gatekeeper.