Josh Barnett was in his best pro wrestling-style pitchman mode on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. Appearing via Skype, with the UFC heavyweight title belt he won from Randy Couture in 2002 slung over his right shoulder, Barnett talked about his UFC 164 matchup with Frank Mir as if he was putting the title on the line.
"I have a lot of different motivations," Barnett said of his Saturday fight with Mir in Milwaukee. "This [the belt] does factor into it. This fight being not just a return to the UFC, but it's a defense of my title."
Well, not really. Barnett later admitted that the belt will stay home when he heads out to Milwaukee. But his motivations are genuine. Eleven years after the Couture fight, Barnett finally returns to the company in which he first became famous.
At first, the contrarian Barnett attempted to downplay the significance of a UFC return which many thought would never happen.
"Its just a gig, man," Barnett said. "It's nice to actually be in the show, if anything. But as far as the, it being weird or surreal or unusual, I don't feel anything like that. Maybe because I'm such an old codger that, you know, fighting is fighting and rings are rings and one leads to another."
Prodded further, though, Barnett admitted the UFC offers him a better opportunity than other companies can at this stage of the game.
"I have a great opportunity to cement a legacy and move on to another stage of fighting," Barnett said. "Where else can you garner the sort of attention or pay scale like you can in UFC. The opportunities for PPV and the opportunity for television on a nice big channel like FOX 1 and everything that comes with it. By fighting the people I was fighting within the UFC, whether they were better or worse than my previous opponents outside of, its only going to reap benefits for me to fight those guys and beat them. There's nothing but plusses."
As for Mir, this is a fight that has been debated among MMA fans for quite some time. The two never crossed paths professionally since 2002, with Mir as the UFC's longest serving current active fighter, and Barnett outside the company the entire run.
But Barnett said he's kept an eye on Saturday's foe over the years.
"I've seen all of Frank Mir's fights pretty much," Barnett said. "If anything, because he's part of the heavyweight division. I consider it a global thing and you need to be aware what your potential competition was up to."
"I always thought it was a fight that would be nice to make happen," Barnett added. "Especially because of all the interest there was abroad to watch us fight. And then from hearing how similar we are, how this fight is going to turn out a certain way, I like to just step up and say here, I'll show you how this will turn out."
While Barnett was gone, of course, he made his name around the globe, fighting everywhere from Pride to Affliction to Strikeforce. As one of the biggest foreign stars during the Japanese MMA heyday, he admits he's disappointed to see the current state of the business in Japan.
"It makes me really sad," Barnett said. "The more MMA there is globally, the better off all of us are, in terms of increasing our fanbase and increasing our revenue opportunities. But it's also said as someone who lived over there and was part of that to see the ancient Atlantis of MMA crumble under the sea."
But that's in the past. The only thing in Barnett's immediate future is his fellow former UFC heavyweight champion.
"I understand this is a big moment for me," Barnett said. "But in the forefront of my mind is simply Frank Mir. Simply beating and punching and grabbing and choking and spitting and biting until a ref makes me quit. That's all I care about. ... I can think about the importance of all the external factors after. It's like going into a title fight, and they ask about the belt. Yeah yeah, the belt, the belt. Trust me, I'm aware of it. I like gold shiny things. the fight is what gets me those gold shiny things. To the winner goes the spoils."