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At Strikeforce Workouts, Josh Barnett Decides to Put on a Show

DALLAS - Don't come to a pre-fight media workout expecting to get a glimpse of a fighter's game plan. Don't even come looking for much of an actual workout. Certainly don't come looking to be entertained.

Not unless Josh Barnett is on the schedule, apparently. Then come early, get a good seat, and enjoy the show.

On Thursday afternoon in a Hilton conference room, Barnett took an event that's usually a forgettable photo op and turned it into sports theater. Drawing upon his extensive experience as a pro wrestler in Japan, he worked a full match with his sparring partner – "The Hammer" – on the small blue mat where other fighters had contented themselves with a few short minutes of shadow-boxing or mitt work.

Which is not to say he confined himself to that small mat. As Barnett and "Hammer" cranked one another's arms and raked each other's eyes, the action spilled out into the gallery, with Barnett tossing his counterpart into a punching bag at one point, just because. Because why not make full use of your environment?

Whether Barnett was trying to entertain us or himself, it was hard to say. When he finally ended the match (a brutal clothesline led to a figure-four leglock that forced "Hammer" to tap out, somewhat unfairly since there was no ring rope for him to crawl to or devious manager to help him), Barnett held court on the mat and cut a WWE-quality promo for members of the media.

The subject of this soliloquy? Hard times. And, to a lesser extent, the degree to which Brett Rogers does and does not understand them. For those of you who want to appreciate it in text form, it went a little something like this:

"Hard times have been on Josh Barnett. Dealing with athletic commissions. Everybody's saying, 'You did this and you did that. You're the problem for this.' That's hard times. Hard times on my family. Hard times on my friends. Hard times on me. Hard times is not being able to get a fight. Hard times is, knowing the company, waking up one day and seeing they been sold to your competitor, not knowing what you're going to do. Where's my contract at? Where's my money? Where's my security? Who says I'm going to that shot now? Having that on your mind, that's hard times.

And then, you get this big old Brett Rogers in front of you. He thinks he knows what's tough. He thinks he's going to make a name off of my head, so I got to get up every morning, break of dawn. I got to get those running shoes on, hit that concrete, get those miles under my feet. My knees are aching. My body is sore. I got guys like Hammer beating on me every single day. I got my body breaking down, my mind getting pushed. Feeling the effects of fourteen years of fighting. Feeling the effects of trying to put yourself in the best position you can be in. Wake up every day having to deal with that? That's what hard times is about.

But I'm going to tell you what, Brett Rogers. Come Saturday, the American Airlines Arena, I'm going to give you a lesson in hard times. I'm going to take all that anger and all that pain – everything that I have been through, everything my family has been through, everything my coaches have been through (Amen) – and I'm going to put that on you. I'm going to put that on you, Brett Rogers, and I'm going to show you exactly what hard times is about. Because when you get in the ring with Josh Barnett – wooooooo! – who wants to see that, brother? Not you, Brett Rogers. Not you. You don't want to see that. You don't want to see that."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you end an open workout. With a 350-word rant.

For the sake of comparison, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was 278 words. Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy? 277 words. And neither Lincoln nor Shakespeare knew a wristlock from a wristwatch, so Barnett has that on them, too.

This, obviously, is the character of Josh Barnett. The persona. The real person is intelligent, witty, sarcastic, and self-effacing (when it serves him), but he also has a better grasp on English grammar.

And yet, in a way the Barnett character addressed the issues plaguing the real Barnett in a way that felt more genuine than what we've gotten used to hearing from him lately. If you bring up athletic commissions, failed steroid tests, or his rocky relationship with UFC president Dana White to the real Barnett, you can practically see the protective wall going up. The answers that come back to you are pre-packaged, and the questions, he doesn't mind letting you know, are more than a little annoying to him.

Even though the "Hard Times" speech is a performance (and a pretty solid one, actually), it also feels weirdly real. Barnett actually has gone through some hard times lately, and even if they're hard times mostly of his own making, the frustration is probably no less genuine. Why not turn them into a subject for this pro wrestler schtick? Maybe it's even easier to confront it head-on when he does it this way, as an entertainer.

And make no mistake, Barnett is a born entertainer. Both Strikeforce and the UFC could use more guys like him, and he knows it. As long as he can back it in up in the cage, his talents as a showman may prove to be the saving grace at this pivotal time in a troubled career.