When Lesnar announced he would return to the UFC at July 9's UFC 200 event, Barnett was quick to throw his name into the running. While many may assume the reason a fighter would want to face Lesnar is financially motivated, Barnett has a different explanation.
"I wanted it because he’s a professional wrestler and so I am," Barnett told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I wanted it because after five fights, they tried to say he was the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, which I thought was insulting to all of us. Not that he wasn’t talented, not that he didn’t have the potential to be far better than he ever was able to really show out there with such a young career, but it just felt like utter and absolute propaganda, and it was upsetting that there were media outlets that were supposed to be top of the pops that bought it."
It doesn't end there. Barnett also questions Lesnar's commitment to improving his game.
"And then there’s also the fact that he had an open invitation to come to CSW and train with us all the time in between fights and to prepare and grow as a fighter and never took us up on it," Barnett said. "[He] never came out, never seemed to take the time in between his fights to become a much better fighter. And I felt like, ‘Well, that was part of the reason his last couple fights went the way they did.’
"I don’t know what he’s done from then until now, but being out of it as long as he has, I don’t think he’s going to be stepping into the cage a better fighter than he was when he left."
Eventually, it was announced Lesnar would face Mark Hunt, not Barnett, at UFC 200. A hard-hitting knockout specialist, Hunt represents a dangerous matchup for any heavyweight on the planet. Lesnar, however, represents a particularly interesting matchup for Hunt.
Lesnar was finished via strikes in each of his final two UFC fights during his initial stint with the company. His inability to effectively defend himself when the leather started flying earned him a reputation that was none too complimentary. Barnett recognized this, and he said it's not too late for Lesnar to reverse course.
"I don’t know, if he doesn’t like to get hit, that’s one thing, but you can work your way around that to a degree," Barnett said. "You can at least try to condition him to get more used to the idea of it with the right kind of drills and the right kind of set-ups. But at the same time, you need to make sure that that guy can go in there and when everything is as tumultuous as it is inside that cage, when the fire is on, he can go through it and not get burnt."
Barnett doesn't necessarily see Lensar's failings in the stand-up portion of the game to be his undoing come July 9. While Hunt is the superior striker, Lesnar has his own advantages as well.
"Of course he has a chance. He’s a tank," Barnett said. "He’s got an incredible wrestling background. He’s a great physical specimen. He’s no dummy. Brock is a smart guy, and I still think he is a massive wealth of untapped potential. It’s just that – it has not been tapped. It has not been approached the right way. I would be surprised if his prep leading up to this is really what myself, hell, I’m at the gym right now training my fighters that all have matches coming up. And as a trainer, as someone that’s trained people for world championship matches, I just don’t think that the right approach is being taken with him."
Another hot topic swirling around Lesnar at the moment is the fact that he was granted a USADA exemption to compete at UFC 200. While returning fighters need to give a four-month heads up to assimilate to the drug-testing program, Lesnar is able to compete on a month's notice.
Barnett says this is a sticky situation all around, but he understands why many fans, critics, and fighters – including Hunt – feel this is unfair.
"I can see why they’d be pissed. That’s a very touchy subject," Barnett said. "I haven’t really been paying that close of attention to it other than focusing on what I have to do and making sure I file my quarterlies and all that stuff to make sure I don’t have any issue with them in any way, but if he’s getting some sort of a golden ticket, I mean, that’s kind of unfortunate.
"I would think that USADA would not have the sort of rule set where they could make it flexible defined on the individual and not on the program."