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After 15-month battle with USADA, Josh Barnett glad to be taking his fights back to the Octagon

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Josh Barnett (MMAF, EL)
Josh Barnett at media luncheon.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES — Josh Barnett now owns an inauspicious UFC record. He’s the first UFC fighter to not get suspended after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug since USADA took over the promotion’s anti-doping program in 2015.

Barnett received a public reprimand — and no ban — in a decision by an arbitrator last week in his USADA doping case. The former UFC heavyweight champion tested positive for the banned substance ostarine in a sample collected in December 2016. Barnett was able to prove that the failed test came due to a tainted supplement.

While technically Barnett will not be suspended, and he can return to the Octagon immediately, the entire adjudication process did not come without cost.

“The concept of USADA is not bad,” Barnett told MMA Fighting. “And the idea of creating something that has protocol and process also, inherently these are not bad things. But if that’s the case, it has to be something that the people that are under its auspices need to do reasonably and effectively. Luckily, I had a very good connection with a prominent lawyer that could help me out. I had people that could help me through this process. But it cost me money, it cost me money to have supplements tested to show that there was a problem. It cost me money to go all the way to arbitration.”

When asked how much money he spent, Barnett declined to get into specifics.

“I’d rather not,” Barnett said. “But enough. It’s not important. Enough. It wasn’t just the money I paid, it’s also the time that I paid out of this.”

Barnett, 40, realizes he was in a better spot than most other fighters, who don’t have the ability — or resources — to find top-notch legal representation in these cases. In his estimation, that’s the reason why he justly got off without a suspension, while fighters like Tim Means who tested positive for ostarine due to a tainted supplement were banned for six months. Initially, Barnett said USADA offered him a 1-1/2 year suspension if he settled.

Barnett said it doesn’t bother him that fighters can’t compete while the adjudication process with USADA gets sorted. He just wishes it didn’t take so long. Barnett said tests came back showing the supplement he took was tainted last spring.

“It makes sense to me,” Barnett said. “I don’t have any problems with these sort of things. But I have a problem with getting to this solution, finding the issue, only to then get put into a position where no one wants to relent. One of the greatest struggles of bureaucracies is they get built and created, but they design themselves in such a way that they can never be at fault. They can never be wrong, they can never have made a mistake and they never want to relent. And they will do almost everything in their power to make sure you were the offending party, that you were wrong, at all costs.”

Barnett (35-8), who was penalized by commissions twice previously for failing drug tests years ago, said he’s unsure when he’ll fight again. “The Warmaster” said he’s currently busy working for AXS TV calling New Japan Pro Wrestling and has the launch of his Quintet grappling tournament coming April 11.

But Barnett did say he’s glad to be back where he feels like he belongs — in combat sports, not boardrooms.

“I’m glad that things worked out this way, but I’m not glad that it got to this point,” Barnett said. “I’m not here to bury USADA, either. I think the intent is noble.

“This has been a very difficult element in my career at this point and i’m just glad that I can get back to what I do best and that’s kicking the crap out of people and not having to go into arbitration settings or any kind of courtrooms to show how good I am at making an argument.”