Josh Barnett knows he can’t fight forever.
At 42, the former UFC champion begins a new journey in his fighting career this weekend when he makes his Bellator debut against Ronny Markes in Hawaii. But he realizes the clock has already started ticking toward the end of his career.
It’s been more than three years since Barnett fought, largely due to a dispute with USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) over a drug test where he was later exonerated of any wrongdoing. Unfortunately for him, the process took 15 months, and at the end of the ordeal, Barnett asked for his release, which was later granted by the UFC.
Now Barnett is finally back, and after spending the last 20-plus years as a fighter, he admits he missed the sport.
“It feels real,” Barnett told MMA Fighting. “It feels like it’s finally going to happen. It’s a familiar feeling that I’ve missed. It’s good being here for a fight; it’s not the same as the other things I’ve been doing.”
As much as he may have missed it, Barnett acknowledges he’s got far less time to forge ahead as an active competitor.
“I know that’s the case,” Barnett said. “It’s also a matter of how this thing unfolds, what matchups come about and when and where. I’m also aware that you can get injured in training, you can get into a car crash, who knows what can happen.
“(I’m) really not focusing too much on that kind of scenario, but at this stage of my career, I’m not just a go out there and just take any old fight and do any old thing. I want to create something with a bit more pointed and specific purpose.”
He’s not setting a deadline for retirement, but at the same time, Barnett joined the Bellator roster with two very specific goals.
“My two main hopes for Bellator (are) to fight Fedor Emelianenko and to win the title,” Barnett revealed. “Beyond those two things, I don’t really have any other goals, and I don’t know how long this is going to go for. I feel like it’s just a step-by-step sort of approach.”
Barnett was previously matched up with Emelianenko in 2009, but the fight was cancelled when he failed a pre-fight drug test. That’s a bit of unfinished business he would still like to settle. He also would like to add another championship title to his resume and is keen on eventually challenging the reigning Bellator heavyweight king, Ryan Bader.
Barnett said competing for the title or even the showdown with Emelianenko would have easily made sense for his Bellator debut. But he’ll take on Markes this weekend in hopes that one of those two fights will follow in 2020.
“There was no title fight in any organization in the world that in my opinion was absurd for me to be a contender in,” he said. “I’ve proved it with all my title fights and the titles that I’ve won, the accolades that I’ve gathered, (and) it’s not out of the realm in any sense.
“But I also don’t put a lot of hope into that thought. You can rationalize it and it all makes sense on paper, but somebody else’s wins and feelings are completely beyond your ability to affect. Hopefully, but if that’s not the case, whatever else comes, I’ll make the most of it.”