In a special meeting held by the California state athletic commission, Strikeforce heavyweight Josh Barnett was granted a conditional fighters license, paving the way for his proposed May 19 Grand Prix final bout against Daniel Cormier.
In a Monday hearing held at the Ronald Reagan state building in Los Angeles, six commission members voted 4-2 in his favor, but Barnett will still have to pass a random urine test prior to the event.
After deflecting responsibility for his previous failed test on the unregulated supplement industry, Barnett faced scrutiny from a pair of commissioners -- vice chairman Eugene Hernandez and Mike Munoz -- but ultimately won a ruling in his favor after chairman John Frierson noted that Barnett had already passed a drug screening done on February 29 and had passed several tests since his July 2009 failure.
"I want to make believers out of you more than anything else," Barnett said, addressing the group after his license was granted. "So I hope to see you at the fight and I hope to change your opinions and to satisfy any of your doubts in time."
Barnett, who spoke to the commission under oath, opened with a statement in which he noted his history as a fighter and trainer, and said that he has always strived to present a positive image of the sport.
Making reference to his previous drug test failures, Barnett voiced their long-lasting impact on his career.
"The fact of the matter is no matter happens today, what happens further on in my career, license or not, that will never leave," he said. "I’ll always have to contend with that as far as my legacy as an athlete."
Yet Barnett stopped short of accepting personal accountability for the failures, saying he was in "utter shock" after his most recent positive result. He recounted that he had taken the step of having his manager contact the commission to set up the test in the first place.
"I didn't knowingly or intentionally ingest steroids," he said in his most forceful statement. "I did not take steroids."
That set up a back-and-forth between him and commissioner Hernandez, who said he was expecting Barnett to accept responsibility before trying to move ahead. Barnett said that in both instances, he believed he had taken supplements that were tainted, pointing out that the supplement market was completely unregulated at the time of his 2002 test and still facing similar issues at the time of his second failed screening.
After Barnett again pointing out that he had proactively sought out the test as a means of showing his innocence, Hernandez wasn't buying it.
"The problem for me with that is in the field I come from, I've had many people say go ahead and search my car, and sure enough, there was dope in it," said Hernandez, a former police chief in the city of Chino, California. "I'd say, 'Boy, that was stupid.' But they somehow thought, 'Well, if I say no, then I'm really in trouble.' So the mere fact that you volunteered for the test really doesn't mean a whole lot to me."
Deputy attorney Karen Chappelle saw Barnett's statements as a challenge of his positive test and noted that he had not attended his scheduled appeal of that test, saying that by 2009, drug testing had advanced to the point that false positives were much more likely to be weeded out.
"My position is, the positive result that he got from that lab, having not been challenged, should be deemed admitted and true," she said. "I don't think it's fair for him to come before you today and challenge that or else I think we should schedule another hearing where I'm allowed to present evidence to you."
Barnett's attorney Jeffrey Spitz maintained that Barnett's answer was not a challenge of the result, only a questioning of the way the drugs entered his body.
"He does not contest or question the result, nor can he explain it," he said.
Barnett later said that he if were to test positive again, his career would likely be over.
But when the time came for a vote, Frierson noted that California Gov. Jerry Brown often asks why there aren't more fights in California. Frierson said that while the state wouldn't "cave in" to these kind of matters, a special meeting was granted in an attempt to decide if Barnett was license-worthy, and the motion to license him passed.
"Please don't let us down," Frierson said. "The reason, we need fights here in California. We need good fights and we need good people."