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A Win at UFC 168 Sets Up Josh Barnett for the Unthinkable

He’s two wins away from a UFC Heavyweight title shot, presumably against Cain Velasquez. Not bad for a fighter who got pummeled by Cain’s teammate at American Kickboxing Academy, Daniel Cormier, two years ago. Talk about planting the seeds for UFC marketing Barnett’s quest at winning the top heavyweight prize in MMA and getting his revenge against AKA.

And if that wasn’t lucky enough, Josh Barnett won’t have to deal with Daniel Cormier at heavyweight because Cormier has moved down to light-heavyweight to perhaps set the stage for a battle against Jon Jones.

How does Josh Barnett do it? Timing in life is everything and he’s always been a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to extending his career and cashing in while others have faded into the background.

What’s at stake at UFC 168

Josh Barnett is a 2-to-1 favorite to beat Travis Browne on Saturday. Browne, who had a great comeback win against Alistair Overeem last August in Boston, is facing a well-rounded veteran who is not great at one particular skill but good at pretty much everything. And that could mean big trouble if the fight goes past the first round for Browne.

The winner of the UFC 168 eliminator fight will get a match against Fabricio Werdum. It’s entirely possible that Werdum could submit Barnett but it’s much more likely that Barnett will grind out an ugly decision win, which would set the stage for a title match against the oft-injured Cain Velasquez. Barnett has had his share of injuries & surgeries in the past, so he’s undoubtedly understanding about what Velasquez is going through. It also gives him some insight into what Cain has to deal with in rehab and what to focus on.

I know it’s a putting-the-cart-before-the-horse situation, but think about Barnett’s timing here. Everyone in the Heavyweight division is dropping like flies or has health issues. Alistair Overeem is cooked. Bigfoot Silva just tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Shawn Jordan is not going to be that breakthrough prospect. Daniel Cormier is moving down to Light Heavyweight to fight Jon Jones and avoid the scenario of fighting teammate Cain Velasquez. Junior dos Santos is still recovering from the beating he took in Houston. Frank Mir is no longer in the conversation as a contender, thanks to Josh Barnett’s fight performance in Milwaukee. Other than Mark Hunt or Gabriel Gonzaga, you can’t really find anyone who is ready to fight Cain Velasquez on Barnett’s level.

History has been unkind

The truth is that Josh Barnett is a pariah of sorts to many people. In the eyes of his critics, he’s the modern day drug cheat. He won the UFC Heavyweight title from Randy Couture and then got stripped of the belt after testing positive. He fought for years in Japan where their version of drug testing is to collect a urine sample and then say nothing. He was going to have his dream fight against Fedor for the Affliction promotion, which was running against the UFC as a star-heavy independent. Once Barnett tested positive for anabolic steroids, the show was canceled and many hardcore MMA fans were very upset. They were more upset that Barnett’s positive drug test got the fight canceled than the actual act of doping itself.

The dichotomy right now amongst MMA fans is very interesting. Barnett is a pariah because he failed drug tests, which are often viewed as IQ tests. So, by him failing standard drug tests, fans mocked him for being stupid and reckless. And yet there is a growing chorus of fighters who are begging for permission slips to legally dope via testosterone (anabolic steroid) usage. The same commissions and politicians who rail against fighters like Barnett for failing drug tests are the same ones who are giving out the slips to OK anabolic steroid usage. This juxtaposition is not lost on Barnett himself, as he noted it slyly during his recent appearance in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. NSAC put Barnett through a dog-and-pony show in which they asked the UFC to pay $20,000 for “enhanced drug testing” for the next two years.

History has been kind

Despite his problems with performance enhancing drugs and drug testing, Barnett has made a ton of money. He’s made a lot more money than most non-Japanese Heavyweights in MMA. He’s been able to hang around and bide his time despite various losses. His loss to Daniel Cormier was in May of 2012. Two years from now, there’s a scenario for him to get a UFC Heavyweight title shot. Amazing.

It also puts the UFC in a rather uncomfortable position. If Barnett fails a drug test, he’ll lose his fighting license (again) and probably get cut. And yet the UFC has nobody to turn to for Heavyweight depth. He’s better than the rest of the alternatives available. The UFC has to put to their (shaky) trust in him. They’re the same operation that hasn’t rejected fighters getting permission to use anabolic steroids. Only in the Mixed Martial Arts landscape could UFC help influence an environment in which a fighter with a rocky track record of failing drug tests could be a bigger political & business liability than an unabashed, unashamed testosterone user like Chael Sonnen.

But none of that will matter if Barnett beats Travis Browne at UFC 168 and then defeats Fabricio Werdum. Echoing the alleged words of former US President Bill Clinton in the book “Double Down,” Josh Barnett is luckier than a dog with two penises. Just when you think he’s finished, he finds a way to position himself into the mix for a big & important heavyweight match.

Think about where Josh Barnett was when PRIDE collapsed due to its yakuza scandal in Japan. Most of the PRIDE guys ended up going to UFC when UFC bought the PRIDE assets. They wanted the fighters under contract. However, the fighter contracts were allegedly personal service contracts, meaning they weren’t transferable to third parties. So, the UFC spent a lot of time and energy in signing the PRIDE veterans to UFC deals. Barnett, meanwhile, stayed away from the Zuffa umbrella in hopes of being a big fish in a smaller pond. The strategy didn’t exactly pay off but he managed to find a way to stay moderately active while watching many of his contemporaries like Fedor, Mirko, and Nogueira fade away.

Even if Barnett gets his UFC title shot and loses to Cain Velasquez, he’s already won the battle. Fighters don’t like hearing that but, truthfully, to even be placed in a position where the UFC has to rely on him has to provide a sense of irony & satisfaction given how bad the blood between the two parties has been in the past. Barnett made hundreds of thousands of dollars largely beating to the march of his drum and focusing on promoting himself & anything that wasn’t about the UFC brand. Financially, it’s paid off for him. If he wins the UFC Heavyweight title, the video of Dana White putting the belt around someone he despises vehemently will be quite a scene.