Twenty-seven of Josh Barnett’s 32 victories have resulted in finishes. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder and 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix finalist Josh Barnett will return to the Octagon for the first time in more than a decade when he faces Frank Mir at UFC 164 on Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Mixed martial arts enthusiasts have long pined for a Barnett-Mir matchup.
“I thought this matchup, since day one, would be a good matchup,” said Erik Paulson, Barnett’s longtime coach. “I’ve always wondered how Josh would fight against Mir and thought it’d be a fun one to watch. Mir’s a poster boy for the UFC. He’s been with them for a long time. He’s best friends with [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva.”
No other heavyweight in history owns more UFC victories (14) or submissions (eight) than Mir, who overcame a career-threating motorcycle accident in September 2004 that left him with a broken femur and multiple ligament tears in his knee.
“He’s got a good personality,” Paulson said. “He’s actually very well-spoken. He’s a family man. He’s done well after his motorcycle accident. They have similar styles, and it’ll be an exciting fight to watch.”
Barnett has not fought inside the Octagon since he captured the UFC heavyweight championship in a second-round technical knockout over Randy Couture in March 2002. The Seattle native tested positive for suspected use of anabolic steroids in wake of the bout and was stripped of the title. Although Barnett understands that fans have desired a showdown with Mir for quite some time, he did not think it made sense for him until now.
“For most of our careers, Frank has been down there and I’ve been at the top, so there’s really been no reason for me to face him,” Barnett said. “Over the years, he established himself as a top 10 guy, so now, the opportunity actually makes sense.”
Some wondered if Barnett would ever return to the UFC. After Zuffa purchased Strikeforce and merged the two organizations, he turned down the initial opportunity. He later decided it was his best option.
“The UFC has grown exponentially compared to all the other MMA organizations, and it really is the biggest, best game in town now,” Barnett said. “I don’t think I really tried to win them over. They ended up stuck with me because of Strikeforce and realized that I do my job. I promote, I’m a fighter that gives a company a lot more options for everything involved with fighting. Most guys can’t work the mic, be on television, show up on time, win fights, be the whole package and do it as well as I do.
“With the heavyweight division the way it is,” he added, “it makes sense to add some more new blood to it and really shake things up and create a new contender.”
Many anticipate a style clash between Barnett’s catch wrestling and Mir’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu. However, Barnett and Paulson believe Mir’s style compares more favorably to “The Warmaster” than that of a traditional submission grappler. In fact, Mir once stated he learned his leg locks from Paulson’s DVDs.
“Of all the jiu-jitsu guys out there, Frank hardly moves like a jiu-jitsu stylist at all,” Barnett said. “His style more resembles mine, except he doesn’t have good wrestling. He’s constantly attacking for subs all up and down the body.”
Now 35, Barnett has won nine of his past 10 bouts, finishing eight of them. He last appeared at Strikeforce “Marquardt vs. Saffiedine” in January, when he submitted Nandor Guelmino with a first-round triangle choke. Paulson sees Barnett’s conditioning as the most significant factor in his battle with Mir.
“Josh has a very aggressive, dynamic game. [With] Josh in top shape, I don’t see Frank beating him,” he said. “He’s been training hard and putting his time in.”
Paulson has witnessed Barnett’s growth over the years.
“I had him when he was beginning in Pride,” he said. “All he wanted to do was beat people up, and he was not a very nice guy to be around. Now that he’s older, he’s looking at things a little differently. He’s always going to be full of piss and vinegar, but he used to just want to kill everyone, and now he’s a little more compassionate with some of the guys he trains with. A lot of guys wouldn’t train with him because he’d hurt them too badly, but now he works with his training partners a little more.
“He’s a lot smarter,” Paulson added. “He comes in with a more knowledgeable approach than he did before when he had a crazed-bull approach and would just come in and annihilate everyone.”
Barnett masks the seriousness with which he has approached this fight with his trademark humor. When asked what fans should expect to see in his return to the Octagon, he quipped, “a lot of screaming, crying, begging and pleading from my opponent.”