Yvel, Lesnar, Emelianenko All on Barnett's Mind

By Lutfi Sariahmed Jan 5, 2009
As one of the sport’s most well spoken personalities, Josh Barnett has acquitted himself soundly both in and out of the ring.

Barnett’s latest battle rests on the merits of Gilbert Yvel, who will face the top-five heavyweight at Affliction “Day of Reckoning” on Jan. 24 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Many believe Yvel, a staple of the European circuit who totes a 35-12-1 record, isn’t up to par with Barnett (23-5), who was slated for a No. 1 contender match against Andrei Arlovski on Oct. 11 in Las Vegas until the event was pushed to January. Arlovski was re-assigned to the world’s top heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in the process, leaving Barnett without an opponent.

The announcement of the fight with Yvel came as a head scratcher to many. Even Barnett said this was a good fight simply because, “he was free and clear and able to do so I guess.”

“At the time, it would have been nice to have that fight on the eleventh or a subsequent fight on CBS with Arlovski instead, but whatever it is, at least I’m fighting on that show coming up,” Barnett recently told Sherdog Radio’s “The Savage Dog Show.” “In terms of me, whether I’m fighting Arlovski or Yvel –- sure, it would have been a bigger profile fight to fight Arlovski and maybe it would have been in a better fight in terms of the viewing audience too, but I don’t really care. There’s nothing I can do about it, but I do have an opponent and the biggest thing I can say is that on paper, you can think what you want, but when the fight is said and done and the results are in, it’ll be worth watching.”

Part of the outcry also comes from some of Yvel’s career antics. They include assaulting a referee, biting an opponent and gouging the eyes of an opponent. In 2007, the Nevada State Athletic Commission even denied Yvel a license because of his prior behavior.

Stephen Martinez/Sherdog.com

Barnett will tangle with
Dutch striker Gilbert Yvel.
But Yvel’s reputation isn’t a concern to Barnett.

“Actually, I’d say if you went with his recent history I don’t think it’s an issue,” he said.

Though the former UFC heavyweight champion has bested former titleholders Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Barnett said he won’t be taking Dutch striker Yvel, undefeated in his last seven outings to lesser competition, lightly.

“One thing that’s always been beneficial to me in my career is that it didn’t matter whether I knew the experience or skill level of any of the opponents I ever had,” Barnett said. “It didn’t matter if I was fighting a guy that was considered inferior to me or superior to me in that I was the underdog. I never gave anyone an inch. I’ve even had a few instances where I’m sure people were trying to hint that I should take it easy on an opponent or don’t beat him up too bad when I was first starting out. But my whole thought process was like, ‘Too bad, he shouldn’t have shown up.’ I’m going to beat him until somebody stops me. I don’t really care.”

Affliction has faced some challenges as it looks to cement its status as a competitor to the UFC, the industry leader. Its sophomore effort won’t go unchallenged sandwiched between two UFC pay-per-views on the weekend before and after, along with a replay of UFC 91 “Couture vs. Lesnar” running on the same night as Affliction on Spike TV.

In addition, Affliction’s partner Golden Boy is putting on a boxing card headlined by Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito in nearby Los Angeles. Barnett emphasized the importance though of another organization stepping up to challenge the power that is the UFC.

“We need at least one more big organization out there,” Barnett said. “Maybe even two more. To have just the UFC be the only game in town and have them be the only word on the sport to the general public would be a horrible thing. Affliction isn’t going to be the UFC. They’re not going to do everything like the UFC. Everything they do is going to have their own spin on it and that may be what brings new fans to the sport as opposed to the way the UFC is doing it.”

That way includes giving NCAA wrestling champion Brock Lesnar a heavyweight title shot just three fights into his MMA career, though Lesnar’s win over Couture at UFC 91 on Nov. 15 was not a huge surprise to the catch-wrestling aficionado.

“It’s a little surreal that a guy with four fights can get a UFC title shot but it should say something about their heavyweight division as well,” said Barnett. “But he trained very hard and fought as hard as he could and he won. That’s a testament to a guy putting himself in a situation like that and rising to the occasion and that’s a really quality win for him. Even though anyone in the know knows that Randy isn’t anywhere near one of the very top guys right now. It’s a very stylistic approach for him at this point. The wrong fighter fights Randy and they’re going to get trounced as if Randy’s a 26-year-old guy. But the right fighter fights Randy and it makes him look horrible.”

Styles aside, Barnett says both Lesnar’s pro and amateur wrestling backgrounds were a tremendous help going into that fight.

“He has an incredible amateur wrestling background, which is the best base to start off with in my opinion,” Barnett said. “But all that time spent in front of so many people doing so many big shows and all that comes with it had to factor into this. I would venture to say that’s probably why he was able to come into a big title fight like that so early in his career and be able to handle all the pressure with it and come out with the gold around his waist.”

The main event of “Day of Reckoning” features Arlovski (15-5) taking on Emelianenko (28-1) for the WAMMA heavyweight strap. The bout, along with Barnett vs. Yvel, is part of a mini-heavyweight tournament in which the winners will face off later in 2009. It also means there’s a chance Barnett and Emelianenko, two good friends, could face each other in the ring. But it’s a bout Barnett understands has to happen.

“We both understand it’s a very lucrative fight,” Barnett said. “It’s probably one we’ll only do once. We’ll get to it.”
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