Josh Barnett file photo | Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
When Josh Barnett was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission in July 2009 for allegedly testing positive for an anabolic steroid prior to his ill-fated bout with Fedor Emelianenko, it triggered a one-year nationwide revocation of his license to fight. That ban expired in July 2010 and, while Barnett has yet to be granted relicensure in California, other states are now free to license him.
It appears that could soon be the case, as Barnett was Tuesday announced as part of Strikeforce’s upcoming eight-man heavyweight tournament, which also includes Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva, Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov and heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. The three-round, single-elimination tourney will feature five-round bouts, with the events being televised on Showtime.
“It took us three months to put all this together,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told Sherdog.com. “Fedor wanted to do this tourney.”
The tournament begins on Feb. 12 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., where two quarterfinal matchups -- Emelianenko-Silva and Arlovski-Kharitonov -- will take place. Barnett’s quarterfinal bout against Rogers, as well as Overeem-Werdum, is likely to happen sometime in April, Coker said.
“We are in the process of negotiating with a couple of venues, and date, but we’re just not ready to announce them just yet,” Coker added.
One possible hitch to this dream lineup is Barnett. With the former UFC champion’s status still up in the air due to a series of miscommunications with the CSAC, the “Baby-Faced Assassin” will still need to be granted a license somewhere in the U.S. in order to compete in the tournament.
Speaking with ESPN.com, Coker stated that he had contacted multiple state commissions who said that they would license Barnett if the fighter were to furnish a negative drug test, similar to what he gave the CSAC prior to his Dec. 2 hearing.
Two states Barnett likely will not be fighting in, aside from California, are Nevada and New Jersey.
“Nevada isn’t on that list,” Coker told Sherdog.com. “Let him go appeal to any state that has a commission. Josh has some work to do in California. But he’s paid his dues. Let him make a living and go to work. But I don’t think he’s going to be fighting in California.”
Nick Lembo, legal counsel for the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, spoke exclusively with Sherdog.com.
“It’s real simple. He’s not currently licensed in New Jersey,” said Lembo. “He does not have an application in with the state of the New Jersey. I don’t have any comment other than we don’t have an application, and I won’t make any comment about a non-applicant.”
With at least two months before his date with Rogers, Barnett still has time to appease a state commission with random drug testing and other demonstrable acts of reformation. After allegedly testing positive for steroids three times, it may take that much for Barnett to be able to fight in the U.S. again.
Since his most recent suspension was handed down by the CSAC, Barnett’s follow-up hearing with the commission has been postponed four times.
George Dodd, CSAC executive director, said that Barnett is currently “on the agenda” for the commission’s next quarterly meeting on Feb. 4 in Los Angeles, but that Barnett’s chances for a obtaining a California license are dwindling with each rescheduled hearing.
“I think the commission is getting to a point where it’s wasting our time. It’s on the agenda. They got a continuance to the second one. In the third one, he didn’t appear, but his lawyers appeared and he was in Japan [doing pro-wrestling],” said Dodd. “He’s on the agenda for Feb. 4. If he doesn’t contact me by Jan. 10, he won’t be going in front of the commission. If everybody could just get together, we could get this taken care of.”
Dodd added that counsel from the California State Attorney General’s office will be present to question Barnett, who has maintained throughout that he did not use illegal substances prior to his latest positive test.
At the Dec. 2 meeting, Barnett initially seemed willing to be cross-examined on his steroid use. Seated to his left was Alfredo Terrazas, California Assistant Attorney General, who had obviously prepared to question Barnett on his past usage and Barnett’s ongoing defense that he did not use any banned substance.
Before Terrazas questioned Barnett, however, Dodd and other commission members urged Barnett that it would not be in his interest to go through the process without having his own legal counsel present.
“I’m a little caught off-guard by this,” Barnett told the commission. “I feel slightly unprepared and didn’t bring counsel. That’s a very large point that was not brought to my attention.”
“You obviously thought this was a rubber-stamp [process for renewal],” said Commissioner Eugene Hernandez.
Barnett disagreed, saying that it was merely a misunderstanding.
Asked by Sherdog.com what Barnett would have to do at the Feb. 4 meeting in order to be relicensed, Dodd was succinct.
“Josh will not be licensed in California until he appears before the commission and answers questions about past steroid usage, and also [addresses] the question of rehabilitation to have his license renewed,” Dodd said.
However, Dodd said, what other state commissions decide is entirely up to them.
“Josh did his year, though he did fight overseas. That’s why you leave it up to each commission,” Dodd said. “If New Jersey called me up and asked, ‘What’s the situation?’ I’d tell them the same thing. It’s up to your commission to determine what to do.”
This item was updated at 1:30 p.m. ET to clarify comments made by Nick Lembo.