Nick Barnes will aim to exercise the ghosts of his past failures when he meets Erick Silva in the Legacy Fighting Alliance 45 main event on Friday at the Morongo Casino Outdoor Pavilion in Cabazon, California. While a showdown with Silva represents one of his most difficult challenges to date, tough circumstances are something to which the Gamebred Training Center rep has grown accustomed.
Barnes never foresaw a career in MMA. The former high school wrestler had finished his time in college and wanted to stay in shape at Undisputed, a local combat sports gym. There, he ran into Herman Terrado. The Professional Fighters League welterweight wanted to impart some of his old-school toughness on Barnes and needed a training partner with a wrestling background.
“[Herman] saw one day I was wearing wrestling shorts [and asked me], ‘Hey man, you used to wrestle?” Barnes told Sherdog.com. “I said, “Yeah,” and he said, ‘Cool, you’re going to work out with the MMA guys today.’”
The request caught Barnes off-guard, and he graciously declined. However, Terrado insisted. Barnes wound up training with the fighters and enjoyed it, as it still fit the prerequisite of staying in shape. Three months later, Terrado pushed the envelope a little further. “Hey man, I signed you up for a fight,” Terrado told him. Barnes was flabbergasted: “Dude, I’ve never been in a fight in my life.”
Barnes looks back on those events with a light-hearted fondness, as he wound up winning the fight on the back of his wrestling skills. “That’s where my foundation in the sport comes from,” Barnes said. Terrado has remained one of his staunchest supporters: “Herman is like my big brother.”
The toughness instilled in Barnes during his formative years as a fighter has proven useful, as he has endured some unfortunate letdowns at key stops in his career. He was a contestant on the short-lived Bellator MMA reality series “Fight Master” in 2013. As part of a team coached by former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Strikeforce titleholder Frank Shamrock, Barnes advanced to the second round of the tournament before being eliminated.
Despite his solid showing, he was not offered a contract by the company until two years later. It was for a short-notice bout with James Terry at Bellator 147 on Dec. 4, 2015. Bellator officials called Barnes the week of Thanksgiving. While the circumstances were far from ideal, he accepted the opportunity and had to shed 25 pounds to meet the 175-pound threshold for their catchweight.
“I really suffered for that weight cut,” Barnes said.
Barnes made weight and submitted Terry with a rear-naked choke in the first round. The win moved his record to 10-1 at the time, and while Bellator management offered him its gratitude for taking the fight, Barnes never heard from the company again. He still wonders why it decided against returning the favor.
“That is a question I have been asking myself for so long,” Barnes said.
Nevertheless, Barnes moved on with his career. He has since gone 2-2 in four appearances with the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Legacy Fighting Alliance promotions. His two defeats in that four-fight stretch remain a source of angst for Barnes, as they came to Brian Camozzi and Curtis Millender. Both men later signed with the UFC.
“There’s definitely frustration there,” Barnes said. “You can’t help but to look at those fights and think, ‘What if I was the one [who won]?’ It kind of motivates me.”
Barnes, 28, understands the threat Silva poses in the cage. The former Jungle Fight champion was considered one of the top prospects in the sport before his 15-fight run in the UFC ended with back-to-back losses to Yancy Medeiros and Jordan Mein. The 34-year-old Silva has not fought outside the Octagon in nearly eight years.
“He’s an extremely aggressive guy, and he’s very sharp,” Barnes said. “I feel like he’s going to come into this fight thinking he really wants to prove that he’s still got it.”
Barnes sees the bout as a pivotal moment in his career and one that can help him realize his ultimate goal of competing at the sport’s highest level.
“I see myself being in the UFC,” he said, “[and] I believe I have the skill set to be there.”