UFC Fighter, Metamoris Champion, actor and NJPW commentator Josh Barnett recently spoke to me for an exclusive interview recently, to talk about all of the things in his busy career. We'll have part two of our exclusive interview tomorrow.
It seems like it's almost in a catch wrestler's personality to be involved with a lot of projects. How do you have time to do everything you do?
"That's a good question, sometimes it doesn't seem like I do. For me, it's making the most of opportunities as they present themselves and trying to live as fulfilling and varied life as possible. I figure the most life experiences a person can gather, the more well-rounded and knowedgeable they're going to be as an individual. Plus you're opening the opportunity for more expansive life experiences, a broader perspective. Finding ways in which to challenge yourself is a good thing, too. Let me tell you, acting is not like fighting. You can't just try harder at acting, it's the more of the subtleties. I like feeling on the spot in something I don't have experience in."
How did this opportunity come about?
"I had been doing acting classes and little things here and there like skits on the Tonight Show, little internet pieces, a short film. I did a film with Steven Seagal, and a film before this that has yet to be released. I've been getting my toes wet when it comes to acting. One of the people who was very supportive that I should get into the real of acting on a more serious basis was Michael Jai White. He's a friend of mine, and I met him some years ago, and just through conversation was one of the people that really believed I should be putting my efforts into this, that I had a possibility to do something with it. When the opportunity came about for me to be involved in a project for him, in a way where he was saying I got to be the guy or it doesn't work -- having that faith in me, it was a motivating factor for me to show up and be a part of it. Part of it was having more experience and heavy lifting from an acting standpoint, but also paying him back for all his faith in me, support and encouragement... to prove him right. I was really proud to be a part of it."
Is acting something you'd like to continue doing?
"Yeah, I would. I'm a big cinemaphile. I have a long list of film and film moments that are important to me and I take pleasure in. From just being able to be a supporting character in some of the most famous films of all time, or he could have been the lead, to be a part of those things, you could be a part of some films, a part of cult history, or something beloved that moves people. It's cool, man. You can help create that and be a part of that and bring it to life."
People often tell me that cinema inspired them to get into MMA. Was that the case with you?
"I'm sure media had some part. Fist of the North Star being one of my favorite anime and shows of all time, loving those characters, all the comics I used to read, the martial arts films, all the old Shaw Brothers and Hong Kong stuff coming over, the video boom of the 80's, movies like Bloodsport, Lionheart, The Quest – having that sort of material to come by...hey, Street Fighter II came out when I was a kid. The idea of martial arts competions has existed in my consciousness for a very long time. I would be hard pressed to believe they didn't have any influence on me."
Former PRIDE announcer Stephen Quadros and former WWE Superstar Nathan Jones are involved in Never Back Down: No Surrender as well, right?
"Yes. Nathan plays the main physical threat in this movie. Stephen Quadros plays my manager, and he's no stranger to the television and movie world, not just through announcing, he's been on the silver screen and small screeen as well. Not to mention being a drummer in a band called Snow. He's been around quite a bit."
Your style of calling wrestling is really natural, not overproduced. Why do you think that type of background isn't utilized more for color commentators? The experienced but natural style?
"Well Gordon Solie, to my understanding, and I could be wrong, wasn't a well known wrestler in his own right, but he could call the action straight up. We're not produced much at all. They pretty much leave us to our own selves and just go out there and run with it. If we make a mistake, we might back it up, but we hardly ever stop rolling. We just go. I think that allows us announcers to be as natural as possible and in the moment as possible. We know what's important as far as the match is concerned, but if there's something we need to plug in there somehow, I don't have any doubts that we can fit it in without seeming forced. I think that goes to our credibility and skill, but also how we approach being in that position of being a commentator and not just a talking Facebook ad. The reality is, people tune in to watch the matches, the wrestlers, and to be entertained by the wrestling. The most important thing is to emphasize the wrestling and the wrestlers as much as possible. The in-ring action is the forefront, and we're highlighting those things to make them more understanding and therefore more exciting for the people at home. I think if you treat it with seriousness and have the intent to have it stand out as a legitimate contest, it changes the nature of the product and makes people much more invested."
What are the differences between working with Mauro and JR?
"Some of it is an intensity difference. Mauro is much more vocal in terms of putting out information and data. He's not a talking computer per se, but in his head there's a lot of information, and he does a great deal of research, past and present, on the episodes we're going to watch. He comes in with stacks of papers, which are probably more of reminders of things that are already up in his head. JR has a smoother aspect to him, a much more relaxed demeanor when it comes to calling wrestling. We get fired up in there in our own ways, but Mauro's intensity – JR has a more effortless presentation. Mauro and I will be in the booth getting fired up and high fiving each other. Mauro is animated, when I crack him up, he's over there in his chair doing 360's. When I crack JR up, he'll laugh, then do a side look, then he's back on it."
I've never seen JR bust out laughing.
"That guy has a great sense of humor, don't let him fool you. I can't think of all his thing he's done over the years, I don't have the Mauro Ranallo wrestling brain, but I've been able to get him to crack up and laugh. Not break so much, but it warms my heart to see him chuckle and hold on to his headset a little bit. He's not going to show his hand."
They found the one guy who wasn't a step back from Mauro Ranallo. Were you worried when Mauro left?
"Look, Sean, you have no idea how stressed I was when I found out Mauro was leaving. Yes, I was excited. In my opinion our work there made him so valuable that the WWE had to have him. It was a win all around. I was glad his skills and abilities were recognized for what they were. He was my number one MMA guy out there. Mauro is the s--t, of course you're going to pay him. Him leaving, all I could say is 'what the hell are we going to do?' I thought maybe I would have to be the lead guy, start being the start and finish of this thing and do a little color too. That was a big, big spot to fill. Instead of trying to fill shoes, they brought in a pair of cowboy boots instead. Finding out JR was going to be the one in the booth with me, it was such a relief. All of a sudden it makes me a little nervous because I had such a groove with Mauro, now I have to find one with JR. We get along, we've been friends for a while, we have very similar thoughts on the sport and the concept of professional wrestling. It's just like, man, he's a legend, try not to be s--tty, Josh. I think so far, so good. Each episode we sit down and do the better it gets."
Is there any in-ring pro wrestling in your future?
"I hope so. I don't have any intent to stop pro wrestling if and when I retire from fighting. Whatever that day is, I have at least another 5-10 years of wrestling in me, I think. So I hope that I get more time to go into the squared circle and doing what I love. Bringing the philosophies of the people who trained me."
The MMA, strong style has blown up in America, particularly on the Indy scene. Former UFC fighter Matt Riddle is making a splash, even.
"I've never seen Matt work, but to take a guy that was a fighter and maybe a wrestler too, it makes sense. He's going to have a leg up in that he's in shape, he knows how to do it for real, he's already familiar with the most difficult aspect of combat sports, now it's about teaching him to be more sensitive in a way. Not sensitive like you call him a name, he breaks down and cries and buries his head in a closet for seven days, sensitive in the meaning of being able to pick up on things that aren't so obvious. Being able to pick up on the small things, not just from the wrestler, but the referee and the crowd, being more in that moment and super present in that moment to ride those waves and make the most of them. To be out there and manipulate your opponent, not just do moves or do them badly in the case of some folks. Just because you go out there and train for it, doens't mean you're going to be successful at it or skilled at it. I think it's a head up if you can grab someone who has combat experience first. If they don't, they can still be a teachable person, but that's a really important part of being a professional wrestler. Not necessarily building a shoot fighter, but knowing the difference between reality and working so that they can work a match that has the intention and feel of reality, that way when you do something more over the top it's like 'that's legit' because the intensity was there."
What do you see in your UFC future? (Before the announcement of Barnett vs. Andrei Arlovski)
"I see a fight hopefully this year. I don't put a hard number on things like that. If I decide I'm going to retire in a year, maybe I still have a lot of gas left in me. Why cut it short then? I can't go back. You don't get to take those years back, when they're gone, they're gone forever. I'm going to make the most of them, within reason. We're not in the TRT era, so we don't get to extend our careers by doing that, now do we?"
You could always go and box Floyd Mayweather.
"I could try, I suppose. Wouldn't that be terrible? If you beat him up and you're me, it's like 'way to go, you're a heavyweight.' If you lose it's like 'wow, you're a chump.' Not a good look. Of course if Floyd Mayweather wants to give me Floyd Mayweather money, you can call me the most horrible person in the world for beating up a 150 pound man. I wouldn't care. 'Floyd, here's your cut. Any time you want.' But I'm going to fight (in MMA), I'm going to get the most out of it, I'm going to wrestle, do submission wrestling stuff, body willing. My athletic career is far from over."
Be sure to check in tomorrow for part two of our interview with Josh Barnett, as well as the full audio.