Josh Barnett Talks About Pro Wrestling Commentating And How He Rates Himself, NJPW On AXS, More

I had the opportunity recently to speak with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett. Known as the "Warmaster," Barnett has received high praise for his color commentary work next to Mauro Ranallo for New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS. In addition to this, he continues to train for his upcoming fight with Roy Nelson in September, coaches several fighters of his own, and has been filming several movies.

In part one of our interview, we talk to Josh about NJPW on AXS, possibly joining NJPW World, phony martial arts techniques, Billy Robinson, and much more. In part two, we talk about WWE, his future in wrestling and MMA, and much more.

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Yourself and Mauro Ranallo have received universal acclaim for your commentary work on NJPW on AXS. What has that transition been like for you? You seem so natural at it.

"It was just a matter of getting back into the seat and letting things flow. I've done commentary before for Pancrase, they had a show called Pancrase: Legends of MMA that aired on Imagination Television. I've done live commentary for PRIDE, I've been around the block a bit. For some time, I hadn't had the opportunity. Luckily enough I had someone like Mauro to be there alongside me and help me out. Mauro has it down to a real sweet science. He can practically call a show by himself."

You're not the kind of color commentator we see in pro wrestling today. Do you think that's something other brands and promotions can take away? It's worked well for AXS and New Japan so far. I wouldn't say you're not traditional, but it's not the norm anymore.

"I don't know so much about what traditional really is. I can just tell you what comes off the top of my head and crack jokes and mess with people, and have dry humor. I consider myself a pretty wrestling commentator, but only in the sense that I call it like I see it. It's serious business to me, and it's an athletic sport of wrestling, and I treat it as such without putting a big gimmick on it. We're so programmed to hear the constant jibber-jabber of the heel commentator, instead of people really focusing on the matches. I'd like to think that if you listened to our commentary, you could listen on the radio and get the idea of what's going on."

One of my favorite lines of last season was when Mauro asked why an STF being applied was so dangerous, and you said "because this guy didn't wash his hands after he went to the bathroom!"

"(Laughs) That's a bit of me letting my sense of humor run wild. But I did give an explanation of the hold, beyond any urine or fecal matter."

I saw you mention New Japan World, NJPW's streaming service, on Twitter. Is that something you'd be interested in doing commentary for?

"Sure. I'm game for it. If people are happy about what we've been doing with New Japan and AXS, sure, why not? I wouldn't mind doing Wrestle Kingdom or New Japan World. There's plenty of roads we can take, it's just a matter of what New Japan wants to do."

I've heard you say that you didn't have actual pro wrestling training before going to Japan to wrestle, and that you adapted on the fly. What was that like?

"It was a great learning sabbatical. I thought it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I came in with zero American pro wrestling training. Because my MMA training came from the Japanese shoot wrestling background like Pancrase, Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson, when I got over there it was a simple adaptation, and not learning a whole new thing. There were a lot of subtleties that had to be learned along the way, but when it came to moves and techniques, and having to feel somebody out, no big deal at all. That part was incredibly easy."

You mentioned Billy Robinson, who is a catch wrestling god. How important was learning from him, considering he could both shoot and work?

"It was a very fortunate opportunity for me. If I wasn't over there in Japan, I wouldn't have ever came across Billy, to be honest. My time I spent training under Billy and the thing that I learned in terms of technique, coaching, understanding what you're doing in a work and shoot environment have went a long way for me. The guy knew shooting and working like nobody's business. Billy was well versed in wrestling, boxing and fighting in general."

You're seen as one of the guys keeping Catch Wrestling going, and you're bringing it to the forefront again. How does that feel?

"It makes me proud to represent my teachers. People like Matt Hume and Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson and Erik Paulson. It makes me proud to try and bring what has become an underground thing, back to the forefront. It used to be the worldwide known and accepted form of wrestling. We have a long way to go. Catch was in the dark, and there was a lot of oversight, and it was easy for people to come in and do the traditional martial arts wackjob of making things up and creating history and accomplishments, and things that don't really exist. Weird cult-like sensei type of things. Stuff you'll see in a lot of kung-fu styles and karate."

We had a Dim Mak guy who claimed he could 'death touch' everyone once. I asked him why he wouldn't do it in MMA if it was so effective, and he never came back.

"My argument on that was always that these people say that they have all of these super-secret martial arts, but you're going to tell me there's not one person among all of these crazy supernatural martial arts styles that is proficient enough and wouldn't go out there and take all the money? The ethical stances are all bullsh-t. There would be someone who would run through all the MMA guys and become rich, then open a bunch of schools and become richer, and sell DVDs and become richer on top of that because they can shoot laser beams out of the tips of their fingers."

It must be the fabled 'honor' associated with those techniques, right?

"Exactly. Straight out of the kung-fu movies where they have this image of Buddhist, completely selfless idea, which is completely rare, and they take all the money to build monasteries and feed the homeless and poor. All to achieve higher consciousness. There's not one of those guys!?"

(Maybe they draw the line at charging someone $150 for a karate outfit, then another $100 to learn a month. No desire to make money after that (laughs).

"Exactly. They can charge you money for a seminar, but not earn it in MMA. That's where they say Nay? I'm trying to legitimize the sport and the training of Catch and help bring it back to the forefront. I want people to give respect to their lineages, and create the legitimacy that used to exist in professional wrestling. I think the MMA and grappling communities could use that a bit, too. I want to bring that with catch, but no BS attitude. I want all these wrestlers to look at catch-as-catch can and say 'Oh, if I want to learn submission stuff, I can just do this. I don't have to throw away what I've learned, just adapt.' This flows from one right to the other."

Where can fans follow you on social media?

"That's easy enough. @JoshLBarnett on Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook, my fan page is Josh Barnett: The 14TH Black Crusade. There's another, but it's not me, although people seem to think so. It even has more likes than mine! Whoever JoshBarnett is on Twitter, he got there before me. But he probably gets hate tweets for sh-t he's never done!"

Did you see the poor guy who registered @JonJones before the UFC's Jon Jones did?

"(laughs) I have seen that, and it's hilarious. There's all kinds of wacky ones, like @GiblertMelendez, and Renato Laranja, one of my great frienemies."

I always said that when Gilbert Melendez got suspended, he should have worn a mask like Hulk Hogan/Mr. America, so he could make a comeback as Giblert.

"(Laughs) I know, tell me about it. I've never seen more of an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive than Giblert!"

Also read part two where Josh speaks about his pro wrestling career, upcoming UFC fight, his time training the Horsewomen, his work with NJPW on AXS, and much more.

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