I had the opportunity recently to speak with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett about his pro wrestling career, upcoming UFC fight, his time training the Horsewomen, his work with NJPW on AXS, and much more.
You can also read part 1 at this link, where Barnett talks about his experience in New Japan Pro Wrestling, his commentary for AXS TV, catch wrestling, phony martial arts, and much more.
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You talk about bringing the professional nature back to catch-as-catch ?can wrestling, and that ties right into Metamoris. You’re their heavyweight champion now, how has that experience been for you?
“It’s been great. I’m glad Ralek Gracie and Metamoris have been so gung-ho about me competing for them and being their champion. I’ve liked the response I’ve been getting and to be able to go out and represent where I’m from in catch-as-catch-can. I go out there and I’ve beaten my opponents, but we’re picking each other off the mats, smiling and shaking hands. We’re growing as individuals.”
How bad do you think jiu-jitsu wants a win over a catch wrestling guy?
“I don’t know, I think there’s a certain segment out there that would really like that. That’s probably the majority of blue belts. I think Metamoris really likes having me as their champion, as far as I know, anyway. I think I’ve done a good job of being a champion and showing what a champion is. Competing and being a strong champion.”
You’re involved in a little bit of everything. You’re under UFC contract but you do pro wrestling commentary, movies, pro grappling, and even a couple of pro wrestling matches. Did you have to ask permission before doing the wrestling matches?
“Well you’re not just going to run off and see what the repercussions will be after the fact if you’re under contract to somebody. That would be a quick way to make an acrimonious relationship. We just work it out, and if it’s an event that makes sense, they’re more than usually willing to allow me to go out and do it.”
Have you ever been contacted by TNA or WWE?
“I think the biggest thing is, they don’t want someone to come in and upend their show.”
Is that something you’d ever entertain the idea of, working for WWE, TNA or ROH?
“Sure! Working is working, and there’s a lot of great guys in WWE that I’d love to put on a match with. The thing is, wherever I go, I’m a wrestler. I’m not an entertainer or superstar or whatever. I’m a wrestler first, and I won’t concede on that.”
Do you think that’s why you’ve been best fit for New Japan in the past?
“Probably. That’s the roots of my training. If I’d have went out there and didn’t represent strong style or shoot style, that’d be weird. I’ve had the very fortunate opportunity to train under Antonio Inoki as well. He’s an incredible worker, an incredibly strong guy at his age, and knows his stuff for real. Had I went out and did a choreographed dance number like some of these guys do, I know Inoki would have dressed me down. He’d have been incredibly disappointed, and that’s not how I feel about working, either.”
Do you have a good relationship with New Japan outside of the commentary work?
“I haven’t really dealt with them on a talent level like that lately. I have friends and wrestlers that are still working for them. I imagine there could be some people in the office that I still know. I couldn’t really say. So far, the office side of things seems to be pretty happy with what Mauro and I are doing in introducing the product to the American audience.”
I remember before the NJPW on AXS show started, people like Jim Ross and Dave Meltzer were saying that yourself and Mauro were immediately a top broadcast team. It’s hard to disagree. Was this your first time working together, and have you had any negative criticism?
“Yes, it was. I’ve had a couple people talk sh-t, but you can’t please everybody. I’m sure some people have said stuff I haven’t seen. There was an announcer that WWE tried to bring in during the 90’s who only lasted one show, I don’t know his name, but the only reason I know about him is because someone said he was better than me (laughs). It’s the internet, it brings out the best qualities in humanity.”
“For the most part, it’s been positive. Hearing somebody like Meltzer say that we’re the best commentary team on television, I was stunned, I’m honored. I’ve always respected his opinions. To hear praise from JR and other wrestlers has been great.”
In your immediate future is a fight with Roy Nelson, as well as a Road To Japan show. What can you tell us about that?
“I would like to think of it as The Ultimate Fighter Lite. I’d always looked at TUF and thought I’d like to do something like that. I’ve coached a lot of athletes over the years and it’s not new to me to work with people and create drilling structure and things for them. I would hear all these horror stories about these fighters coming into a reality show and just be overwhelmed and pissed off and would never do it again, well then it’s not for you. You certainly don’t make good television being sh-tty at it.”
“I couldn’t think of anyone better to teach Japanese athlete than myself. All the time I spent in Japan training under people in Japanese systems. Speaking a moderate amount of Japanese, there was no better choice. I’m glad they thought the same thing.”
Speaking of coaching, you coach Jessamyn Duke, Shayna Baszler and Marina Shafir, members of the Horsewomen. What has that experience been like, and have you worked with Ronda Rousey at all?
“No, Ronda is really her own sort of machine. She has her coaching staff with her, and her training partners, but she’s her own separate entity. She loves and supports and is a great friend to Jessamyn and Marina and Shayna, and she looks out for them.
“As far as training, they’ve been training with me for just under a year, but Shayna’s been with me for a long time. Also Kaitlin Young. There’s a great group that came into CSW where Colleen Schneider was training along with Victor Henry and have all made a great training group. All bases are covered and everybody brings something to the group that they give to another person. It’s been going well, and they’ve been going really well in my opinion.”
Shayna already has her foot in the door with pro wrestling, but do you see that as a career path for Jessamyn down the line, too? WWE has apparently already shown interest in her.
“It’s possible, it’s up to her. For now, it makes sense for Shayna. Shayna has always been aware of the pro wrestling connection and lineage that comes with me and the sport in general. For her, she’s really enjoying getting to work on the other side of the coin, and to be attached to the business as a whole. We look at MMA and working pro wrestling as one and the same, they’re just two different sides of the coin.”
“For Jessamyn, it’s cool to have her at CSW. She came from a CSW school in Kentucky. They were originally a CSW cool and ran the CSW program, and that’s where her root training comes from. I’m really excited to have her back in that system, and I think it’s only going to do wonders for her. She’s got quite a good leglock game, and she’s learning a lot.”
You’re involved in Sharknado 3. How was that?
“A lot of screaming and pretending to fire an m16 while standing on top of an apple box. Just imagining that sharks are going to come take you out. So, surreal.”
I wish sharks had feet so you could put one in a toe hold.
“I think if I was to lock around it’s dorsal fin, I could lock on a heel hook of some kind. Well, a fin hook.”
I hope you survive in the movie, because that would make for a good spot in the sequel.
“It’s hard to say. Does anybody really survive Sharknado, including the viewer?”
This will be your first fight since 2013. Was there any reason for the long layoff, outside of just being so busy?
“That was the biggest thing. There was so much going on in my world, that it didn’t make sense to stop all of the momentum I was gathering to go back and take another fight. This time it’s more or less leading into a fight, so it’s a shift of momentum instead of a stop. The things that I’ve been working on that aren’t fight related won’t disappear, it won’t stop. If anything it’s all going to work to build up the other, and that’s fantastic for me. I’m just getting started into camp, even though I’m more than two months out. I’m really excited for this.”
How much longer do you see yourself in MMA, and will you continue pro wrestling after?
“I’d like to continue to wrestle. As far as shooting, I don’t know how much longer I’ll do it, but I know that when I’m done, I’m done. I have to get the most out of it that I can, because once you close that window, it’s hard to open it back up.”
Speaking of windows opening back up, what do you think about Fedor returning to MMA?
“If he’s healthy, and wants to, and has the motivation to do it, I’m really happy for him to come back to the sport and get the most out of that career of his. He had a couple of losses towards the end of his run that I didn’t think were indicative of him as a fighter. His last two fights, he looked very sharp. If he’s feeling great it’s going to be a great opportunity for him and the fans.”
Do you have any other projects coming up that we didn’t touch on?
“I’m hoping Never Back Down 3 will be out will be out by the end of the year or the beginning of the 2016. I just shot that with Michael Jai White in Thailand. I’m waiting on a really fantastic indy project,too, that’s in post-production. When I say indy project, I mean we have to fight and scratch and claw for every nickel to get this made. It’s called Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins. I’m really stoked to be able to do that and go out and promote it to the world.”
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!”
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