Josh "The Baby Faced Assassin" Barnett (23-5) -- currently ranked number three on the WAMMA top 10 list for heavyweights -- is set to face Dutch striker Gilbert "The Hurricane" Yvel (35-12-1) in a number one contender eliminator match on January 24 in the co-main event at Affliction: "Day of Reckong" at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Barnett sat out all of 2007 after the Japanese promotion Pride FC was sold to the UFC and eventually closed down. In early 2008 he came back onto the Japanese MMA scene, fighting twice on Sengoku cards, defeating training partners Hidehiko Yoshida with a third round heel hook submission and Jeff Monson via unanimous decision.
Then in July he competed on the first ever Affliction MMA card, avenging an earlier loss in his career to Pedro Rizzo by knocking him out cold with a left hand in the second round.
With WAMMA champion Fedor Emelianenko out due to a hand injury, The Baby Faced Assassin was booked to fight Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski in the main event of the second Affliction card in October. The winner of the match would get the first crack at Fedor in early 2009.
But for whatever reason that card fell through and now, three months later, Barnett is basically left as the odd man out. Regardless, he remains only one fight away from a shot at the title. Affliction higher ups have already guaranteed a shot at the winner of Fedor and Arlovski for Barnett if he can get past Yvel.
However, that won't be an easy task.
Yvel is a fantastic striker with 48 professional fights to his credit and 30 of his 35 wins coming by knockout or technical knockout. Not to mention he has a bad reputation in the sport as a dirty fighter. Affliction certainly isn't making the path to a title shot a walk in the park for Barnett, but he feels confident that's exactly where he'll end up.
We recently sat down with Josh and discussed his upcoming fight, his friendship with WAMMA champion Fedor Emelianenko, his future and several other topics about him and MMA in general. He's a true professional and as confident as they come.
Check out the conversation below:
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): How are you feeling man? Any nagging injuries or anything heading into this fight?
Josh Barnett: I'm just one big nagging injury.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) How has your training camp been?
Josh Barnett: It's been going really well actually. I've had great sparring partners like Rampage, JP Fletcher, Ben Jones and they've been a real big help getting prepared for this.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Are you training at the same place?
Josh Barnett: Yep, same place I always train at -- CSW in Fullerton.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Your opponent, Gilber Yvel, is a very dangerous striker, perhaps even more so than your last opponent, Pedro Rizzo, which is scary. Do you plan on using the same approach in this fight as you did in July by trying to win the fight on your feet?
Josh Barnett: I'm going to try to take him out in any way shape or form possible. I don't like decisions and I don't intend to let this one go to one.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Well it's no secret that perhaps your biggest strength, your ground game is his biggest weakness. Wouldn't it be easier to just attack that weakness instead of trying to win at his game?
Josh Barnett: Sure, but if your gameplan is so exposed right away then it makes the balance easier for them to defend it. The thing is I'm not looking to pass up a knockout just to forward through and get a takedown. There's no guarantees in anything, but when I have opportunities I take them.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you have any weaknesses in this fight or do you feel like you're better than Yvel in most areas?
Josh Barnett: No, I don't consider anybody in the world to be at a level that I can't compete at or I'm not better than. I'm really not concerned with anybody. It's all about not allowing them to establish what they want to do. If they can't dictate the fight, if they can't find their rhythm, then whatever it is they want to affect in the fight isn't going to be of much use to them because it's going to be under my control.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): There were rumors of you facing both Brett Rogers and Aleksander Emelianenko before Yvel was officially announced. Which of the three would you fight if it were your choice?
Josh Barnett:Brett Rogers was I guess a possibility, but because of all the legal aspects of the Elite XC scenario right now, it couldn't happen. I was fine with that. Aleksander was absolutely never a consideration. That was just some sort of propaganda that he or somebody else was trying to put out there. He can't even be licensed in the state of California so it's an impossibility for him to be an option for anyone at this point. And Gilbert Yvel was the only solid offer I got, you know, besides Brett, and Brett, well I guess I can't acknowledge because he could never fight.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You mention Aleksander having some trouble getting cleared to fight in California. Yvel also had problems getting licensed in Nevada for Pride 33 a couple of years ago and some people believe he'll have similar problems getting cleared for this fight. Do you know anything on that?
Josh Barnett: He's absolutely cleared to apply for his license. And the only thing that would keep him from getting it, I would imagine, would be if he failed one of his medicals.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): He's got a pretty bad reputation for his actions inside the ring. He's been caught eye gouging, biting, kicking to the groin and even striking an official. What are your thoughts on facing a guy like that and what are you going to do if he starts in with the dirty stuff on you on January 24?
Josh Barnett: Well if he knocks the ref out there's not much I can do about that (laughs). And if he tried to bite me, you know, I don't really know. It'd be ugly, that's all I can say. I don't really have the same mercy for my opponents as maybe other people do and that just goes for within the rules.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I'm sure Affliction has a back up plan in case Yvel doesn't get cleared. Have you heard of any possible replacements just in case?
Josh Barnett: No, I haven't heard any particular names at all at this point. All I know is I'm going to be ready for them ... don't know if they'll be ready for me.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) Right on. This is obviously a huge fight for you because a win secures you a match against the winner of Fedor and Arlovski for the WAMMA championship in your next fight. I imagine you'll be keeping a close eye on that one. How do you see it going down?
Josh Barnett: I think it's really going to come down to Fedor's ability to put the fight on the ground. Once Arlovski's on his back I don't think he's going to be able to execute very well and the fight is over I think. I think Fedor's going to establish that control and he's never going to let it go.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you have a preference as to which one you face?
Josh Barnett: I don't care about who I fight so much, but I want Fedor to win, he's my friend. I want to see him do well.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Can you elaborate on that friendship a little bit for us and maybe talk about how you guys became friends and what it might be like fighting a friend?
Josh Barnett: Well, I never had any trouble fighting friends before. I fought Jeff Monson who was in some ways a person I've always, I've kind of coached him for the most part, you know. I've been in his corner for a lot of big fights. I've worked with him in the past as been training partners. We just went out there and fought. Yoshida was a training partner as well. I had no problem fighting him, either. I'll fight anybody. I'll fight family if I have to if that's what it comes down to. In terms of Fedor, we just really got along after we just sat down on a night of me, him and Roman Zentsov just hanging out. It turned out that we got along very well and he's a very caring and cool guy. We keep in touch and we want the best for each other. But at the same time we're competitors in the same sport and none of that really overlaps as far as being an issue.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): So if your friendship isn't holding you guys back why haven't we seen a fight between you two yet?
Josh Barnett: Timing and the promoters is what that really comes down to.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): How do you feel you match up with either Fedor or Andrei? Are both of those fights you feel like you can win?
Josh Barnett: Yeah, I think on the feet I can knock either one of them out. I think that Fedor is actually more dangerous because of his ability to mix it up so well between striking and then initiating grapples and taking you down. He keeps people on their toes and he keeps them off balance. It's really a cool thing to see him implement it. As far as the grappling aspect, I think that Fedor would be a much more difficult fight for me on the ground than Arolvski. Arlovski's a very strong, capable heavyweight and when he's doing well he gets stronger as he goes. That's always something to keep in mind, but when things are going tough you usually test the faith.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What are your thoughts on the rumors of poor ticket sales for this event?
Josh Barnett: They're just that, rumors. I've not heard or seen anything to substantiate them. Unfortunately, a lot of things that people like to point out is the negative. I've read some of the negativity in terms of -- not just Affliction -- but any promotion besides the UFC that's trying to get off the ground. Everybody's got an opinion and they all think they can do a better job. Instead of being happy for the possibility of seeing more great fights and sometimes the match ups you've been wanting to see for a while, I don't know, people are just very, very hard to please nowadays. But, you know, the economy is hurting things and the UFC has a huge lock on the market so it'll be hard to establish your brand amongst that. But you do what you can and if you can put on the kind of fights that get people talking then that's what's going to keep bringing them back.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You mention the UFC basically having the market locked down. When Affliction had its first show in July, the UFC -- on short notice -- put together the fight night card with Anderson Silva. What were your thoughts on that counter programming, I mean, is that the UFC using dirty tactics?
Josh Barnett: It is, but I mean all is fair in love and war, and apparently business. Personally, I don't think the demise of Affliction would help them in the least. I think what it does is it makes your market, your pool, bigger from which to draw from. Therefore, they would see an increase in funds with a bigger viewing audience for the sport as a whole. And appreciate that Affliction is going to go and do things that UFC either won't or actually couldn't because they weren't interested in dealing with the UFC's particular image, you know, however the view that. But I think if the UFC is a one man show, I guess things will survive, but it's going to be a lot rougher for not just the UFC but the fighters as well. Just maybe the people at the top will get rich, but in the end everybody's out for their own anyhow.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you think the second Affliction show in Las Vegas getting canceled had anything to do with the UFC?
Josh Barnett: I'm not entirely sure. I mean it very well could have, but it was very disappointing nonetheless.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Right, you were supposed to fight Arlovski then for the number one contender slot. There are some people who believe you're more deserving of the first shot at Fedor than Arlovski. Do you agree?
Josh Barnett: Uh, I just don't care. I just want to fight. Eventually the fights that are going to be the most important will come my way. And no matter what, I got to win. You never know, the fight that I have with somebody that everybody wants to pass off and just casually dismiss, that might be the fight that's the most exciting one they've ever seen me fight. You just never know what's going to happen until you get into the ring. Gilbert Yvel is a veteran with well over 40 fights. I really think that there could be a really great match up out of this. I don't strive to make my name off beating anybody in particular. I'll make my name off my own merit, my own skills and my own accomplishments. I don't need to be in any specific organization and I don't need to fight any specific fighter. I just need to do the best I can do out there.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you think Affliction is going to survive as a mixed martial arts promotion, honestly?
Josh Barnett: Uh, well yeah. If I didn't I wouldn't have signed with them.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What is your contract status with Affliction?
Josh Barnett: Uh, good (laughs). I'm able to fight for both Affliction and Sengoku if I want, and Pancrase. I'm pretty open to being able to fight most places.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You're also into the pro wrestling scene over in Japan. What are your thoughts on some of the WWE guys like Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley making the move to MMA?
Josh Barnett: Well, if they got the talent then I absolutely support it. I just hope that they can keep some of that persona and ability to personalize and make a character out of themselves when they come to MMA. It gives somebody out there in the fans and the audience somebody to really latch onto. Someone that sticks out -- that's an individual and is interesting and that makes people think or hate or love or whatever the case may be to get some sort of emotion out of them. Instead of being carbon copy, tribal tattoo, goatee, shaved head, board short wearing yahoo that you see on every card.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Right, you mention that if they have the talent then you support them. Do you thin Brock Lesnar is the real deal and worthy of the UFC title or is he just a flash in the pan that veteran fighters will eventually figure out?
Josh Barnett: He's new, I mean, he's green to fighting, I'll give you that. But he's got the gold and he beat somebody that whether you think he could beat the best out there is one thing, but I'll tell you what, any newcomer with three fights getting into the ring would be hard pressed to beat a guy like Randy Couture.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Can Frank Mir beat him again?
Josh Barnett: I put my money on Lesnar, but then again it just really depends on what kind of preparation he's going to do. I think that if he wants to beat Mir, he needs to come out to Fullerton and train at CSW with myself and Erik Paulson. I think if he goes in again he could possibly hit him with those ham hocks and put him out on the ground. The thing is that Mir's dangerous and explosive and he could very easily end up with another leg submission and there goes his new found title.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you still wrestle at all? Is there any chance we'll see you in the WWE one day?
Josh Barnett: I don't have any interest necessarily in wrestling in the states so much, but I continue to wrestle over in Japan for the IGF on a fairly regular basis -- at least four matches maybe five matches a year. I even have student named Eric Hammer I have working over there, too. In my mind, whether I'm over there in Japan in the IGF or in the ring in Affliction, they're all pro wrestling to me. I'm fighting for the entertainment of the fans.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What are some of the differences with fighting over in Japan as opposed to the states? And which do you prefer?
Josh Barnett: I in general prefer to fight in Japan. I've been doing it for a while. The way everything is put together with the promotion, there's a lot less hassle. Even just some of the simpler things in terms of there's food and blankets and pillows and mats and everything and it's all laid out for you backstage. They just really make sure that the fighter is taken care of and that they're as comfortable as they can be to fight the best fight that they can. But also, I love the events themselves. They seem bigger and larger than life.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): After you defeated Rizzo in July, Mirko Cro Cop is now the only man you have faced in your career that you haven't beat. Is a fourth fight with him and a win over him something that's important to you for your legacy?
Josh Barnett: Uh, I don't really know. Sure I would love to beat him. I would love to have a win over him -- a very decisive, clear cut, you know, straight up finish. But it seemed to me that it was always a bad omen fighting Cro Cop. Whether it was dislocating my shoulder, to anything else that may have impeded my ability to be at my best. And that guy, when I fought him he was amazing. He fought incredible fights and he was a world champion. He's tough. He's tough as nails when he's on. And a win like that would always look good on my record.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Where do you see yourself on the list of top heavyweights in the world?
Josh Barnett: I don't give a shit about rankings. I just take a look at the list, you know, it doesn't matter where they place, I just know I can beat them all.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Is there bad blood between you and the UFC and is there ever a chance we'll see you back there? I mean, you never really lost your title.
Josh Barnett: Right, well I don't see it happening anytime soon, especially with the way that I'm able to fight in different organizations as it is right now. Dana White or whoever else it is out there seems to have a real issue with me beyond business. It doesn't matter who I like or dislike in terms of what organization. I just know that when it comes to doing business, I do business unless you are unethical or try to do something grievous to me through the rest of the contract or through business, then we can't work together. But I don't have to like anybody, I just have to do my job.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you want to make a prediction for the fight against Yvel?
Josh Barnett: Sure, I predict that Gilbert is going to be wishing he left his finger in the dike instead of coming over here and getting in the ring with me.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): (Laughs) Nice, thanks man. It was an honor getting a chance to talk with you. Is there anything else you want to talk about or anybody you'd like to thank?
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Cool. Thanks again Josh and good luck to you in the future.
Josh Barnett: Thank you, too.