Photo via mmatko.com
At only 24 years of age, Josh Barnett was on top of the mixed martial arts (MMA) world.
He was a five year veteran of the fledgling sport with only one blemish on his record -- a knockout loss to Pedro Rizzo which, at the time, was nothing to be ashamed about.
Before stepping inside the Octagon, he ran through three other men in one night in the Aloha State and later went on to submit Dan Severn. Those impressive victories were enough to earn Barnett a trip to the UFC.
"The Baby-Faced Assassin" is one of the most polarizing figures in MMA. A three-time athletic commission policy violator, he's spent a majority of his career earning scorn from fans and being the butt of jokes in which syringes are often in the punchline.
However, the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix represents an opportunity for redemption for the former UFC champ. He has already pounded out and choked Brett Rogers and now faces Sergei Kharitonov this Saturday (September 10) at Stikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov" in the semi-finals.
Before he does, we'll take a look at his controversy-filled career beginning with his championship fight against Randy Coutre, the same bout that earned him his UFC gold and also jumpstarted his reputation as a cheater.
After splitting his first two bouts inside the Octagon, Barnett was able to score back to back victories over Semmy Schilt and Bobby Hoffman. An interesting bit of trivia is that Barnett's first tilt in the UFC -- a bout at UFC 28 against Gan McGee -- is the only super heavyweight fight in the company's history.
After scoring his third UFC win in four fights, "The Baby-Faced Assassin" was given the opportunity to challenge Randy Coutre for his heavyweight title.
Let's take a closer look.
Barnett immediately opens up with his hands and the champ clinches up, going for a takedown. The challenger defends well so "The Natural" shoves him against the cage and begins his patented dirty boxing.
Short hooks to the head and knees to the body soften Barnett up for the eventual takedown that puts him on his back. Couture, from half guard, begins to rain down punches on his much younger foe.
"The Baby-Faced Assassin" is able to temporarily kick the champ up and off but Couture is almost immediately back on top of his opponent, grinding forearms against his jaw and slamming fists against his skull.
Halfway through the round, the champ has the crowd lit up as he delivers blow after blow to Barnett. A triangle choke attempt from the challenger is defended and Couture winds up in sidemount.
In this battle of youth versus experience, experience is -- so far -- throwing youth over its bended knee.
A leglock attempt from the Pancrase-loving Barnett forced Couture to stand up and spin out, giving the challenger the opportunity to finally get to his feet for the first time in nearly three minutes. But as he does, "The Natural" is there to immediately threaten with a standing guillotine choke.
Barnett is able to pop his head out but spends the remaining minute of the round exactly how he spent the first minute. Back grinding against the cage as the champion brutalizes him with dirty boxing.
The second round opens with Couture immediately seeking a double-leg takedown. Head low and hips out, "Captain America" lifts his opponent just off the mat before slamming him down. He quickly slides into full mount much to the delight of the pro-Couture crowd.
He postures up for ground and pound, landing a punch or two but ends up getting pushed back to half guard and then finally full guard by Barnett who is an accomplished grappler in his own right.
Much like the first round, the challenger threatens with submissions off his back, not allowing the champion a free ride while on top. A Barnett elbow from the bottom cracks Couture across the face as the halfway point of the round ticks by.
Using the same tactic from the first round, "The Baby-Faced Assassin" teases a leglock which Couture has to spin away from to defend. This time Barnett is able to get the jump on the champion and has "The Natural" turtled on the mat.
Barnett quickly transitions to back mount as the previously Couture-friendly audience is now cheering wildly for the young challenger. Barnett lands several unanswered punches to "The Natural's" skull before Couture rolls over onto his back.
His opponent follows and continues the onslaught face to face. Pinned up against the cage, Couture isn't able to maneuever around like he would want to and can only cover up as Barnett postures up and lands punch after punch.
With a minute left, Barnett begins to drop elbows as the now nearly deafening crowd roars with approval. A quick flurry of punches soon follows and the referee has no choice but to stop the bout.
It was the highlight of Barnett's young career and four months later, it was erased.
He had tested positive for anabolic steroids and was subsequently stripped of the title. Barnett left the UFC and spent the next two years fighting for smaller promotions in Japan before debuting for Pride Fighting Championships.
Part two: Barnett attempts to rebuild his reputation in the Land of the Rising Sun