Josh Barnett hadn't even reached his mid-20s yet and it seemed like he was blacklisted from the biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion in the United States.
After testing hot in a post-fight drug test, Barnett was stripped of the UFC heavyweight title and he parted ways with the company. He hasn't returned since and up until Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce, it didn't seem as if there was any love lost between "The Warmaster" and Dana White.
In the two years it took Barnett to get from the Octagon to the Pride Fighting Championships, he racked up a handful of wins over competition that wasn't entirely becoming of a former heavyweight champion. But once he stepped foot inside the Saitama Super Arena, he was thrown into the deepest talent roster the MMA world had ever seen at that point.
We're only days away from Barnett's tournament tilt against Sergei Kharitonov, a bout that easily could have taken place in Pride. Instead, it headlines Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov" this Saturday (September 10). Before Barnett attempts to make it to the finals of the heavyweight grand prix, let's take a look at his tenure in Pride.
Here's how it all went down:
It was an exciting time. Barnett had left the UFC and wasn't seen in any major shows for two years. He showed up at a Pancrase event to throw 185-pounder Yuki Kondo around and fought at the 2003 New Year's Eve show but he was booked about Semmy Schilt, a fighter he had easily beaten inside the Octagon already.
When it was announced that he had finally signed with Pride, the buzz started and began to build slowly. And when Mirko Filipovic was announced as his first opponent, the buzz was nearly deafening.
"Cro Cop" was on a path to redemption himself. After being brutally knocked out by Kevin Randleman earlier in the year, he was determined to once again position himself as the number one contender to Fedor Emelianenko's heavyweight title.
Who better to stand in his way than a former champion?
All the hype and all the build-up came crashing down along with Barnett's arm. The American wrestler caught a body kick from Filipovic and took the kickboxer down. But as they fell to the mat, Barnett positioned his arm oddly and the landing fractured and dislocated his shoulder.
The fight was less than a minute.
He returned nearly an exact year later to rematch his Croatian foe after rehabilitating his injury. This time there was no freak accident only a sound thrashing by "Cro Cop."
Now 0-2 inside of the Pride ring, Barnett seemed more determined than ever to turn the tide. He finally found himself back in the win column with a quick submission victory Kazuhiro Nakamura. It also guaranteed him a berth in that year's open weight grand prix.
The American arguably had the toughest road to the finals. While former Pride champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was taking on the 400-pound Zuluzinho and "Cro Cop" was booked against middleweight "Minowaman," Barnett had to face Aleksander Emelianenko.
The younger brother of "The Last Emperor" hadn't been as dominant as his sibling but was still a force to be reckoned with. In the opening round of the Absolute Grand Prix, Barnett was unafraid to stand with his opponent despite the Russian's crisper striking.
Nose bloodied as they entered the second round, "The Warmaster" realized that he couldn't survive another 10 minutes like those he had just gone through. Maybe he could physically but most definitely not on the judge's scorecards. He closed the distance quickly and smothered Emelianenko with a body lock before dropping him onto the mat.
A minute later Barnett was twisting the Russian's arm backwards, forcing him to scream out and tap. He had conquered his first adversary in the tournament, he was now ready for the second.
Refusing to allow the fight remain standing for too long, "The Warmaster" quickly secured the takedown and dispatched Hunt in a fashion similar to his previous victory. It has become a blueprint to defeat the iron-jawed knockout artist ever since.
Barnett had made it to the semi-finals by beating two opponents with a then-combined record of 13-2. At Final Conflict Absolute, he met "Minotauro." It was a fight for the ages.
From my previous History in the Making:
The second round opens and "Big Nog" almost immediately finds himself on his back with Barnett on top, attempting to pass into sidemount. The American's concentration on his own legs lapses and Nogueira is able to trip Barnett down and reverse positions on the former UFC champion.
But just as quickly, the catch wrestling expert sweeps his opponent and lands in his guard. Both fighters are landing short punches -- Barnett from on top and Nogueira from his back. "The Babyfaced Assassin" postures up and lands two devastating punches that bounce the Brazilian's head off the mat.
In the end, "The Warmaster" was victorious and met his old nemesis, Mirko Filipovic, in the finals. But it seemed the war with Nogueira had taken too much out of him. He succumbed to the strikes of "Cro Cop" in the final minutes of the opening round with MMA immortality nearly in his grasp.
He would fight twice more for the defunct organization. Once in the US against Pawel Nastula -- in a bout that ironically had the judo player testing positive for steroids -- and a rematch against Nogueira which Barnett lost.
Since then he fought for Affliction and DREAM amongst others before finding a home in Strikeforce.
They say time heals all wounds. I'm sure money helps too.
It's been a long time since Barnett was in the UFC. And he could make them a lot of money if given the chance.
The Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix is that chance.