Bellator 235: “Barnett vs. Markes” takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Dec. 20, 2019) at Neil S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii, streaming online via DAZN at 9 p.m. ET. The “USO Salute the Troops” main event pits Heavyweight veterans against each other as “Warmaster” Josh Barnett (35-8) returns to action for the first time in three years against Ronny Markes (19-7).
After a long and public feud with USADA that ultimately ended with an arbitrator ruling in his favor, Barnett is ready to step back into the spotlight and showcase the skills that once made him a UFC Heavyweight champion — one of dozens of accomplishments in a career so long some may remember he was once called a “Babyface Assassin.”
No longer a babyface at 42 years old, Barnett will have to face a young and hungry Ronny Markes, 31, who is looking to make his name off the veteran fighter. He, too, is a former UFC fighter who left the promotion after back to back knockout losses to Yoel Romero and Thiago Santos, and he’d undoubtedly love to debut in Bellator with a huge win.
Barnett recently spoke with MMAmania.com about his battle with USADA, his return to the cage Friday night, and the preparation to face an undoubtedly dangerous opponent in Markes.
“(It’s going) pretty good! I’ve got good guys around me, I’ve been feeling pretty sharp and, you know it’s at the end here so the only thing left to do is good out and perform. That’s just really all I’m waiting for is ‘V Day’.”
Although going through arbitration and hearings could be a distraction to some fighters, Barnett loves the training to the point he doesn’t need a fight signed to be in the gym.
“I have a team of athletes that I work with, and being in the gym isn’t just about getting ready for fights. If you enjoy it then you do it. I’m still out there, still putting my work in at least just to stay capable and ready. With my pro wrestling stuff with Bloodsport, it also requires me to be in the gym and training.”
There’s no doubt that Bloodsport requires just as much physicality as MMA, and the third event on April 2nd in 2020 should be just as exciting as the first two. The December 29th Bellator card in Japan should also be exciting, and Barnett is stunned that he’s not on it.
“The fact that I’m not fighting in Japan is really BAFFLING to me and I don’t think you can rationally come up with a good argument for why one of the most notable Japanese known talents in the company is not fighting on a card in Japan. But, you know what? It’s above my pay grade and at the end of the day man, fighting in Hawaii is a great opportunity. It pays the same and it gives me a chance to perform in front of a big crowd of America’s soldiers and armed forces. It’s also where I started my career with my fights in SuperBrawl.”
Calling that “the start” seems accurate given those were his first fights outside the state of Washington, and his submission of Dan Severn got both UFC and PRIDE looking his way. As honored as he is to salute the troops, it doesn’t change his motivation to fight Markes.
“I always tell it like it is, and these sort of things are not factors to me. Nothing personal to anybody in this regard, because it goes the same everywhere. When I fight, I fight for myself and I fight for the people behind me. That’s a very, very small group of individuals. But I do appreciate those that come and I hope that what me and Ronny bring to the ring is meaningful (to them).”
As someone who “tells it like it is” I also had to ask Barnett for his views on how long he can continue competing in mixed martial arts (MMA) now that he’s in his early 40’s.
“I’m just going to keep pushing forward until it’s time to stop. That’s as much as I can really give any weight to that, because when it’s over — that’s it, it’s done. I’m not trying to give myself a timeline or think about it in that way. I’ll know it when that time comes.”
Heavyweights due seem to have more longevity in MMA than other weight divisions, so that also seemed like a reason Barnett might not put a date on it, but he dispelled that notion.
“Well, no, just knowing that people compete when they’re older doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. There was at least one large study done that most folks, once they get to about seven years in their (fighting) career, it just falls apart. So there may be people that are older still competing, but are they successful? Not a whole lot.”
Maybe that makes Josh Barnett the exception to the rule, but it could also make him ripe for the picking if Markes perceives that Barnett is past the “seven year” point in his career.
“I don’t really know where his greatest strengths lie exactly. I know he can slug and he’s always jumping on the back, it seems to be his go-to thing. But I’m not worried about either. The main thing is just to implement my game plan on him. At some point Ronny’s going to end up underneath me and it’s going to be a bad day for him.”
Is that confidence or overconfidence? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow night to find out. One thing that’s undisputed though is that from his time in Strikeforce to his debut in Bellator, he’s happy to see there’s a familiar name on his pay stub.
“Scott (Coker) writes the checks, and I am very happy for that.”
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 235: “Barnett vs. Markes” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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