by Daniel Johnson
Two MMA icons are set to battle at UCF 164. While not technically the main event Josh Barnett fighting Frank Mir has to be the most interesting bout of the night for many. Both have extensive histories in UFC with Barnett first competing all the way back at UFC 1 in 1997 and Mir first showing up in 2001. Despite the majority of billboards being dedicated to the Benson Henderson/Anthony Pettis fight for the UFC Lightweight Championship, Barnett/Mir have also gotten their share of press. Just look at how tuckered out they look in the following clip:
The Barnett/Mir bout is a rarity in that each have held the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Yet, there is one bit of showmanship Barnett has on his resume, Mir cannot claim. A side career as professional wrestler.
Barnett being stripped of the UFC Heavyweight Championship on July 26, 2002 after testing positive for anabolic steroids has been well documented. Just a few months before this he had successfully defended his title against Randy Couture, but after this fight he would not have another MMA bout for over a year. What was the site of Barnett’s return? NJPW: Ultimate Crush. “But wait,” some of you may say, “Isn’t NJPW a pro wrestling company?” While others of you may say, “Over a year? Wasn’t Barnett arguably in his athletic prime? What was he doing in all this time?” The answer to these two questions are yes and taking a break from MMA to work as a pro wrestler.
Barnett may not always come off as the most humble guy as evident in his threat to pull Mir apart like a piece of cooked pork, but he didn’t let his ego get the best of him in the world of pro wrestling. Don’t get me wrong NJPW founder, Antonio Inoki had a huge hard-on for MMA guys at the time (and still does), so Barnett won almost all his matches. However, Barnett also put over IWGP Heavyweight Champion Yuji Nagata, an aging Scott Norton and even lesser known talent like Blue Wolf. And if you don’t think Blue Wolf is a lesser known talent then congratulations you’re a wrestling nerd (good to see you, brother).
Some readers with more inquiring minds may be thinking. “I know UFC wasn’t nearly as big back than as it is today, but wasn’t Barnett still a former UFC Heavyweight Champion and thus an internationally known athlete? Why would he be jobbing to some guy who most people have never heard of like Blue Wolf?” Well, it actually wasn’t a singles match, but rather in a tag team encounter. Actually, Barnett had a lot of tag matches. Who was his tag partner? Former WCW/WWE midcarder, Perry Saturn. You’re welcome!
Barnett had his last match with NJPW in May 2004 when he defeated fellow MMA icon Ken Shamrock by disqualification. Yes, even as a pro wrestler Barnett couldn’t get away from his past with the UFC. Barnett also didn’t let sleeping dogs lie between his match with Couture and his return to MMA. Heck, he even appeared with the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt in NJPW.
Fortunately, while Inoki may be insane, he wasn’t mad scientist insane (at least not yet) so Barnett never held IWGP gold. The only championship Barnett defended in NJPW was when Inoki’s mad scientist insanity began to rear it’s ugly head and NJPW actually started promoting MMA shows. At the company’s NJPW: Ultimate Crush II show during the darkest days of NJPW Barnett successfully defended the Pancrase Openweight Championship against Yoshiki Takahashi.
Since, Barnett has had a successful comeback in MMA, most recently with three wins and only one loss in Strikeforce, Barnett has not left pro wrestling completely behind. He took part in the “shoot wrestling” tournament to crown the first ever IGF Heavyweight Champion in Antonio Inoki’s new IGF company and notably defeated former WWE superstar Bobby Lashley. Although he decided to drop out of working for the IGF after making it to the tournament finals he later lost a match with IGF Heavyweight Champion, Jerome Le Banner:
So how will Barnett’s wrestling experience factor into his match tonight with Mir. Probably, not at all other than making him a bit more entertaining. Still, Barnett may very well have this match in the bag. In April, Mir suffered his second loss in a row for the first time in his career by unanimous decision against Daniel Cormier, a fighter who also defeated Barnett. Barnett on the other hand comes fresh off a victory in January after submitting Nandor Guelmino with an arm-triangle choke. Of course, while Mir did get his ass handed to him once by Brock Lesnar, he doesn’t have the worst record against pro wrestlers:
Categories: Smooth Runs