For years former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett has been known primarily as one of the best fighters in his weight class, but in recent times, he’s begun to branch out into other venues of combat sports.
Along with training fighters at his gym, Barnett has recently been joined by WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross as the commentary team for New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. If that wasn’t enough, Barnett will be joining Scientific Wrestling’s Jake Shannon and Wade Schalles, as part of the Pin & Submit seminar series touring the USA and UK this year.
During a brief break in his schedule, Barnett spoke to MMAWeekly.com about being joined by Ross for NJPW commentary, spreading the word of catch wrestling through his seminars, and the outlook for his career in 2016.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Josh, tell us Jim Ross replacing current WWE commentator Mauro Ranallo as your co-host on NJPW on AXS TV.
Josh Barnett: I had to take into consideration that I had a certain flow going with Mauro, and he was fantastic, but I knew Jim Ross from his many years of announcing going back to Mid-South, so it wasn’t a matter of if he was capable, but I was going to have a new learning curve, but one I was looking forward to being a part of.
Change is instrumental and essential in creating experience, and being able to sit down with Jim Ross beside me and call matches is a pretty motivating factor to trying to be the best at your game. I’m really looking forward to all the new aspects that are going to come into NJPW with Jim as a commentator in the booth with me.
MMAWeekly.com: When we spoke with Jim recently, he had nothing but complementary things to say about you. What’s that like to get accolades from people like Ross?
Josh Barnett: It’s very uplifting and it’s a really positive thing to take into the booth, but it also gives you expectations you have to live up to. If someone like Jim Ross or Mauro Ranallo believe that I’m doing such a fantastic job and that I have talent at this, the one thing I can’t do is let them down and prove them wrong. For me, I really appreciate those messages, and because of that I have to strive to be better at the job as it were.
MMAWeekly.com: One of the stories that Jim relayed to us was your 2003 pro wrestling debut on the January 4 Tokyo Dome show for NJPW against Yuji Nagata for the IWGP championship. Do you recall much about that match?
Josh Barnett: I didn’t really have any professional wrestling experience going into that night. I had a couple of days to get some work in. I wanted to do cool moves and enjoy the stage and all of that, but the biggest thing to me was to make Yuji Nagata look like a badass. I was a fan of his from his work in WCW, so to get to work with him in NJPW was even better. I thought Yuji was a fantastic champion and am a real supporter of his.
I actually came down with a case of chicken pox a couple days before the match. By the time I hit the ring, I didn’t have marks, but I was feeling super-hot, and getting under those really hot lights, by the time the match was over, my temperature was going through the roof. By the time I came back on my return flight home, my face was covered in pox, and the US customs agent looked at my passport and then looked at me with a terrified look on his face, but he actually waved me through. I’m glad I was able to get home.
MMAWeekly.com: Joining you in NJPW were other MMA fighters like Bas Rutten, Enson Inoue and Don Frye. We see a lot of the same crossover now between pro wrestling and MMA. What do you think of the intermingling of the two going on of late?
Josh Barnett: I don’t look at myself as any kind of forerunner in that, but my teachers like Billy Robinson and Karl Gotch, being a fighter and being a wrestler is one in the same almost. It was a pretty typical thing to be fully trained as a fighter, but yet work matches. For me, I came from being a shooter to learning how to work, and it felt like a natural progression or addition to what I already did.
I still believe that professional wrestling at its roots is a fight. At its roots it should feel like a conflict; two people competing against each other trying to push the limits of not only their own potential, but their opponent’s as well, and look to find an opening to conquer that opponent. If you’re going to go out there and perform a match in front of somebody, a conflict, you should probably understand what it means to truly compete against another human being who is trying to not let you win.
MMAWeekly.com: Starting at the end of April, Jake Shannon, Wade Schalles and yourself will be going out on the seminar circuit, spreading the word of catch-as-catch-can wrestling. Tell us a bit about the Pin & Submit seminar series.
Josh Barnett: I’ve always really wanted to try to spread the art and philosophy of the sport of catch-as-catch-can, but I haven’t really been a guy to have an adequate schedule to do that (until now).
I firmly think Wade could have been an Olympic medalist, had injuries not gotten in the way of his walk down that path. Even that, he was a decorated champion and won the Tbilisi Tournament, which is an incredible achievement in and of itself. He has the NCAA record for pins and is an incredibly brilliant mastermind when it comes to wrestling and pinning and any fundamentals for applying a submission.
Jake Shannon is a very good friend of mine and is a very strong and vocal supporter of catch-as-catch-can wrestling. He’d been able to bring Billy Robinson onto the seminar circuit and really bring Billy’s philosophy and techniques to a lot of very lucky people over the years, while he was still alive. From that Jake has been able to bring myself and Wade together to come and follow up on that concept started with Billy and bring catch wrestling out there.
To be honest, I don’t really know of a better seminar that’s been put together to teach people about submissions and wrestling for as long as I can remember. I really feel that strongly about the amount of information and the type of information that’s going to be given to people. This is going to help any grappler, any style, anywhere.
MMAWeekly.com: Speaking of Karl, will you be busting out the Gotch-style black wrestling trunks for the seminars like you wore at Metamoris 4 against Dean Lister?
Josh Barnett: Nah, I’ll probably keep covered with a good healthy dose of sweatpants. Considering that’s a realistic and reasonable place to be wearing sweat pants, or as people call them, coach’s pants.
MMAWeekly.com: Before we close out, Josh, tell us a bit about what’s going on with your fighting career the rest of this year.
Josh Barnett: I’m not sure yet. I know my manager is talking to the UFC and try to arrange something so I can get back out there. I’m training at the moment and just staying busy and staying in shape… sort of. I’m trying to stay away from becoming a shape… round.
I’m working with my fighters, who have things coming up as well. Victor Henry is going to be fighting again in Pancrase at the end of April. Colleen Schneider is going to be fighting for the Invicta title in May. And there are a lot of people in the gym who are preparing for potential fights as well.
MMAWeekly.com: Being a fan of metal music, I’m sure you’re pumped for the new Amon Amarth album Jomsvikinig.
Josh Barnett: Amon Amarth is going to be starting a tour here soon and I know they’re going to be coming through LA. The last time I saw them at the Wilshire Theater, it was pretty badass. They had part of a Viking ship as the drum riser and they could walk up and across it, and it helps bring the theatric level of a concert up a notch.
MMAWeekly.com: They should get you up there swinging a battle axe with them.
Josh Barnett: I’m completely and utterly down for that. I own a Viking long ax from Cold Steel Knives as well, so I’m prepared.