Strikeforce has taken a risk, adding Josh Barnett to its upcoming Heavyweight Grand Prix. But it is a calculated risk.
Barnett hasn’t fought in the United States in two years, when he defeated Gilbert Yvel at Affliction: Day of Reckoning. He was slated to fight Fedor Emelianenko in a heavyweight superfight later that year, but failed a drug test while trying to gain his license in the state.
After numerous delays and false starts, Barnett is still winding his way through the licensing process in California, trying to gain licensure. He was though to finally be at the end of the process, turning in a clean drug test in California last month, but stalled out again when the questioning at an athletic commission hearing took a more legal turn than he was prepared for.
Despite all that, Strikeforce announced him as a participant in its eight-man, multi-event heavyweight tournament that also includes heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov, and Antonio Silva.
While California is still up in the air, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is confident that Barnett will be able to fight in other states. This may limit the locals for events Barnett takes part in, but it will allow Strikeforce to field what it feels is its eight best heavyweights in a tournament format.
“The thing with Josh is, this guy has an issue with California. I totally understand, he’s gotta go through it. But the guy hasn’t fought in North America for (two years), and he’s not even on suspension,” said Coker. “Is he gonna get licensed in California? I think that’s between Josh, his attorney, and California State.
“But with saying that, we’ve reach out to several athletic commissions, four now, (and believe he’ll be allowed to fight).”
Coker, in explaining recent events, sounded almost as frustrated by the situation as Barnett… almost.
“Six weeks ago, he went to the California State Athletic Commission offices in Sacramento. He took the test and he came out clean,” he explained. “So, to me, let the guy make a living.”
Despite its home base being in San Jose, Calif., Strikeforce isn’t worried if Barnett can’t fight there. Coker is confident that Barnett will be able to play out the tournament elsewhere.
“He will definitely not be fighting in California,” he stated. “But other commissions are welcoming him to come, providing another clean test, which he will provide. He’s gonna fight.”