September 29, 2006

by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
Former UFC heavyweight champion and PRIDE veteran Josh Barnett fell short of winning the PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix a few weeks ago. Barnett faced Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the finals of the tournament, but was unable to defeat the tough Croatian. The “Babyface Assassin” is scheduled to face legendary Polish Judoka Pawel Nastula at PRIDE 32: The Real Deal on October 21st. Recently, Josh appeared on MMAWeekly’s SoundOff Radio to discuss his fights from the Grand Prix and more.

Barnett, who is currently the #3 heavyweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings, has expressed in the past his desire to fight former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. His wish came true when PRIDE announced that he would face Nogueira in the semi-finals. “I was actually really excited. It guaranteed the prospect of me fighting him finally,” said Barnett. “I always thought a fight between the two of us would be a very entertaining bout. I’d like to think we came through on that end.”

The two fighters produced arguably the best fight of the night. After two very exciting rounds, Barnett earned a close split decision over the Brazilian Top Team fighter. At the end of the second round, Josh secured a knee bar that may have swayed two of the judges’ decisions.

“It was there… the only thing that saved him was the bell,” commented Barnett. “Either that or he would have let his leg get broke.”

After his victory over Nogueira, the final fight of the tournament was set. Barnett would face Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic for the third time in their respective careers.

“I just knew it was going to be a huge up hill battle. He looked not necessarily just fresh because the fight he had was shorter, but I just felt that he was really on point that night,” said Josh. “He was in his zone.”

In the finals, Mirko dropped Barnett with a body shot and was content to stay in Josh’s guard. After enduring multiple strikes from the Croatian, Barnett would receive what appeared to be a thumb in his eye. Consequently, Barnett was unable to see and tapped out shortly after.

“It was a finger, I believe, in the eye. It felt thinner than a thumb,” explained Josh. “I was just screaming at myself mentally to move, do this and do that. Finally, I took a chance and opened up… I rolled up on my shoulder and went after his legs. I grabbed a hold of his leg and I got a finger right in the eye. All of a sudden everything went black and I couldn’t see at all.”

PRIDE 32: The Real Deal marks the U.S. return of the “Babyface Assassin”. Barnett has not competed on American soil since his win over Randy Couture at UFC 36 in 2002. Josh commented briefly about his anticipated return.

“To be honest, it’s more of a stress than anything. I think it’s worth it in the end,” said Barnett.

After losing to tough opposition in his first two PRIDE appearances, Pawel Nastula finally got his first victory when he submitted the heavy-handed Brazilian prospect Edson Drago last July. Barnett talked about his upcoming opponent.

“I’m not looking past him and I certainly don’t underestimate him,” stated Josh. “I just don’t see, with my overall assessment of him and his skills at this point, where he’s really going to be able to beat me.”

Current heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko is undefeated in the PRIDE ring and is considered to be pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world. Barnett spoke about his interest in facing the champion some day.

“I want it real bad because that means I get a shot at the title. That’s really the number one goal of mine,” responded Barnett. “But I know I’m not going to be next because Mirko won that tournament. All things considered, I still really want to go after that title. Even if he didn’t have the title anymore, I would still enjoy a match against him.”

PRIDE’s anticipated change in venue also comes with a change in rules. Since their U.S. debut event will be held in Las Vegas, PRIDE must abide by the Nevada State Athletic Commission rules and scoring system. The former UFC champion commented about the change in rules.

“…Another thing that is a huge detraction for me is that we have to use the 10-point must system garbage rule we have seen in Nevada. I personally really like the PRIDE judges and rules. I think they’re really the superior set of rules in the MMA game because they’re looking at things like finishing, aggressiveness, and the guy that’s actually trying to win a fight and not just ride one out. The fact that we have to use the 10-point must system rule is terrible in my opinion.”

Near the end of his appearance on SoundOff Radio, Barnett was asked if he believed that PRIDE’s heavyweight division was superior to the UFC’s heavyweight division. Josh commented on if he felt that similar statements by the MMA community were true.

“Absolutely true. I thought that even when I wasn’t in PRIDE. It’s just obvious. When you look at the PRIDE group of fighters, they are multi-faceted. You watch the UFC and everybody is one dimensional for the most part. They’ve got their one weapon and besides that, they’re pretty much nothing. If you just sat down and watched a few fights and then compare and contrast, it would just really stand out to you. The guys in PRIDE are finishers, they’re better athletes usually, and they’re well-rounded.”