Josh Barnett, Currently on MMA’s Sideline, Delves into Pro Wrestling

January 28, 2018

As AXS TV’s coverage of New Japan Pro Wrestling has kicked off in a big way in 2018 with coverage of Wrestle Kingdom 12, one of the promotion’s most promising stars of late has been missing in Kasuyori Shibata.

Shibata, a one-time MMA fighter, along with NJPW and Pride alum Yoshihiro Tayakama, both had their athletic careers cut short in 2017 due to injury. MMA/pro-wrestling crossover veteran and AXS TV commentator Josh Barnett knows all too well what a loss these two athletes means to their sport.

“It really hurts to see people like that injured in such a way and not be able to go out there and do what they love,” Barnett told “It’s incredibly sad, especially when it’s someone as young as Shibata, really starting to make some great headway.

“Takayama is a husband, a father, and just an incredible human being. He’s come back from very debilitating injuries before, and coming through that and still be able to work and do his thing was great, and then something like this happens, it’s just heart-wrenching.”

Josh BarnettThough pro wrestling contains scripted spots and outcomes, Barnett relayed that wrestlers face just as many dangers performing their craft as any other athlete in any sport, combat or not, faces.

“Wrestling is not a safe sport,” said Barnett. “It’s not meant to be. It can’t really be if you’re doing it. We accept the risk when we get out there, but that doesn’t mean that we are okay with being hurt.

“It’s just a part of the thing and we always hope it doesn’t come to that. But sometimes that’s just the nature of what it is. But maybe one way to look at it is if there was no sense of danger, maybe it wouldn’t be as popular or as interesting to those who watch it.”

2017 also marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of catch wrestling legend Karl Gotch, whom Barnett was able to learn from prior to his passing. For Barnett, maintaining the lessons learned from Gotch, Billy Robinson, and Antonio Inoki are of the utmost importance.

“Anything I do and anything I teach and how I work, I always keep in mind how it reflects on them, what they would think about it, and am I doing their memory and legacies a service or disservice in any way,” Barnett said. “I take it incredibly seriously.

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“I wish I had more time (with Gotch) if anything. Even the phone calls I used to get from Karl were things I considered very important. There are elements in training even just discussed very casually from Karl that I still incorporate into the things that I do with my fighters and athletes.”

As for MMA, while he’s not actively seeking to fight, Barnett is by no means retired, but is instead just taking a long overdue extended vacation.

“I hadn’t had an actual vacation that didn’t have to do with business for about 20 years, so when I knew we were going to be fighting in Germany (for UFC Fight Night 93 in September of 2016), I said I would be taking a real vacation for once, and I spent near a month traveling Europe after that fight,” said Barnett.

“I told my manager I’m not doing any training camps, I’m not fighting anytime soon, I don’t know when I’m going to get back in the ring, I needed some time off.”