Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett has no problem stripping down to a pair of shorts and engaging in violence on front of tens of thousands of people.
But getting up on stage and performing? That’s something altogether different.
Barnett, who meets Travis Browne in a heavyweight main card bout at UFC 168 in Las Vegas on Saturday, watched from the side of the stage as his friend, guitarist Kerry King, performed with the legendary heavy metal band Slayer for two nights at the Hollywood Palladium.
“I don’t think I could do that,” Barnett said. “I’ve never had any problem getting out and fighting in front of everyone. That’s an objective thing, you either knock someone out or get knocked out. But performing? That’s subjective. Everyone’s eyes are on you, if you miss a note or something, everyone’s going to know.”
It’s good Barnett feels comfortable fighting in front of an audience, if not playing the bass, because his match with Browne is likely to be one of the most-watched fights of his career. As the third-billed bout on the card underneath the Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate rematches, UFC 168 is expected to be one of the biggest events in UFC history.
The last time the veteran fought on shows of this magnitude occurred when he competed in the heyday of the PRIDE promotion. His biggest bouts were held in large stadiums and aired live on Japanese network television. So he’s not fazed to be part of UFC 168’s big stage.
“It’s just another fight, man,” Barnett said. “The ring is still the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s just the two of us in the gym or if the world is watching. I’ve been doing this since I was a high school wrestler in Seattle and we’d get crowds for the meets. It’s nice people are interested in the show, but it doesn’t make a difference to my fight preparation.”
The veteran Barnett, of course, is also known for his side gig as a pro wrestler, one that’s been put on hold while the 36-year old goes on his last big mixed martial arts run. While Barnett’s been known to bring a little wrestling flare to his interviews, he doesn’t feel he needs to do so against Browne, who takes a three-fight win streak into the bout, including a memorable head-kick knockout of Alistair Overeem in August.
“This isn’t a fight where I have to build up some sort of hatred of the guy,” Barnett said. “He’s been cordial to me every time we’ve crossed paths. He just happens to be the guy the UFC has put in front of me at this time. He likes to go full-tilt; he likes to bang. I’m happy to provide him with that type of fight. Or it could go anywhere. This should be a fun fight; he’s been on a nice run.”
Barnett’s been on a pretty solid run himself. He made his much-ballyhooed return to the UFC in August at UFC 164, where he made short work of fellow former champion Frank Mir for his first UFC victory since 2002. While it was a dominating performance, Barnett was disappointed that the referee stopped his finishing sequence of brutal knees a bit too soon.
“It doesn’t just take away from the fighter who [lost],” Barnett said. “It takes away from me. I had my chance to really put an exclamation point on that fight and it didn’t happen.”
With a similar finish of the hot Browne, Barnett would make it 11 wins in 12 fights dating back to 2008. But where would Barnett go after a victory? The logical course would be a path toward a title shot. A victory over the red-hot Browne would seem to put him in the division’s top tier, along with Fabricio Werdum, who was in line for the next shot at Cain Velasquez’s heavyweight belt, and former champion Junior dos Santos.
But Velasquez is going to be out quite awhile after recent left shoulder surgery, which puts the top of the division in a holding pattern.
“I mean, yeah, on one hand, there’s nothing I can do about it, and there’s no point in losing sleep over something I can’t control,” Barnett said. “But when the guy at the top is out for an extended period, it does have an effect on everyone going on down the line. Of course you notice what’s going on. But really, all I can do is keeping doing my thing. After I beat Travis, I’m sure the UFC will give me a fight that makes sense in the division.”
Mind you, none of that has kept Barnett, who’s the first to describe himself as a nerd in a fighter’s body, from pursuing his other passion. As training camp wore down, Barnett, who lives in downtown Los Angeles, still found plenty of time to take in local metal shows.
“Let’s see, I saw Slayer both nights at the Hollywood Palladium,” Barnett said. “I saw As I Lay Dying, I saw All That Remains. I’ve been keeping pretty busy. It doesn’t matter, there’s always time for music in your life.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA