Josh Barnett’s ‘Bloodsport’ Marries Pro Wrestling and MMA

Justin Barrasso
Sports Illustrated

Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport II takes place this Saturday night in Atlantic City.

The first Bloodsport show, which is a shoot-fight style of pro wrestling with a combat sport foundation, took place during WrestleMania weekend in 2018. Barnett, who is a former two-time UFC Heavyweight champion, has also built an enormous amount of respect in pro wrestling. He first put his name on GCW’s event before the show that took place in New Jersey during this past WrestleMania weekend.

Bloodsport, promoted by Game Changer Wrestling, is an authentically unique presentation of pro wrestling. Every match must end with a submission or knockout, and the traditional wrestling ring is replaced by a canvas. There are no ropes or turnbuckles, forcing the action to be real, raw, and authentic.

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Barnett spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss this Saturday’s show on FITE TV, future Bloodsport events, and even touched on a potential on a potential UFC fight between the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

Justin Barrasso: Why is Bloodsport such a perfect fit for you?

Josh Barnett: I’ve always wanted to put something together that would follow up on my own vision and philosophy of professional wrestling. I saw the first Bloodsport event [in 2018, which was promoted as “Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport”] and thought it was very interesting.

[GCW owner] Brett [Lauderdale] called me after Matt went to the WWE, and I was absolutely down to get involved—but I wanted to produce the event, have my hands in it, and I wanted to put my raison d’être for wrestling in it. So we linked up, and the first show we did together this past April did fantastically well. While I always do believe very confidently in what it is I’m going to put out there in the world of wrestling, you never know until it lives and breathes. The first one was a big success, a sell-out, trended number three on Twitter, and people were really fired up. We’ve seemed to roll some of that enthusiasm into this next one, and that’s a great start.

Barrasso: Your DNA and fingerprints are certainly all over Bloodsport, which has a far different, more intense fight feel than a normal pro wrestling card. Was that part of your vision? 

Barnett: We are not a gimmick. We’re just wrestlers. It’s a hard-hitting and competitive combat sport. If you want to see professional wrestling with all the glitz and gimmick stripped away from it, and see people trying to win and showing grit and guts, then tune in and watch. It’s not that we’re any less colorful, but this is stripping away all the superfluous of what people think professional wrestling is and returning to its roots.

Barrasso: This Saturday’s card is full of tantalizing matches, including—but not limited to—Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, Killer Kross vs. Nick Gage, Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Timothy Thatcher, and yourself vs. Chris Dickinson. Obviously, the main draw of the card was intended to be you against Jon Moxley, but that is off due to his staph infection. What about this card resonates most deeply with you?

Barnett: It was a real shame to lose Moxley for this event. We worked hard to promote it, and we were both very, very excited to go out there and lock horns. But MRSA is nothing to take lightly. I wish him the healthiest and speediest recovery, and I look forward to creating that match down the line. But we are a talented group.

We’ve got people coming from Japan like Ikuhisa Minowa, we’ve got national level judo players from Canada like Anthony Carrelli [longtime WWE star Santino Marella]. It’s also about finding the right matchup and giving consideration to finding the right matchup people want to see. I knew with Dickinson, it was a no-brainer. He’s going to bring the fight to me and you’re going to see two war machines go straight at it on the mat.

Barrasso: Which talent do you think will stand out? It seems as though Timothy Thatcher was built for events like this.

Barnett: I have all the faith in the world in Tim Thatcher. He’s trained under me for years now. He fully embraces and brings the old-school mentality of pro wrestling into the arena and I think he’s going to fantastic things.

I also think people are really going to have their eyes opened by Erik Hammer and JR Kratos going head to head. I know people don’t know about Hammer over here, but he’s won catch wrestling tournaments and grappling tournaments. He’s a big beast of a man, and he’s going to make a great impression upon folks. They’re going to want more.

And there is always someone who manages to give something that people don’t expect. It might be someone like Zachary Wentz because it’s unusual to imagine him in this setting, but he’s got the skills. We also have the Shimmer champion versus the NWA champion with Nicole Savoy vs. Allysin Kay—where else are you going to get that?

Barrasso: I know you intend to continue Bloodsport fight cards in the future. Which opponents are among your dream fights?

Barnett: A guy like Jake Hager [former WWE star Jack Swagger] could be great. This will never happen, but I would love to get my buddy Bobby Lashley involved in something like this. He would shine like nobody’s business. Moving forward, we’re going to do what we can do and try to build the best that we can from a global perspective. I have very deep connections to people in Japan and I’m always trying to find a way to bring in those guys and gals to compete in my ring. We did that last time with Hideki Suzuki, who people were completely new to in the States but in my opinion is the most underrated professional wrestler in all of Japan.

Courtesy of Ryan Loco
Courtesy of Ryan Loco

Barrasso: Changing gears to MMA, Khabib Nurmagomedov just wiped out Dustin Poirier last weekend at UFC 242. Do you think Tony Ferguson can finally be the one to defeat Khabib?

Barnett: Khabib is fantastic. He’s tough as nails. No matter how much difficulty he endures, he always keeps pressing forward and he always makes people fight to his game. His wrestling has been absolutely fantastic, but I do believe Tony Ferguson has probably the best shot of beating Khabib because of his excellent wrestling background and his submission game, especially around the front headlock position.

Khabib looks to shoot, but Tony has those long arms and it can be a real problem for someone like Khabib putting his head in that position. He was in a very nasty front choke against Poirier, and I don’t know if he would have been able to escape if Tony caught him in it. Easier said than done, but it will be very dependent on who can implement their stand up game better.

Barrasso: What should people expect if they watch Bloodsport on FITE TV?

Barnett: If you will see titans go at it and battle in the vein of how the universe was created, then that’s why you want to watch Bloodsport on Saturday. If you’re looking to watch two athletes go out there and clash and struggle and battle and fight until one victor remains standing, then you should tune in.

We’re going to bring the hardest hitting in all of professional wrestling. You can’t find what we do anywhere else. There are a lot of people who like to create a show with the gimmick of being shooters, but you can only find this kind of action at Bloodsport.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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