It’s bad etiquette to ask more than a few questions of any single individual in a one-on-one situation following a press conference. However, I broke an unwritten rule when interviewing Josh Barnett last week following Affliction’s press conference in New York to promote its inaugural event on July 19.
It was just a situation where once you start talking MMA with Barnett, it’s hard to stop. In a sport that has no a shortage of athletes that are very articulate, Barnett still manages to be exceptional in that aspect. So if the reporter who had to wait behind me is reading this, I am sorry about forgetting my manners but Barnett was on a roll and I didn’t want him to stop.
During my conversation with Barnett, we talked about internet cynics; his behind-the-scenes involvement with Affliction; why it’s so hard for some promotion to build a deep heavyweight division; his desire to bring a well-known Japanese fighter to the States; his feelings about possibly fighting Fedor; and more.
You can now read the full transcript of the interview below.
Sam Caplan: I’m not sure if you pay attention to the blogs and Internet forums out there, but there has been some negative attention about Affliction spending too much money and not being around long-term. How do you react to that negativity, because this is a pretty amazing lineup?
Josh Barnett: I don’t react to negativity. First and foremost, pretty much 90 percent of the s— anyone has to say on the internet is negative anyways. I think it would take a long discourse on social dynamics as to why that exists. Personally, I’m really against that sort of thing. I think that if you have a chance to actually have your voice heard, at least even to a small audience, why have the one thing that comes out of it be s—ty? There’s enough of that everywhere you look anyways. I figure the more positive picture you can paint of this world; the more knowledge; the more wisdom; the more respect you can spread, the better off you’ll be. But I don’t think that’s really why we’re doing this interview.
To be honest, they’re not Affliction’s accountants, so I don’t really think it’s up to them or why they should worry about us so much. I think they’re just too busy trying to be smart marks and think they know what’s going on, when I can say for a fact that most of the time they are pretty off. Although, I’ve got to admit; it’s surprising sometimes how close they will get and some of the things that will fly out onto the internet. There’s a difference to having tidbits here and there to having an understanding of the entire scene or the entire story that goes altogether with this.
But you know what? It’s Affliction’s money and it’s their money to spend and they have a lot of good people behind them helping with these decisions, and not just accountants and pencil pushers and clothing marketers. People like myself have been intrical with them before we even laid the groundwork out, helping them with advice and how to try and approach this and put together the best card. And I don’t think you’re going to find it all that unusual that a lot of the people you’re going to see on this card are also people that are in the phonebook on my cell phone.
Sam Caplan: Well, let me follow up on that. How much have you been involved as far as bringing fighters together for this card?
Josh Barnett: I definitely played a healthy portion. Part of that is just because I want to see someone succeed other than one marketer; just the UFC. And as much, I don’t want to see, even if we were to, let’s say, take over the entire market landscape, within five years Affliction is the biggest promoter in mixed martial arts — and whatever else they want to get their hand into — that doesn’t mean I want the UFC gone. I don’t want them to leave. I don’t want EliteXC to fail either. I want to have the organizations out there to create the competition to be able to hold the fights — we can’t hold every fight in Affliction — therefore we need the other opportunities for these other markets that also hold these fights. Or maybe we or Affliction may overlook one talent that another one sees, and they’re going to bring them up. We’re not against each other — I mean, yeah, we’re sort of battling for the same market share right now, (but) we need to get beyond that and we need to open this pool up so that the dollars that we’re taken from is not that limited. We want to be able to hit the entire global market. We want to be able to hit a bigger fanbase.
Sam Caplan: This is an All-Star heavyweight card. They went out and got the heavyweights available. And right now, at least with the North American promotions, they are without a deep heavyweight division, no matter what you promotion you look at. Why do you think promotions like the UFC and EliteXC have kind of neglected their heavyweight divisions?
Josh Barnett: They’re the most experience. The UFC, I think it goes beyond just money for them. I think some of that is political. And whether they consider that a poor choice or not is up to them. I don’t run their business. They’ve made some decisions that I think have alienated some folks and upset some people and they decided that if there was somewhere they could ply their trade, even if they made less money, they would go for it. In terms of EliteXC, I think they spent a lot of money expanding their global presence (and) partnering and aligning other promotions and securing contracts.
Heavyweights are very expensive and also a lot of the time it’s about availability. When people have exclusive contracts, it makes it tougher to go out and grab some of those fighters and you have to have the right timing as soon as they come out of their contract or whether they’re in re-negotiations — or whatever the case may have you — to be able to pick those guys up.
Sam Caplan: Has there been any discussion as to whether if you and Fedor are successful in your respective bouts whether the two of you might meet at a future date?
Josh Barnett: Yeah, it comes up. And like I say, I’ll approach it when it’s necessary. As it is, I’m sure Fedor is going to be in the U.S. prior to the fight for press, but he’s also going to want to acclimate to the time and he’ll need a place to train. Guess what? I’m going to have him come down to CSW and he’s going to be there. He’s a part of my family. And not just as fight people, but as friends. Whatever he needs; if he wants to come hang at my house and eat dinner with me, he’ll be there. That’s how it is for me. If we fight, we fight. It’s professionalism and we’ll go out there and do something incredible.
But this Affliction event is a great start. We’ve got the stage all set. It’s ready for us to go there and live up to all of our expectations and I even hope to bring in some other more amazing talent from around the world. Gina Carano has done such an incredible job for EliteXC. She’s a wonderful person. A great fighter. I personally think that her and Shayna (Baszler) are perfect. And really, I think any female fight EliteXC has had up to this point…
Sam Caplan: Are we going to see that fight?
Josh Barnett: I don’t know. It’s not up to either one of them. People like to say a lot about Gina but she doesn’t get to make the decisions on her fights. At all. I promise you that. And Shayna, well she doesn’t either. I try to help her out; we do what we can but in the end the promoters are going to be the people who make the fights and we’re willing to fight who we gotta fight. But I think that Shayna and Gina would be just monumental to me. It would be an incredible fight, and also, (it would) be between two incredibly respectful and wonderful people.
But I want to bring Megumi Fuji over here and I think Affliction would be a great place to showcase (her). You know, Fedor is an incredible fighter, as are all of the rest of us up here. But honestly, I’ve trained; have seen fight; or have been a part of; or have fought myself, pretty much all of the top fighters in the world and Megumi Fuji… sometimes, I swear to god, she makes all of us look bad.
Sam Caplan: When you mentioned that to Affliction, were they interested in that possibility?
Josh Barnett: Megumi Fuji was the first fighter ever sponsored by Sinful. So, yeah. And I’ve got Ginele Marquez and Shayna Baszler, two obviously awesome athletes and they are also sponsored by Sinful. So if Affliction wants to do it, and they have expressed interest, they want to bring the best fighters and the best fights. If they think a fight is going to elevate the sport and elevate their event, it will be there. It’s my goal to bring the best to the ring, and that does include women like Megumi Fuji, Shayna Baszler, and Ginele Marquez — although Shayna has got a great thing going with EliteXC so that would take a partnership on their part but either way I think their ring is ready for it.
Sam Caplan: I had heard from a source that the last fight on Shayna’s EliteXC contract was her fight against Keiko Tamai. Is there any truth to that?
Josh Barnett: She’s still ready to go actually. I’m not going to discuss her contractual details in public, but she’s already set up to continue fighting and things are already in place. With EltieXC and her, it’s just a matter of time, opponents, and available. We’re working on some things right now and I really hope to get her in the ring sometime in July or early-July. And I think it’s time for EliteXC to see the other white meat (laughs), I guess, in terms of Shayna. But Gina is fricken awesome and she’s done such a great job. But not everybody likes chocolate ice cream, people like vanilla ice cream (or) lemon merengue. And now is the time to get blood and guts flavored ice cream in the ring with Shayna.