With a huge MMA event coming up this Saturday on FOX, I thought it would be apropo to bring you a little article from my old stomping grounds (thekocorner.com) that covers some mixed martial artists who made the leap into the world of professional wrestling. This was written before Josh Barnett's battle with Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce. Enjoy!
Fans of both MMA and professional wrestling often see an athlete that transcend their own and symbolize the qualities they’d like to see in their other love. You can see wrestlers working a really stiff, technical style that makes you wonder how they’d fare against a guy on your local amateur MMA show. You also see MMA fighters with colorful, unabashed personalities that make you wonder if they’d cut it over in Kayfabe Land.
Some of the most notable examples are guys like Chael Sonnen in MMA. Sonnen’s use of professional wrestling-like (and some directly ripped from, like one inspired by Superstar Billy Graham) promos in interviews to hype his upcoming fights make folks who accept the dual fandom mark out from the brilliantly crafted promos. Sonnen’s ability to market himself and his bouts brought him up from being a somewhat bland challenger in the WEC to putting up better-than-average pay-per-view buys with Anderson Silva, all the while not necessarily having an appealing style with his grinding wrestling and top control.
Then you have your guys like Daniel Bryan. Bryan is famously a student at Randy Couture’s MMA gym, Xtreme Couture. His love is the grappling system founded by Neil Melanson, the head grappling coach at the gym. In addition to this, you can see his use of muay Thai every time he steps into the ring as he unloads kicks to his opponent’s chest. Even his patented chant of "YES!" is inspired by Diego Sanchez’s use of the Tony Robbins inspirational technique. Bryan’s ability to work a good technical mat style makes you see that a solid base in old-fashioned mat wrestling coupled with that MMA style makes for an exciting wrestler.
Josh Barnett is one of the men who has bridged the gap between real combat and its scripted counterpart. After the jump, let's take a look at Josh's work in both.
Mixed Martial Arts
To kick us off, let’s start with Barnett’s "day job," if you will. Barnett is primarily known as a mixed martial arts fighter and has the credentials to show that he is a pretty solid one at that. Barnett began his career in 1997 and has compiled an impressive 31-5 record with wins over names like Mark Hunt, Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dan Severn, and Sergei Kharitonov in promotions such as UFC, PRIDE FC, Pancrase, Sengoku, Afflicition, and Strikeforce. He also holds numerous titles, such as UFC heavyweight champion after beating Couture (despite popping for steroids postfight, a theme that is common in his career), Openweight King of Pancrase, Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Finalist (his fight to become the potential champion of that goes down Saturday), and PRIDE 2006 Openweight Grand Prix Runner-Up.
Barnett’s style of choice is his catch wrestling, although he does possess a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under his trainer Erik Paulson as well. In addition to having a solid résumé in grappling tournaments, 17 of his 31 victories in mixed martial arts have come by way of submission. He also has some crisp boxing and standup technique to compliment this, as his nine KO victories suggest.
Let’s have a look at a few of Barnett’s fights to get a feel for what you can expect Saturday night:
In this bout versus early MMA legend Pedro Rizzo in 2008 at Affliction: Banned, Barnett demonstrates his solid boxing ability. Barnett controls the first round and early second round with his ability to slip punches and make Rizzo miss, all the while getting in a few of his own. After an exchange, Barnett leaps in on Rizzo with a right hand. Rizzo, slightly dropping his right hand, goes to sleep after a lead left hook from Barnett.
This Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinal bout against Brett Rogers in the summer of last year demonstrated Barnett’s ability to grapple. Barnett wore Rogers down with top control and working various things from the mount until he was able to tap the fatigued Rogers in the second round with an arm-triangle choke. Look for Barnett to try to work some of this solid boxing and submission grappling technique against his opponent Daniel Cormier, who is a former Olympian in freestyle wrestling with powerful punches. In addition to this, watch Barnett’s student Megumi Fujii fight on Friday night at Bellator 69 against Jessica Aguilar.
Barnett’s professional wrestling career began after his suspension from the aforementioned positive performance enhancing drug test after the Randy Couture fight at UFC 36 for the heavyweight title. Barnett has worked exclusively in Japanese pro wrestling, known as "puroresu." Barnett worked for New Japan Pro Wrestling, wrestling in over 50 bouts and going undefeated in his tour with the company, including tagging up with WCW and WWE veteran Perry Saturn. As of late, Barnett is exclusively working under puro legend Antonio Inoki in his Inoki Genome Federation. The IGF promotes a "shoot style," trying to simulate a real fight with some of the techniques of pro wrestling mixed in. Here is some of Barnett’s work in the squared circle:
Here is Barnett’s match against IGF product Hideki Suzuki. As you can see, the suplexes you can find in any garden variety American promotion are mixed in with some MMA-inspired grappling in one of the most exciting moments from this DREAM New Year’s Eve event. Also note the amusing kayfabe commentary from Michael Schiavello.
Another strong-style match here from Barnett as we see him take on a fellow UFC veteran in Ken Shamrock during a tour of New Japan in 2004. Definitely deviating a bit from Shamrock’s WWE work, you see a lot of elements of MMA here in addition to Shamrock’s famous ankle lock submission and a sports-entertainment style ending.
And to close out on a more humorous note, here is one of Barnett’s prefight workouts before his bout with Brett Rogers. Barnett clearly has a lot of talent in both circles, along with having an obvious flair for entertainment. Be sure to catch all the action surrounding Josh Barnett’s bout with Daniel Cormier this Saturday on Showtime.
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