Josh Barnett is probably best known to English-speaking fight fans as a mixed martial artist, having held the UFC Heavyweight Championship briefly before being stripped due to a failed drug test and taking part in a number of high profile matches in Pride FC against names like Mirko Cro Cop, Minotauro Nogueira and Mark Hunt.
The Warmaster also has quite a history with Japanese pro wrestling too, however. And he'll be utilizing the knowledge he amassed in MMA and working for New Japan Pro Wrestling and NJPW founder and WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki's latest promotion, the Inoki Genome Foundation (IGF), in his role alongside Mauro Ranallo calling New Japan matches for AXS TV.
Ahead of the premiere of that show, which will present classic NJPW matches with English-language commentary for the first time on North American television, Barnett spoke with our friends at The Fight Nerd about the gig, his history and lifelong love of pro wrestling.
You only have to listen to him breakdown the company's recent pay-per-view (PPV) Wrestle Kingdom 9 or work through fantasy bookings like The Dudley Boys vs. The Road Warriors, Dynamite Kid vs. Finn Bálor, Triple H vs. Harley Race and Ric Flair vs. Mitsuharu Misawa to get a sense of the depth of Barnett's knowledge and the shoot fight analysis he'll bring to the color commentary chair on the new show.
Barnett also discussed the Japanese market, where pro wrestling is booming even as the MMA business has consolidated under the UFC in a way that pro wrestling did under WWE at the turn of the century. He sees a lot of opportunities for both combat sports/entertainment genres to grow simulataneously, in Japan and globally.
It's tough, every country that you go to, culturally, is not going to respond to everything in the same way. What may barely register in one culture will completely set an industry back in another, and that's just really the way of the world.
But I think that Japanese MMA is making somewhat of a resurgence and I think that pro wrestling can be a big help to that, especially if some of those wrestlers are potential fighters as well, and that is actually very tough to come by. But it can be great for cross-over work. Also, the fight industry is always, whether they want to admit it or not, has always had some reliance on the professional wrestling industry, and the pro wrestling industry has been hurting and the fight industry has been hurting even more so.
And check out The New Japan Pro Wrestling Show, starting this Friday, January 16th at 9PM on AXS TV.