By Elias Cepeda
Current Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix participant and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett was issued a conditional license to fight in the state of California once again by the California State Athletic Commission Monday during a special meeting called to consider his case. Barnett failed a pre-fight drug test for steroids in 2009 as he readied to fight Fedor Emlianenko in the now defunct Affliction fight promotion. His license to fight in California was subsequently suspended and a later appeal for it to be lifted was denied.
Since that time, Barnett has been licensed and fought in both Ohio and Texas. However, Strikeforce has the next round of their heavyweight tournament scheduled to take place in California in mid-May, and Barnett is slated to face off against Dan Cormier. The commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for April but, as they explained today, that would not have been enough time to allow Strikeforce to effectively promote the card. So a special meeting was requested and approved for Barnett. Before today’s meeting, Barnett was subjected to, and passed, another drug test.
According to California statutes, the burden to show fitness for licensure fell on Barnett. He made his case by emphasizing time passed since his last positive test (he also tested positive for anabolic steroids in Nevada in 2002), the tests he has subsequently passed, and his charitable and coaching work. Barnett mentioned everything from his organizing with the Red Cross a benefit concert for victims of the recent Japanese tsunami, to his support of women’s MMA to his coaching of youth wrestling, but still denied ever having “intentionally or knowingly” taken steroids.
After opening remarks from California Deputy Attorney General Karen Chappelle and Barnett’s attorney, “The Baby-Faced Assassin” made his own. “This is truly an international sport. I can fight anywhere in the world but I want to fight in California…. Hopefully I can convince you to allow me back in this great state and do what I love,” Barnett told the commission.
However, other remarks in his statement, describing his “utter shock” at his positive test in 2009 appeared to confuse several members of the commission as well as draw the ire of Ms. Chappelle. When questioned by the commission why he would have been shocked by his 2009 positive test, Barnett said that he had never “intentionally or knowingly” taken steroids. A commissioner followed by asking if Barnett was contending that the 2009 test results were not accurate.
While Barnett said that he “could not speak to the test” he maintained that he had never knowingly taken steroids and that there was a whole host of possibilities that could explain the results, including tainted supplements.
Ms. Chappelle seemed to feel that Barnett’s answers were somehow attempting to call in to question the validity of the 2009 test. She pointed out that her office had subpoenaed drug experts from the testing laboratories to prepare for an appeal process in 2009 but that, when he had the chance, Barnett chose not to appeal the test results. She said it was her understanding that Barnett would simply apologize for the 2009 positive test in this meeting and ask to be licensed once more.
Barnett’s attorney attempted to clarify and save face, stating that Barnett simply wanted to appear to ask to be able to fight on the strength of the fact that he has passed several tests since 2009, and has done community work.
The commission had three main options with Barnett: They could once more deny his application to fight in California. They could grant him an unconditional license to fight, or they could grant him a conditional license to fight, whereupon they could attach particular mandates to his license.
Barnett was grilled for a bit longer on the details of his community work and how, exactly, he feels he is smarter and better prepared to avoid future positive drug test results, but ultimately, the commission decided to go with the third option.
Commission Chair John Frierson explained succinctly, “we need good fighters in the state of California…I speak with the Governor often and he always asks me, ‘why don’t we have more big fights?’,” before entering a motion to grant a conditional license to Barnett.
Eventually, the motion was seconded and voted in favor of and Barnett was granted a license to fight in California, on the condition that he be subjected to random biological fluid tests prior to any fights in the state, with the timing to be at the discretion of the state’s staff.
Strikeforce executive Scott Coker was in attendance at the commission hearing but did not speak.
After the decision was rendered, Barnett once more addressed the commission, saying, “I intend to make everyone on the commission…believers. I hope to see you at fight and I hope to change your opinions.”
Commission Chair Frierson replied, “Please don’t let us down. We need good fights and we need good people.”