Tomorrow night in San Jose, Josh Barnett will face the greatest challenge of his post-PRIDE career when he meets Daniel Cormier in the finals of Strikeforce’s World Heavyweight Grand Prix. (FYI, we’ll be liveblogging the Showtime main card starting at 10 p.m. ET, so don’t make any big plans.) Barnett’s comfort-level in the cage and catch-wrestling expertise have led him on a four-year winning streak, and one more victory could earn him an improbable return to the UFC. In honor of this pivotal moment for the Warmaster, we decided to round up his five greatest submissions. Enjoy, and shoot us your predictions for Barnett vs. Cormier in the comments section…
(Josh Barnett vs. Semmy Schilt; UFC 32, 6/29/01. Fight starts at the 1:45 mark.)
Barnett’s first submission in the Octagon came against gigantic kickboxer Semmy Schilt, who had made his UFC debut the previous month by smashing Pete Williams. Wisely, Barnett avoids the standup game entirely, immediately taking the Dutchman to the mat. Schilt is absolutely helpless underneath the Babyface Assassin, and eventually gives up mount. Barnett waits for the right moment then attacks Schilt’s arm, giving up position in the process. It doesn’t matter — Barnett sinks the armbar at the 4:21 mark of the first round and establishes himself as a fearsome heavyweight grappler.
(Josh Barnett vs. Yuki Kondo; Pancrase: 10th Anniversary Show, 8/31/03)
Following his steroid-related exile from the UFC, Barnett headed to Japan where he’d spend the next five years of his career. His first big fight was this Pancrase openweight title match against Kempo black belt Yuki Kondo. Once again, Barnett exploited his opponent’s lack of grappling ability, at one point pulling off a double-suplex on the outmatched Japanese fighter. Kondo was a game opponent, but eventually succumbed to a rear-naked choke in the third round; skip to the video’s 14:30 mark for the finish.
(Josh Barnett vs. Aleksander Emelianenko; Pride Total Elimination Absolute, 5/5/06)
Barnett’s PRIDE career began disappointingly with a pair of losses to Mirko Cro Cop — one by injury, one by decision — but he hit his stride in 2006 with three consecutive submission wins. Here’s the second of that streak, against Aleksander Emelianenko in the opening round of PRIDE’s 2006 Openweight Grand Prix. Departing from his usual game-plan, Barnett spent the majority of the match standing and slugging with the Russian knockout artist, producing one of PRIDE’s most underrated classics. Eventually, Barnett goes back to his bread and butter, taking Aleks down, softening him up with knees to the dome, then finishing him with a keylock about two minutes into the second round.
(Josh Barnett vs. Mark Hunt; Pride Critical Countdown Absolute, 7/1/06)
You can thank Barnett for exposing the Super Samoan’s achilles heel; this was the beginning of depressing four-year stretch that saw Mark Hunt lose five out of six fights by some kind of armlock. At the time, Hunt had won five straight fights under the PRIDE banner, and went into the OWGP’s quarterfinal round with a reputation as an indestructible tank with a titanium-reinforced chin. But once Barnett scored the takedown, Hunt was operating on borrowed time. Babyface nailed the kimura, and made it look easy.
In fact, all of Barnett’s fights have looked easy lately. His Strikeforce debut against Brett Rogers looked more like a light training session against an XXL Bubba grappling dummy, and during his most recent performance in the Strikeforce heavyweight GP semifinals, he put an end to Sergei Kharitonov’s brief resurgence in trademark fashion. After giving Kharitonov about 45 seconds to try to knock him out, Barnett clinches up, scores the trip takedown, and goes into boa-contrictor-playing-with-terrified-mouse mode. Kharitonov rolls to get out of mount — giving up his back — then rolls again, giving up his neck to an arm-triangle. At the video’s 17:02 mark, the camera cuts to Daniel Cormier who doesn’t look too confident about what he’s just witnessed. Now, Cormier is saying that Barnett’s mileage is starting to catch up with him. We’ll see about that, won’t we?