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The Unsupportable Opinion: Thank You, Josh Barnett, for Saving Mixed Martial Arts


(The universal symbol for “I’m choking, and I’m a habitual steroid user.”)

On Friday’s edition of SIRIUS Fight Club, I referred to Josh Barnett as “the most notorious steroid-user in MMA history.” At this point, after two high-profile, career-fucking steroid busts, that statement is pretty much indisputable. But let’s not forget that Barnett’s latest positive test — which sent a stake through the heart of Affliction’s MMA promotion — only wound up hurting Barnett, Affliction, and the handful of fighters on Affliction’s roster who didn’t immediately find new homes. For literally everybody else in the world of mixed martial arts, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened. Seriously. Think about it…

1) Affliction’s collapse saved “Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg” from being one of the most cursed events of all time. On July 7th, we were OMG’ing over the fact that Strikeforce’s 8/15 fight card was going to feature four title fights. By last Thursday, it had lost three of those title fights. Alistair Overeem was out with a hand injury. Joe Riggs was out with a mysterious drug reaction. (In the absence of any other information, we’ll just assume it was a heroin overdose. Get well soon, Joe.) And Josh Thomson was out with a bum toe. It would be a nightmare scenario for any promoter. But instead of a buckshot, ragged-ass event patched in with replacements from their own roster, Strikeforce was able to improve their card using Affliction refugees.

 

Jay Hieron coming in for Joe Riggs actually made that title fight more legitimate, when you consider that Hieron floats around just outside the welterweight top ten, and Riggs is nowhere near it. Overeem vs. Werdum was another title fight that only made sense due to personal history. (Anybody want to explain how Fabricio Werdum, a guy who has never fought in Strikeforce and is currently riding a zero-fight win streak, became Strikeforce’s #1 heavyweight contender? Because Brett Rogers would really like to know.) At the very least, Renato Sobral vs. Gegard Mousasi is a fair trade — more so if you feel, as I do, that Mousasi is going to do very well for himself at 205 pounds. As for Mitsuhiro Isihida coming in for Josh Thomson, that had nothing to do with Affliction or Josh Barnett — but one relatively unnecessary rematch is just as good as another, so good job on that one, guys.

2) Affliction’s collapse flooded the UFC with talent that it wouldn’t have otherwise acquired. Good Lord, can you believe that we were about to sit through Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson again? Now we get to see Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort, while Henderson gets a pretty well-deserved rematch with Anderson Silva. Meanwhile, the UFC’s heavyweight division gets Ben Rothwell, the welterweight division has to deal with Paul Daley, and the WEC’s featherweight class secures its spot as possibly the most talent-rich division in MMA. And hey, Joe Lauzon’s little brother is back! None of this would be possible without Josh Barnett. And it’s no stretch to say that Tito Ortiz wouldn’t be returning to the UFC if Affliction didn’t fall apart. In January, he was part of Affliction’s broadcast team, and telling anybody who’d listen about the dream fight he was going to have against Fedor as soon as his back was healed up. Once Tito saw that the Affliction ship was sinking, he wisely began rebuilding relations with his old boss.

3) Barnett’s positive test for Drostanolone proved that random testing is for real. In terms of making a statement about performance-enhancing drugs, this couldn’t have worked out better. California’s first random drug test netted a whale, became major news for two weeks straight, and sent an important message to the MMA community: If you’re a fighter who competes in the state of California, and you use steroids, it might be time to stop rolling the dice unless you want your livelihood taken away from you for a year. “Cycling off” doesn’t cut it anymore when the tests can come at any time. Through his example as a cautionary tale, Josh Barnett may have struck a blow for healthier fighters and a more level playing field.

(Quick digression: As for those who don’t use steroids, please understand that “accidental ingestion” has never been a valid defense, and it’s nothing more than a punchline at this point. So it’s time to start being extra diligent about what you put in your body, because maybe the CSAC does make mistakes sometimes, and maybe guys like Sean Sherk and Vitor Belfort and Ruben Villareal have been wrongly accused. At any rate, you are not a chemist — neither is your trainer, or the teenage part-timer at the GNC — so if you don’t know exactly what goes into that “proprietary blend” or “thermogenic blaster,” then stay away from it.)

So what did we have to sacrifice to get all this good stuff? Well, we weren’t able to see Josh Barnett fight Fedor Emelianenko at “Trilogy.” (Spoiler alert: Fedor would have won.) And Affliction, which gave us two very entertaining fight cards, is no more. (Then again, their business model made their failure a “when, not if” kind of thing, and their existence diluted the talent pool.) And Tom Atencio has to go back to being just a well-paid t-shirt guy. All in all, a pretty small cost for the windfall that Barnett’s bust provided for MMA. So if you ever come across the Babyface Assassin — at an anime convention, perhaps — shake his hand and thank him. I won’t go as far as to say the man died for our sins; that would be Kimo, obviously. But Barnett was a fall guy at a moment when MMA needed one, and the sport will be stronger because of him.

(BG)

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WuTangClan- August 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm
This was writtin by a kike wasnt it?
crittino- August 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm
also looks like affliction can sponsor in the ufc again, good deal for fighters getting 5k a fight as opposed to 5mil
Joedirt- August 3, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Onan, that's a great post.
I think the problem is that the UFC isn't a "Professional sporting organization" as you've stated... its a business... a promotion business and there is a difference. The sporting organizations consist of MANY owners of teams. In the case of the UFC there is ONE owner (basically) and all rules are handed down from that person. By being a monopoly the UFC dictates what the fighters get paid, who they fight etc as opposed to who may deserve the fights or even negotiating their wage. The sporting organizations are run by panels to ensure fairness. The more competition the better for the fighters and sport in the long run... they are beating the boxing PPV income but are paying out maybe 10% of what boxers are being paid for high profile fights. I truly think the best solution (although I don't see it happening) would be a fighters association. Then have the promotional companies register. Then any of the companies that meet the criteria and are registered could promote an event.... each fight could be negotiated individually. The UFC could promote whatever fights they want... they could still have 3 fight contracts etc but it wouldn't handcuff the fighters as much as it does now.
knightrida- August 3, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Excellent use of parenthesis, BG. By the way, I am still waiting for the shirt you offered me.
Onan- August 3, 2009 at 10:48 am
In organized professional sports, competition is only good on the field of play. Look at other professional sports organizations. Are those athletes (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) hurt by having only 1 organization here in the US? No. Having a single national, professional sporting organization helps keep a vibrant talent pool, gives athletes greater access to media exposure and keeps fan interest focused.

The biggest difference between the UFC and those other orgs is that other orgs have separate representation of the athlete's interests. The UFC's interests and the fighter's interests are not always going to match up and someone needs to have the leverage necessary to go to bat for the fighters. Agents can't do it because no single fighter can bring any significant leverage against the UFC. We saw that with the Randy Couture fiasco.

The UFC will also never be as big as other sports as long as the main way to watch the sport is via PPV. If the NFL, NBA or MLB ever switched to a PPV model you would see their revenue plummet. The UFC has to turn to PPV because they are unable to get a TV deal at this point. A TV deal may never happen given the current ownership and public sentiment for the sport.

Until MMA has a television deal and some sort of labor representation they will continue to have the model they have today. MMA will continue to be stuck comparing it's success to boxing and touting PPV numbers as an indicator of growth and development. It won't ever really be able to compete with the big boys.
J-Dog- August 3, 2009 at 9:33 am
Now that Atencio's job will be a lot less time-consuming, maybe he should focus more time on his MMA in hopes he can one day fight for the UFC.
just some dong- August 3, 2009 at 9:28 am
Um, yeah... naturally, the loss of Affliction is good for its competitors. Is this seriously something you guys spent time writing about? In other news, water is wet, and space is, like, this really big vacuum.

Should have just edited this piece down and focused on the #3 point about the random drug testing - it was by far the most interesting point in the article. I say more random drug tests - hand 'em out to everyone, particularly fighters involved in high-profile matches and title bouts. And ALWAYS take "B" samples so there can be no refuting the results.

Joedirt- August 3, 2009 at 8:52 am
I think competition is good... give more places for these fighters to go. Not too mention it would force them to pay the fighters more money... which in turn could create an environment where 90% of the fighters don't have to hold full time jobs. Let them train 8 hours a day instead and see how much more talented some of these fighters become. If enough top promotion companies exist maybe they'll just earn their money through their promotion and not off of the fighters. Maybe have a fighters association.... and different promotion companies can promote events pulling fighters from that association.... therefore allowing the best to fight the best and still allow for other promotions to succeed.
Chin Up-Hands Down KO- August 3, 2009 at 8:23 am
I thought competition was good for the consumer. And there aren't nearly enough weightclasses to start confusing fighters with whose the best. It would end up like UFC did when they sent Chuck to Pride, at least that's what they would do if they knew what was good for them. *pops knuckles*
Bare Grappler- August 3, 2009 at 8:16 am
Good post. We really don't want a competitor for UFC. We want some minor leagues, but after we see somebody win a few fights, not in the UFC, by dramatic fashion (Rogers, Zaromskis) we immediately want to see them in the UFC.

Boxing's main problem is there is no identification of champions and who the best is. If Affliction and Strikeforce grew to the level of UFC, we could have Fedor type messes all the time. Instead we will likely get the gratification of sooner or later seeing Rogers, Zaromskis, Belfort, and others in the UFC. Then we actually know in MMA who the best in the world is.
BuckWild- August 3, 2009 at 8:07 am
Way to to look at the bright side of things! Good read!
Jay Smith- August 3, 2009 at 7:50 am
"Affliction refugees", best part of the whole article.
Kirky- August 3, 2009 at 7:45 am
Thanks Josh... I guess?
Kobajack- August 3, 2009 at 7:44 am
I used to go to MMA Mania but found out they edit people's posts. They edited my posts a few times as well as others. What the fuck?
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