It's been more than a decade since Josh Barnett last set foot in the UFC Octagon, but his return has been talked about almost since the day he left the promotion.
Now with an excess of 10 years between appearances, Barnett seems poised to make his UFC resurrection a reality.
Barnett was most recently a mainstay in Strikeforce where he competed in the heavyweight division until the promotion folded earlier this year and the majority of the fighters under contract shifted to the UFC. It was different for Barnett, however, who finished out the last fight on his contract with Strikeforce in January, and immediately after the promotion folded, his representatives began negotiating a new deal for him to land in the UFC.
Unfortunately, at the time a deal could not be worked out, so Barnett and the UFC went their separate ways with neither saying anything bad about the dealings with the other.
Now just a couple of months later, it appears Barnett and his team are ready to head back to the negotiating table with the UFC because the former heavyweight champion hopes to finish out his career with the promotion where he first came to prominence so many years ago.
"It's a myriad of things," Barnett told MMA's Great Debate Radio about why he wants to return to the UFC. "It's the fans and how desperately they seem to want to see it has weighed on my mind in terms of making a decision towards going to the UFC. I can go to places in public and people come up and go are you going to fight in the UFC? Make up with Dana (White) or screw that Dana! I go I don't believe it's anything personal. I don't believe Dana sits at home and plans and screw Josh, nothing like that.
"It's the place to be. If I really want to round out my career I should go back there and finish what I started and go directly after that belt."
The relationship Barnett has shared with UFC President Dana White over the years could be described as strained at times, but over the last few years the two have seemingly settled whatever grudge once existed. Now whenever Barnett's name is brought up, White reacts with a slew of compliments and generally has nothing but good things to say about the former UFC heavyweight.
The same can be said for Barnett, who points out that his relationship with White is no different than any fighter with a promoter and the problems they had in the past are long buried and dead.
"As much as everyone wants to put it on Dana, I don't think there's any one person that has anything against me as a fighter or an entity. If anything, I'd love to just sit down with Dana and say I know what you need and I can fill that," Barnett stated. "Tell me that you've got somebody that can fill in where I can fit with the skills that I have. Nobody is as good a fighter as me that can promote as good as me, talk as good as me, and potentially go out there and grab the gold and be your champ at the same. That guy doesn't exist."
Barnett isn't sure when or if a UFC deal will actually come to fruition this time around where the last deal just couldn't be completed. He's hopeful, however, that he can return to the organization and kick off a new relationship with a big fight in the heavyweight division.
The fight that most intrigues Barnett is a showdown against fellow former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. The two fighters have been intertwined with each other for several years because Barnett and Mir are two of the best grapplers in the division, and a ground fight between them seems like a recipe for a very exciting matchup.
"In terms of guys like Frank Mir it's a name that gets put on my plate constantly," Barnett commented. "It's surprising to me, and I have some understanding why people are interested in that—we're both exciting fighters—but people are just frothing at the mouth to see me and Frank go at it in the ring. They have for years and years and years. It's only continued to increase even over the last six months."
While a fight with Mir is at the top of a potential wish list for Barnett, he's not necessarily calling him out or anybody in the UFC's heavyweight division for that matter. His business is to sign a contract, train in the gym and then show up on fight night to put on the best performance possible no matter who is standing across from him in the cage.
Barnett's greatest desire is to face the best fighters the UFC has to offer, so whether it's Mir or another top name in the division, he'd gladly face any one of them for his return fight to the promotion.
"I'm not here to call people out," Barnett said. "I don't really have any intent in trying to make fights happen because for the most part there's so many factors at work that really take it out of one's hands, I don't really see the point, but if I'm honest this thing does have star power but it's something that people continually ask me.
"(The fights) would be barnburners, they would be the stuff people would talk about for years and years to come."
Contract negotiations are never easy so there's no time table for Barnett to actually return to the promotion, but he's got a good feeling that if the fans continue to ask for him to get back in the Octagon, White, matchmaker Joe Silva and the rest of the UFC can make it happen.
"I think it is realistic," Barnett said about the prospect of returning to the UFC this time. "I think if you want it to be more realistic? Go out and write them, call them, tweet them if you guys want to make that happen. I think to step back in the ring and myself and Mir are matched up right off the bat, I think that's one right out of the gate that would get people really excited. If it’s not Mir, then whoever, just me being back in the UFC is going to get people jazzed up."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted
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