Josh Barnett’s positive test for what will likely turn out to be an anabolic steroid on the eve of the biggest fight of his career illustrates a few important points.
On the surface, we see a former professional wrestler who is beloved by hardcore fight fans around the world. He’s the polar opposite of the much-maligned Brock Lesnar despite coming from the exact same world as the current UFC heavyweight champion.
Fool me once, shame on you.
He’s failed for steroids before, obviously. He beat Randy Couture in 2002 to capture the UFC heavyweight championship, but quickly lost it after testing positive for anabolic steroids. His license was suspended and he was canned from the UFC, likely never to return.
Barnett has proclaimed his innocence to the high heavens, but we aren’t listening. Not really. Anyone who fails a steroid test says they’re innocent, but very few are ever able to prove it.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Barnett’s second career failure may also end up causing the downfall of an entire fight promotion. Affliction wasn’t exactly a profitable operation and many journalists, myself included, didn’t expect them to last past the August show.
But they had a real chance to draw buys from hardcore fans who have salivated over the chance to see Emelianenko vs. Barnett for years. It wouldn’t have approached even the lowest of UFC buyrates, but it may have been enough to float them until they could figure out a way to move forward without the bloated payrolls they currently have.
Without Barnett challenging Fedor, the show will have little interest for hardcore fans. Vitor Belfort is an interesting opponent, but not interesting enough to capture the imagination of pay per view buyers.
From a monetary standpoint, Bobby Lashley is easily the best choice, but he’s already stated that it’s not a fight he would be interested in taking at this point in his career. That’s a wise decision.
The secondary point to come out of this story, and probably the most important, is that Barnett has likely been juiced for the majority of his career. His failed drug test in 2002 essentially banished him to Japan, where he took up a secondary career as a pro wrestler and likely took advantage of Japan’s non-existent drug testing program.
Yes, he’s fought twice for Affliction in the United States, but on those cards he knew exactly when he would be tested and had ample time to prepare. The out of competition testing now taking place in California and Nevada (with more states soon to follow) ensures that fighters are constantly on their toes, because they have zero idea when the next test is coming. You can’t cycle in preparation for your next fight, because they could test you in the middle of your cycle.
My belief is that Josh Barnett will never participate in a regulated fight in the United States again.
He’ll no doubt be suspended for a year, but I don’t think you’ll see him attempting to make a return to a major American promotion once his suspension is up. It’s unfortunate, too, because he is a singular talent that would be a major addition for any promotion looking to bolster their heavyweight division.
Instead, it looks like the legacy of his career will be his use of steroids. Like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and so many other national heroes who fell from grace because of a desire to gain a competitive edge, Barnett will likely never be seen as a true sportsman.
Fair or not, Barnett will be labeled as a cheat.
Fool me three times? It won’t happen.