Josh Barnett has always maintained the “old school” attitude that carried him into mixed martial arts many years ago. As a former UFC heavyweight champion, and with experience in every single one of the biggest promotions of all time, the 35-year-old has done and seen it all. It’s with this experience that he’s able to analyze the current state of mixed martial arts as it relates to the early days of the sport.
This afternoon the UFC held a media conference call to promote the upcoming UFC 164, and Barnett was given the opportunity compare the current environment within MMA to that of the sport’s beginnings:
“I fought when there was no money from fighting really. I fought when you couldn’t even buy MMA gear at your local sports store or whatever. We had to make it ourselves. I fought when most of the time we didn’t even wear gloves. We were under attack from all angles. There wasn’t really an audience hardly. There wasn’t much fame. The only real reason to do it was because you just had a never-ending desire to get in there and bathe in blood.”
Spoken like a true veteran of the sport. As he sees it, fighters from his time period didn’t get to enjoy the fame that came along with success in the octagon. Those that did chose this path in life did so only to test their own mettle, and because they truly loved to compete. He went on to explain how the increase in the sport’s popularity has changed the makeup of the organization and it’s fighters:
“I think that a lot of guys fight not for the reasons that we used to fight for.There’s a lot of guys that get in here and they just want to get in, make a run, think that they’re going to be famous, make a lot of money, what have you. They fight for glory, where we fought for blood and for honor. There’s still great, true fighters coming out of this, but these guys aren’t quite as tough as they used to be. There’s way better athletes, they’re much better prepared, but some of these guys, they don’t have that grit.”
It’s an interesting point that he makes. Could it be that we are in the “age of the athlete” rather than the “age of the fighter?” Science allows us to perfect the art of strength and conditioning to reach optimum levels of performance, but it can’t hope to instill the mental attributes necessary to make someone a “fighter.” Nor can it relieve the sting of defeat or recreate the pride that comes from a hard earned victory. On August 31, 2013, at UFC 164, we as fans will finally see two legends of the heavyweight division square off with blood and honor on the line.