It's been more than 13 years since Josh Barnett won the UFC heavyweight title when he defeated Randy Couture in 2002, but while most of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside or aged into retirement, he's still tackling the top fighters in the world and he's nowhere close to being finished.
When Barnett started fighting professionally in 1997, mixed martial arts had barely been alive for more than a few years. So it says a lot about his dedication to the sport that he's still relevant almost two decades later.
Barnett has dropped out of the spotlight for the past year after his last fight against Travis Browne while he pursued interests outside of MMA such as several acting roles as well as commentating for pro wrestling in Japan alongside long-time broadcaster Mauro Ranallo.
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Barnett is finally set to return in just under two weeks when he faces Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night in Japan airing live on FS1, and he's ready to send a message to the rest of the heavyweight division that's he's still here, he's still deadly as ever and much to their chagrin, he's not going anywhere.
"The fact of the matter [is], I'm one of the best in the world, and I have been for well over a decade," Barnett told FOX Sports recently. "I've won titles in the UFC, Pancrase, Metamoris, I can go out there and compete with the best of them. I've been in title matches in Strikeforce and PRIDE. So, look, I'm fighting Roy this time but I could just as easily be fighting [Fabricio] Werdum."
Barnett is the first to admit that he was "a shell" of himself in his last fight when he suffered a knockout loss to Browne.
He took some much needed time off to reflect but never stopped training or coaching fighters who have come up under him. Once he stepped back on the mat with a fight on the calendar, Barnett immediately shifted back into high gear, and he's hitting all cylinders as he prepares for Nelson on Sept. 26.
"The first day of sparring, it wasn't so much that we were focused on what I was doing or how my body feels or keeping a checklist on where I'm at now, but just being in there, hitting and getting hit, seeing and reacting, I'm just getting more and more hyped about it," Barnett said. "With every round and every moment, it's weighing on my mind but it's not dragging me down. It's making me stronger."
A win against Nelson probably won't put Barnett into title-shot territory just yet, but he's not one to be deterred by a tough challenge.
He's also not going to talk about why he should be fighting for the heavyweight championship because his resume speaks for itself, but thrashing Nelson in two weeks will also be a great way remind the UFC that he's still just as good as he's ever been.
"I don't have to prove I belong to vie for a title shot," Barnett said. "It's just a matter of 'do you want me to go out there and take the belt off this guy?' or do you just want me to do other fights? That's what it comes down to. If you tell me what you're looking for, I'm good to go."
As a multiple-time grappling champion, Barnett loves the idea of facing current heavyweight king Fabricio Werdum and testing out his ground skills against one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners of the modern era.
If he has to go through Junior Dos Santos or Stipe Miocic to get to Werdum, so be it.
Barnett knows he's a marketable fighter with a flair for professional wrestling rants that mimic Dusty Rhodes and a brutal style inside the Octagon that usually ends with his opponents either knocked out unconscious or tapping out for mercy.
He's has the verbal chops to go line for line with Conor McGregor and the physical prowess to snatch the heavyweight title away from Werdum. Barnett is just waiting on the call so he can go do it.
"I've proven myself. I'm ready for a championship fight anytime, anywhere against anyone. There's no one with a belt in the world right now that I can't go out and take it from them," Barnett said. "I can go out there with anybody with any title around their waist and take it right from them. Leaving them lifeless on the floor. That's what I can do.
"If that's what comes after this then that's what it is. If they have other plans, that's on them, but I'm ready to fight a champion anywhere, any time."