Earlier today I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing MMA legend (currently at Bellator) and pro-wrestling star Josh Barnett, who kindly spoke with me about a variety of different topics, most notably how he’s preparing for his highly-anticipated showdown with former AEW champion Jon Moxley at the April 8th Bloodsport 6 special. Full highlights, as well as the entire video interview, can be found below.
I had previously read in an interview that Barnett was a big movie fan, naming Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as his all-time favorite film. I decided to ask what he thought about the Denis Villeneuve directed sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
I actually really liked 2049, I think that came out in 2019? It was probably my favorite movie of that year as far as those releases. While not perfect, it did not have the same noir elements of the original Blade Runner, still I felt like it stayed on path with how you might see that world unfold with continuing advancement how the world might look outside of Los Angeles, and I really liked using the character of K to delve into more of the question of, “what does it mean to be alive and human?” The fact that he gets used as a pawn throughout the whole thing yet, when it all comes down to it, even the replicant revolution that’s just as much as manipulative, self-absorbed as anybody else they’re against, he (K) decides to not help them either because it wasn’t really about their side or anybody else’s side. It was what he felt like was doing the best thing he could do for the daughter of Deckard, which is such a monumental advancement in the idea of this whole process. Then again…also that whole concept brings up more questions of, “Okay…where does life start and begin? How does that include tech, and A.I. and non-biologically derived life?” I really loved 2049 and I do like it as a companion piece.
Barnett would add on that he thought Jared Leto’s performance in the film was marvelous.
I also enjoyed the performance by Jared Leto, even though a lot of folks aren’t very hot on this film love to just rail against Jared Leto but I like the fact that he played it as this guy who seemed incredibly stricken, unemotional, an extreme version of that. He could be a stand-in for the idea of materialist, in terms of philosophy, the materialist worldview taken to the extreme and I just thought it was really well-done and it fit in with what that environment was.
I went on to compare Leto’s performance with that of Rutger Hauer from the original Blade Runner, one that is widely considered to be one of the best of all-time. Barnett went deeper, calling Hauer’s portrayal a deep exploration of humanity.
I would actually argue Rutger Hauer’s character even being a replicant, showed far more humanity than Leto’s character did. Leto’s character is the most devoid of humanity of the Blade Runner series. He has almost no consideration of what life, and death, and love, these kinds of things are not in his wheelhouse. The thing about the Nexus 6’s and the original Blade Runner is as they continue to be in the world they couldn’t help but be apart of it, and have it affect them to bring out these human characteristics. Even in Rutger Hauer, part of the reason he wants to live longer is because he feels like he’s being cheated of a life that he’s finally capable of understanding and experiencing.
Eventually we would move on to the topic of pro-wrestling, where I asked Barnett about his first NJPW matchup against Yuji Nagata, and whether he had any fond memories of working with the former two-time IWGP Heavyweight champion.
Nothing but. So much so that I long to try and get him in the ring before we are both too old to do this anymore. It was a great introduction into professional wrestling, and a rough one too, by getting exploder suplexed and pinned. He is as much as a professional as I would have expected. As somebody that saw him in New Japan and watched him in WCW and to say that, “Okay this is the guy that you’re going to be across the ring from in your first ever professional wrestling match,” it’s a pretty amazing experience.
I would follow up by asking Barnett about his prep and training methods, and whether he finds a different ideology between training MMA and training pro-wrestling.
I’ll put it this way. So that match with Nagata I didn’t have any training. I just did it. The quote unquote training was I already new how to fall from Judo and from wrestling a good portion of my life and fighting. I already knew how to suplex, and throw, and do all these kinds of things. I didn’t need to be taught to do any moves. There was no need for any of that. I hadn’t worked out a whole bunch of stuff with Nagata…we just did it. There was a little bit of time spent in training…it was two days before the match. That’s it. Everything else just came naturally and when I would go on tours I would learn on tour as much as I could from all the amazing wrestlers there, but I would show up to tour and train MMA and be in shape and be ready to go, and with the people that I trained as wrestlers I would spend 90% of the time doing the same catch-wrestling and MMA training as I do always. Then there may be 10% that could be called distinct to what people would think of as professional wrestling, and that’s about it.
From there we would move to Bloodsport. Barnett would mention how every talent that’s returned to compete at Bloodsport has come back a stronger wrestler than before.
I know one thing I’ve noticed…as these Bloodsports continue and as we have some repeated participation by athletes everybody who continues to be in Bloodsport only gets better. Every single time. I have not seen anybody come back to my ring worse. It’s never the case. Some of these guys like Chris Dickinson are starting to become a very unique thing in the world of wrestling where they are becoming experts at being in something like Bloodsport. Of course you want to have some sort of discernment anyways because there is something that you are trying to create for your show that you want it to be unique to what you do and not the same as everybody else’s.
He would then continue his praise of Chris Dickinson, as well as guys like Jeff Cobb, JR Kratos, and Simon Grimm, who Barnett calls “key” to what Bloodsport is doing.
People like Dickinson have shown, seeing him in the first Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport and all the way on up…I would say if you’re an indie wrestling fan and you think you know who Chris Dickinson is completely and what he does…I can tell you the guy just continues to evolve. It’s things like that make me very proud of the arena that we have created for these athletes. Jeff Cobb was an absolute natural for Bloodsport. Kratos, Grimm, Simon Grimm is someone that is more key to what we’re doing than people might even be aware of.
Barnett also speaks on how he doesn’t want Bloodsport to be viewed as just an alternative product, but a way for wrestlers to improve their skills and utilize what they learn wherever they go.
Honestly even if somebody goes into Bloodsport for the first time and they maybe feel like they didn’t hit the mark as tightly as they could of…if they’ve got the right mentality, if they’re really serious about it, I know that if I keep bringing them along they will only continue to improve. I’ve just seen such steady improvement from everybody, which is great to me because I don’t want anyone to leave my ring worse than when they showed up. I mean they’re going to be worse for wear but I don’t want them to be a worse wrestler, and I want this to be the kind of thing that if you trust us, if you trust me and you step up for this event and you listen and you be apart of it…you’ll go to the next thing a better wrestler. And as you continue to go through all your other bookings if you can take some of what we’re doing here you will get better from everyplace you go. It’s about building not just an alternative product to what you normally see, or even not being any kind of rival to these things, but just being something on its own. I want to just be us to our best ability.
Finally…Barnett and I discussed his highly-anticipated bout against AEW superstar Jon Moxley at Bloodsport VI. I first asked how does one prepare for an opponent like Moxley.
It’s kind of similar to the way things were in the early EARLY days of MMA where you didn’t even know who you would be fighting half the time, and if they had a name you wouldn’t know much about where they came from, what their experience was. There were so many unknowns and quite often you would meet a guy in the ring that would just…whatever you think…if you think they will Zig they’ll Zag. They’re always sure to surprise you in some way, and for me that excitement of the unknown is what I see with Moxley. You’re right…he is only getting stronger. Watching him and Davey Boy Smith Jr. clash in the one of the best matches we’ve had in these events so far, one that has even been called match of the year by a lot of people early on, I know that I’m not gonna get a guy who is going to be lacking in anyway from his best ability. As far as Moxley is concerned and how he fights and what he does he’s only thriving in that bit that is Jon Moxley. Doing deathmatches, fighting guys in AEW and all over and coming to Bloodsport…he’s just getting tougher. To be honest that’s exactly the way I want it. I don’t want to be in the ring with any reduced version of him. I don’t want to see a version that’s even been perhaps tamed in a way, streamlined into a more typically trained and structured fighter. I want the guy that will absolutely go left when you normally would go right. That would duck instead of dodge. I want that dude.
I also wondered if Barnett’s first Bloodsport bout against NJPW legend Minor Suzuki would sort of prepare him for his showdown with the Purveyor of Violence.
Not a lot, but part of that is because of my own personal experience with Suzuki where I’ve trained…we used to train together on tours. Him and I would spend time in the ring just working over stuff and exchanging techniques, rolling live. We had an understanding of who each other were. Plus all the years of seeing Suzuki as a competitor from the outside as well gave me a lot of tape in a lot of ways to know what to expect, which was all-out fury and destruction. One of the best professional wrestlers in the world. I know that Moxley is going to be harder for me to approach in a very systematic way because he’s bound to break out of whatever pattern I would expect, and that unknown is interesting to me. That and the fact that the guy has no quit in him, so I have to wonder what it’s going to take to finally keep him down.