Joe Babinsack looks at Josh Barnett

A few weeks ago, the idea of a Spike TV crossover came up for discussion, using a fighter for both professional wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts, but so many factors precluded a serious discussion. Probably the most obvious reason not to do it was that TNA and Bellator already had their crossover star in King Mo Lawal.
Today, that discussion may seem deader in the water, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.
The big news before Rousey-Mania was King Mo’s spectacular knockout, where he was on the wrong end of a spinning back fist.

In modern professional wrestling, this likely means that Mo is slated for the lower cards, especially considering the nature of the creative management figures. Dixie Carter may be pressured by Spike, but then again, well, it’s not even worth saying.
In modern professional wrestling, the notion that a promotion would do the same thing multiple times and simultaneously is always in the cards, but always less likely when it becomes obvious that it should be done. Ok, I’ll avoid presenting twisted logic, but then again, we’re talking TNA, so I want to be as true to the promotion as possible.
Because it would be foolish to compare TNA to the WWE, let’s move in another direction.
While talking about the inability of pro wrestling to make use of shorter durations is always fun to talk about, it’s about as fun as critiquing modern professional wrestling booking in general . In other words, it isn’t. But the fun part about speculating and putting forth a big money idea to TNA is the reality that it will never happen.
So here goes….
Josh Barnett remains the most intriguing MMA fighter around. He’s apparently not going to be signed by the UFC; he’s undoubtedly a top ten fighter by anyone who knows the sport; and he has a set of skills that King Mo didn’t, which is experience in professional wrestling.
Barnett can deliver on promos – we all know he has talked the talk, and his experience in Japan and his studies of professional wrestling built a foundation of knowing how to play his role.
Barnett can wrestle. He has 50 pro wrestling matches – but has battled against big names (Yuji Nagata for the IWGP Championsip, Naoya Ogawa, Bob Sapp) in notable promotions (New Japan, the Inoki Genome Federation) and has worked a style that blends in his MMA ability.
Barnett can fight. He’s noted as a top ten Heavyweight, and he’s one Daniel Cormier decision from being a definite top five. But his history – UFC Heavyweight Champion, Pancrase Openweight Championship and runnerup in two significant Tournaments (Strikeforce in 2011 and Pride in 2006) give him more credibility than anyone not signed by UFC and otherwise currently active.
What should make him more attractive to Bellator is that 1) There is no other place for a top name to go in the industry, so his bargaining strength is limited; 2) despite the financial disasters that followed in the wake of Fedor Emelianenko, there is a general outline of a way to make a top name fighter a legend outside of the UFC; and 3) if Spike got TNA on board, and they could split some costs.
One of the main reasons I think another experiment can work is because the last one may have failed.
Crossing over is no easy task. Even Kurt Angle all but predicted that it cannot be done. And King Mo as a failure in his attempts to be both a professional wrestler and MMA competitor is a great example of how difficult it can be.
With the bar set so high, any accomplishment by Barnett would be that much more impressive.
Of course, the logic and details of any grand scheme are probably more impossible than the athletic ability of Josh Barnett to pull it off, but the one thing that should be used as an template is not King Mo, is not professional wrestling as usual, and is not really all that hard to mimic.
Anything involving pro wrestling as usual cannot happen, and to me, the best example is Ronda Rousey.
And no, let’s not bring back Vince Russo and put a top name MMA fighter in a dress.
There’s something about the monster athlete that appeals to sports fans. We all saw that in Ryback, but then again the WWE has decided that long term plans are more important than getting a monster over, and, well, once that chance is missed, it usually doesn’t come around very well again.
Which is another point in any situation with using Josh Barnett…
Rousey is over, and while the word is not back on her being a draw, her popularity is huge. Sure, there’s a lot of dynamics involved, and Barnett isn’t going to get an ESPN Magazine cover, but the underlying fight appeal of Ronda Rousey is her ability to finish and her winning streak and her quick wins.
Bellator is going to find it difficult to guarantee quick finishes, but we all saw what Barnett did last month, with the flu, against a fighter arguably overclassed enough that he shouldn’t have been there. Barnett is likely someone who knows that entertaining the masses means winning matches, and he won that fight quickly to avoid any surprises.
So what Spike should do is make sure that Barnett is cast as an unbeatable monster, tearing through a few notable challengers in TNA, with proper buildup over a few months between those matches, and eventually lead Bellator to either a special, or give a PPV a shot.
TNA will be hard-pressed to change up its ability to book, and the worst thing for Barnett would be a match with Jeff Hardy (where someone would insist on a long match) and even worse would be any matchup where he doesn’t destroy his opponent in a few minutes.
The other thing TNA will find impossible is to keep Barnett off of TV.
Yeah, I said it. Because one thing that would make a Josh Barnett a better draw would be to make him a Champion like the Old School guys, and not fight for free, and not fight all the time to the point where no one cares, and most importantly to use free Cable TV to establish guys as meaningful challengers.
Maybe, just maybe, you have Barnett do a demonstration or an exhibition, but even if heeling Barnett is necessary, make it contractually impossible for him to fight on TV.
Josh Barnett fighting four times on TNA PPVs a year, and possibly on Bellator (yeah, that’s a story in and of itself), would establish him like no other Champion today, and it would be different, and if you go with the Mike Tyson, Junkyard Dog or Ronda Rousey approach of fighters not getting paid by the hour (or even minute), then that aura of being dangerous and being impossible to beat and being a true Champion might pay off dividends.
Bellator could then play up a big special on Spike TV (a MMA event only, properly built up, against a name of consequence or a guy who looks like a world-beater) and use the crossover to market Barnett even further. Perhaps Bellator could parlay the situation into its own PPV, which would be best for all involved.
The details are left for playing out. Sure, there’s danger that the biggest and/or best names (Bob Sapp, Bobby Lashley, Kimbo Slice) are already too closes connected to pro wrestling or other issues, but in the grand scheme of things, put those big matches in with TNA, and save the real stuff for Bellator.
The course of this playing out is no easy task, and with the current business sense of TNA, is likely next to impossible. But if TNA wants to be viable, the most important thing for TNA to do is break out of the modern pro wrestling mold, and right now, there’s nobody around better qualified to make that difference.
Let’s not even joke about creating a new phenom.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I’ll be looking at Absolute Intense Wrestling from the pile of stuff, Kayfabe Commentaries when I get the chance and more indie-riffic stuff to boot.

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