UFC’s Josh Barnett: Today’s fighters aren’t ‘as tough as they used to be’

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Josh Barnett (right) says fighters aren’t as tough as they used to be. Photo by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.

UFC veteran Josh Barnett has seen it all in the mixed martial arts scene. Apart from changing his nickname from “Babyface Assassin” to “War Master,” the Southern California resident’s approach to the sport has remained mostly the same.

The difference, Barnett said Tuesday on a media conference call, has been in the fighters competing in today’s sport. Before, fighters fought honorably, he said, but nowadays a lot of guys are lacking something.

“There are still great, true fighters coming out of this, but these guys aren’t quite as tough as they used to be,” Barnett told reporters. “They’re way better athletes, they’re much better prepared, but some of these guys just don’t have that grip.”

Barnett explained that many fighters in modern-day MMA enter the sport with a desire to get famous and make money. This is a night-and-day difference to what it was like back when Barnett first started fighting, a time when MMA gear wasn’t readily available in local sports retailers, he said.

The drive to fight back in 1997, when Barnett had his first pro fight, came from different reasoning.

“I think that a lot of guys fight not for the reasons that we used to fight for, and there’s a lot of guys that get in here and they … think that they’re going to be famous,” Barnett said. “They fight for glory where we fought for blood and for honor.”

Audiences have drastically grown since Barnett first started fighting. The fighter has been in shows with just a few thousand spectators — sometimes even less — to tens of thousands of fans packing arenas.

The same can be said about the UFC’s 90s era compared to the current Zuffa-owned promotion. With Barnett signing a new contract with the organization, he’ll make his second run with the UFC, this time with  the company as the top MMA promotion.

The difference between early UFC and today’s version, Barnett said, is the opportunity it generates.

“There’s a lot more notoriety with this and a much bigger public spotlight that comes with it,” he said. “And as far as making a living, it’s a far better opportunity now than it was when I started.”

Barnett will likely get a hefty payday when he battles Frank Mir at UFC 164. He may have changed his nickname to “War Master” recently, but it’s a much better description for when he first started to compete.

“The only real reason to do it,” he said, “was because you just had a never-ending desire to get in there and bathe in blood.”

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