Josh Barnett confirmed on Sunday that he is leaving the UFC behind, but a large part of the reason lays at the feet of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
“A career as long as mine can take many paths or even change direction altogether at times. This is one of those times. No one thought I would ever be back in the UFC given the tumultuous relationship that we had had in the past, but for 5 fights and 5 years, that’s precisely where I have been. I have very much enjoyed my time there. The UFC has been a wonderful experience the second time around and together we have done great things,” Barnett wrote in a Facebook post. “Although I am sure we could continue to do so, I feel that it’s time for me to take another path.”
Josh Barnett Wants to be the Master of his Own Destiny
A portion of why Barnett asked for his UFC release was because, while there is no acrimony between him and the UFC, the company’s approach is different from what he wants for the twilight years of his career. At 40 years of age, Barnett said, “The UFC has a structure in place to create their stories, their way, and it’s a good way, but it’s not my way – it’s not my story. The call for adventure is still within me, and I wish to exercise it. I long to go back more to the way of the early days of MMA, traveling the world to exotic places fighting in different rules, rings or cages or who knows what, fighters that have been under the radar; the unknown.”
That likely means a return to Japan and potentially other Asian markets, where Barnett forged the backbone of his career, which spans more than two decades. While Barnett was an early UFC heavyweight champion, he made his mark fighting under the Pride banner in Japan, a country for which he has tremendous affinity.
Barnett vs. USADA
Another distinct factor in Barnett choosing now to exit the UFC is his dealings with USADA, which administers the UFC Anti-Doping Policy. Barnett ran afoul of the policy when a late 2016 drug test returned positive for the banned substance ostarine. Despite USADA and an arbitrator eventually finding that Barnett’s positive was due to a contaminated substance, Barnett was left with ill feelings over the process, as he felt USADA was intent on punishing him anyway.
The arbitrator even issued a statement saying, “On the evidence before me, the applicant is not a drug cheat. He unknowingly ingested a contaminated product. In so doing, he did commit an [anti-doping policy violation] because he had a prohibited substance in his sample, but he did not actively engage in attempting, in any way, to engage in the use of the prohibited substance.”
Despite that final ruling, the process took away a year and a half of Barnett’s career, and that doesn’t sit well with him.
“The debacle with USADA over the last year and a half has also influenced my decision to exit the UFC,” he continued. “Their dogged insistence to punish me for what they absolutely knew was an issue of contamination was unethical. By trying to manufacture any reason they could legitimize to increase sanctions against me was unacceptable. For their stance to necessitate my retaining counsel and do legal battle with them in the presence of an arbitrator was unnecessary. They preferred an adversarial to a just and fair process. I cannot in good conscience trust them to act in good faith or perhaps may even wish to look to enact some sort of vengeance in an attempt to cancel out my victory against them in arbitration. It’s not the kind of environment that I want to spend the final years of my career in.”
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To that end, Barnett would rather “go it alone” for the remainder of his career, avoiding potential dealings with USADA, and controlling the narrative of his career to where it is best for him and not have to follow the UFC’s timeline, for which he holds no animosity.
“I hope I will be able to create the fights I want, compete in grappling, professional wrestling and take on opportunities as I can create and manage in the way that I wish to. As a piece in the UFC puzzle, I would have had to work for their narrative and designs on their timeline – as one should expect,” Barnett wrote.
“There are a lot of stories left to tell with my career, and I want to be the one to determine them without influence. To do that fully, I need to go it alone, I have to be the architect of my destiny. To traversing battlefields far and wide. The UFC has been very good to me and a great place to fight, but what time I have left in this sport I need to be the one calling the shots and creating the battle plans. I hear the call for high adventure and I will oblige.”