At 5'9 and 265 pounds, Chris Barnett doesn't look like the prototypical heavyweight. In fact, he looks more like a baddie from a Super Mario Bros. game. 'Beast Boy' brings in viewers with his odd appearance, but it's his charismatic personality and fighting style that have made him the darling of HDNet. I'm sure break dancing in the cage and doing backflips helps, too.
When I saw a rumor on the always awesome Middle Easy about Chris fighting in Russia for Fedor's M1 Global organization I had to get him on the horn. Chris started laughing immediately.
"About four months ago they contacted me to do a tournament up in Jersey, the one that XFC champ Kenny Garner almost won. They had talked to me a long time ago about doing it but I said, 'No, I'm under contract with the XFC.' Would it be something I might be interested in the future? Yea, but for right now I can't. They haven't spoken with me since. I looked it up after you told me and I was like, 'dang I guess I'm fighting in Russia.' The truth is I spoke to them but I'm not actually going over there in 2011. Maybe towards the end of the year because my contract is coming up soon, but other than that it's not a real story."
Barnett was riding a five-fight, undefeated win streak until he made the bold move of taking a fight on short notice. Bolder? He had no cornermen. Boldest? It was in Singapore.
I'm still not quite sure how Chris lost this fight — especially with Prindle losing a point from the groin strike — but I wanted to learn more about the ethos behind the decision to take it in the first place.
"I just watch it for motivation. I fought 50 pounds heavier than I normally do so you could see the sluggishness. I'm back down to my normal weight of 265."
"I think I took it about a week and half out. They told me not to worry about making weight and that they would make it a super heavyweight fight. When I heard that I was like, 'OK, don't need to tell me twice.' When I went over there I didn't even have a corner at first. Usually I'm mentally calm, but that week? I didn't know what was going on. It took a toll. It definitely played a part in the loss."
"By fight time I got a buddy to fly out. He knows about MMA but it wasn't like having my normal routine of someone yelling, 'hey! do a crucifix, scoop his right leg.' He was just kind of yelling, 'uh ... go Chris! Do that!' He ended up flying out two days before the fight, but because you lose a day coming over it was really one. I was glad someone was actually able to come over but it was kinda UGH. The time difference really screwed me up. When I was supposed to be asleep it would be 3PM in the States but 3AM in Asia. I would be wide awake, running the streets of Singapore. It wasn't a good situation."
So you basically just flew to Singapore by yourself...
"Yea, and it was the longest flight of my life. I wasn't even able to talk to anyone on the plane. It was horrible."
Did you stand out? I can't imagine the general populace of Singapore looking much like Chris Barnett.
"Sometimes it was funny but other times you'd be asking yourself, 'why is everyone looking at me like that? Oh right, I'm the largest black man in Singapore.'
What do you do right out of the gate?
"At first they wouldn't let me into the country. I didn't fill out the little survey on the flight because I was passed out. That took about 30 minutes. They sent a liaison to come pick me up but Prindle and I — the guy I was fighting — had the same officer. I tried to follow without them knowing. I was completely lost in a foreign country. My phone was messing up and I had no way of talking to anyone. No one spoke english. I learned my lesson on this one."
For the record, I would never do this. Taking a fight on ten days notice in a foreign country with no corner? No way. I'd rather pick my teeth with a handgun, but that's also why I'm relegated to 'keyboard warrior' status.
What would it take to convince a man do to this, you ask?
"The pay was comparable to what I make fighting in the states, but what I liked about them was that they paid me straight cash."
"They don't cut you a check over there, they just hand you straight cash. Just a stack of American bills. Sweet, I didn't have to transfer it or anything. All American money."
How was the crowd? They seemed more educated than the prized pigs I'm treated to over here. Certainly less drunken booing. On the other hand, I also got the sense that these people may have absolutely no idea what is going on.
"You'll always have ignorant people. There's always that one guy screaming, 'STAND 'EM UP!' Other than that the fans over there were pretty good. If I went for an armbar on the ground they would cheer. They don't quite know what to expect. It's something newer for them. It was similar to what I see here in the States."
My friend Dave Kaplan brought me into this crazy world of MMA. After beating the hell of me for a few years he decided to head west towards Vegas and appeared on the eighth season of Spike's 'The Ultimate Fighter.' It's hard to see a friend get knocked out, but it's even worse seeing a friend get hit in cojones. Dave did, and he would go on to lose to Junie Browning that night. Chris was hit in the groin twice! How is a man supposed to carry on?
"It truly is the worse feeling ever. He kicked me so hard that it cracked my cup. I had to buy a new one when I got back to the States. It just sits there in the back of your mind. You just can't do everything you want or would ordinarily be able to. The pain is blocking you from throwing what you want. They say you get five minutes but you're just sitting there thinking, 'Uh, that's not going to help.' The second time he hit me I couldn't believe it. He kind of pissed me off but it was pushed out by a feeling of, 'Holy Shit, this really hurts! What do I do if he kicks me again?' I'd rather get chopped in my throat than have to deal with that."
Chris didn't have a blemish on his record before his wacky experience abroad, so does this loss really feel like one?
"This fight woke me. I found myself being around people who were telling me what I wanted to hear, not what I needed to hear. After Singapore, my spark came right back. The spark that I had when I was a nobody. It sucks but I'm glad it happened. I didn't train at all for that fight. Once they told me it was at superheavy? I was set. That mindset is completely gone. I was on cloud nine about barely having to train. That fight made me realize I had to get back to basics. I'm doing traditional everything. Traditional tae kwon do, jiu jitsu and wrestling. I'm going back to my roots."
"My dad and my brother started doing tae kwon do before me, but I got into it at about five years old. I fell in love with it. Everyone else was doing soccer and I was learning how to beat up everyone at school. I did it full-on for about 16 years. My brother still competes and has a tournament coming up — Curtis Barnett. When we were younger we would compete with each other to see who could do the flashiest stuff, get the most knock outs. It got to the point where he skyrocketed in tae kwon do so I needed another outlet."
"I started wrestling in high school and did it through college. I moved to Florida and got linked up with XFC. They actually discovered me one night while I was break dancing in a club. The reason they found me so quickly was because of my agility and flexibility. They liked my overall flashiness. On top of that, I could wrestle. They thought I had potential. I was 335 pounds doing the same kicks I'm throwing now. After meeting me and seeing I had a personality? They wanted me real quick."
Just so we're clear XFC is an MMA promotion, but it also has it's own gym.
"They're branching out more towards pro MMA. I'm bringing in guys like K1's Imani Lee. He comes over to train with me all the time. We're trying to make it less kid friendly and more of a 'gym' gym. We have a full cage, weights, cardio, everything."
Right now, Chris' biggest concern is Mario Rinaldi — an American Top Team product with mass in no short supply.
"I think this is almost a mirror match, other than him being a little taller. I know he likes that bull rushing style. He throws a lot of big overhands to work inside to take you down. His strength and wearing him down are huge priorities for me. I have the edge cardio wise. When I'm 265 I have the cardio of a lightweight. Mad respect for him and his clinch but I just need to be constantly moving."
"No one ever pressures him. He comes forward and people don't know how to deal with it. Dave Herman was able to use his momentum to block his takedowns and work his knees. Roy Nelson used his ground game. The overall strategy for me is just to stay on him, make him gas out. I got a great camp in for this fight and I'm going to take a different approach than what everyone thinks. I feel pretty confident."
Chris takes on Mario Rinaldi at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. Dec. 3.