TORONTO - As far as Josh Barnett is concerned, the ultimate display of skill in mixed martial arts is the ability to put an opponent away.
Coming from an amateur wrestling background, the Strikeforce heavyweight feel critics who blame boring decisions on wrestlers are way off.
The problem lies with talented athletes who use their physical gifts as a crutch and don’t learn the finer points of finishing.
“I don’t think it has so much to do with wrestling as it does (needing) to develop an overall game,” Barnett said on a recent Strikeforce conference call. “A lot of people have taken shortcuts in terms of using athleticism and defensive tactics to try and build the right game plan to go out there and win in this mixed martial arts, 10-point must system environment. The finishing ability is put aside a bit. But to learn to really finish takes more skill.
“I think it comes down to finishing. I go out there and I finish people. A lot of these guys are truly just not that skilled all the way around.”
If you think Barnett is just talking trash, take a look at his fight record.
Of his 30 professional wins, 25 have come via some manner of finishing technique — 7 (T)KOs and 18 submissions. In fact, the last time he even saw scorecards was over three years ago when he bested Jeff Monson at Sengoku: Second Battle in Japan.
Luckily for Barnett, his next opponent, Sergei Kharitonov, doesn’t exactly like to drag things out either. The Russian slugger has 17 finishes and only one decision win to his name.
The two meet Saturday in the semifinals of the Strikeforce world heavyweight grand prix tournament Cincinnati, Ohio. The card will also see Antonio (Big Foot) Silva and Daniel Cormier duke it out on the other side of the brackets. Canadian fans can catch the event on the Super Channel.
Both fighters looked impressive in their quarterfinal fights. Kharitonov delivered a vicious knockout to former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski this past February, while Barnett submitted Brett Rogers with an arm-triangle choke in June.
Barnett admitted Kharitonov looked dangerous in his last outing, but knows how to avoid eating the brunt of his attack.
“(Kharitonov) is a bruiser,” Barnett began. “He likes to come in, take shots in the face, step inside, work the body and then eventually come up top with some big shots. You don’t stand in front of a guy like that. You stay agile and keep moving and you pick him apart. He likes to cut the ring off and put everyone on the ropes or fence, but that’s the nature of stand-up work anyways. Owning the centre of the ring is part of the deal.
“He looked pretty dominant against Arlovski, but then again I’m not Arlovski. So we’ll see how this turns out.”
The heavyweights simultaneously fought under the PRIDE banner for almost three years. However, Kharitonov joined the defunct Japanese fight promotion 12 months earlier than Barnett.
The two were among the top competitors in the division, but never crossed paths.
Since Kharitonov won his first two PRIDE appearances by quick submission, Barnett remembers being surprised when he finally let his hands go in a stunningly brutal knockout of Murilo (Ninja) Rua, brother to Mauricio (Shogun) Rua.
“He’s always showed himself to be a really tough individual,” Barnett said. “I remember he sort of pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes, came into PRIDE and acted like he didn’t have any stand-up (skills). Then pulled out all his boxing when he fought Ninja, which it turns out was a big part of his background.
“He was always a perennial contender. He was always up there in the upper echelon of the heavyweights, but never quite got over the hump.”
When the Strikeforce grand prix was originally conceived, the winner would earn the right to fight then-champion Alistair Overeem. Had Overeem won the tournament, he would have been given a second championship belt.
But Overeem has since been cut from the organization and the heavyweight title remains vacant. Though it makes perfect sense to award the belt to the tournament winner, nothing has been formally announced.
Barnett said championship or not, he’s still out to finish Kharitonov.
“Titles and things like that are spoils of war; you have to go out there and win battles before you can raid the dead of all their belongings,” Barnett said. “Honestly, I would love it if the final of this tournament was for the heavyweight title. I would love that and it would add a nice punctuation mark to the end of it.
“But it doesn’t change my attitude towards getting the job done. You have to go out there and beat your opponent. Otherwise you get to walk home with a black eye and wounded pride.”
• • •
Josh Koscheck’s middleweight debut has been put on hold – for now.
The former welterweight title challenger will replace the injured Diego Sanchez on short notice against Matt Hughes in the co-main event of UFC 135 Sept. 24.
Sanchez was forced to back out of the fight after due to a hand injury suffered in training, opening the door for Koscheck to return sooner than anticipated.
“Diego broke his hand, so Hughes will now fight Koscheck,” UFC president Dana White wrote on Twitter.
Koscheck hasn’t fought since losing a unanimous decision to welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 124 in Montreal last December. During the fight, Koscheck suffered a broken orbital bone courtesy of an early jab from St. Pierre. Following the loss, the TUF 1 alum underwent corrective surgery and has been on the sidelines since.
As for Hughes, his last outing saw him suffer a 21-second knockout at the hands of B.J. Penn at UFC 123 in November.
• • •
Wanderlei Silva isn’t done yet.
Despite suffering one of the worst knockout losses of his career against Chris Leben at UFC 132 in July, the former PRIDE champion refuses to hang them up.
In an interview with GnP TV, Silva said he wants to go out on his own terms, not after a disappointing loss.
“A lot of guys say, ‘Oh you should retire,’ but I can’t retire now, not after that fight,” Silva said. “I’m coming back to fight, for sure, and I hope I give a good show for my fans. I will talk to (UFC president Dana White) soon, but for sure this is not the last fight. After my career, I can’t have one last fight like that. I want to be able to announce when I am going to retire and then have a big party for my fans!”