Atencio Blasts Barnett, Blames Josh For Affliction “Folding”; Barnett Rebuts

Josh Barnett recently made a guest appearance on HDNet’s Inside MMA, where the taboo topic of Affliction “card that never was” publically came up for first time since the drama unfolded to end July of last year.

For those who need the reminder, Affliction was scheduled to hold their 3rd event, Affliction: Trilogy, on August 1st of 2009. 10 days prior to his scheduled bout against the renowned number one heavyweight in the world, Russia’s Fedor Emelianenko, Barnett reportedly tested positive for 2a-methyl-5a-androstan-3a-ol-17-one, an anabolic steroid. This disqualified Barnett from the scheduled bout instantly, his license to compete revoked.

Barnett’s bout with Fedor was anxiously awaited as the one fight in which we may actually see Fedor face an opponent with a viable shot at beating him. However, the MMA world was rattled by what would register as Barnett’s second positive stateside test for an anabolic substance recorded by a state athletic commission. Affliction’s third event was subsequently cancelled just days before the event was scheduled to take place.

Affliction’s founder, Tom Atencio, spoke with an Inside MMA interviewed prior to Josh’s appearance on the program. He outright held Josh Barnett responsible for the collapse of his fledgling promotional MMA effort.

“The bottom line is … Josh is to blame,” Atencio insists. “That’s really the bottom line.”

“How many times has he tested positive? Three times. This was his third time,” the Affliction head-honcho laments, though on record, this would’ve actually been Barnett’s second positive test for an anabolic substance. Barnett’s first positive test came at UFC 36 following his win over Randy Couture.

“So say what you want to say, you know… conspiracy theorists, saying we were never going to go through with it,” Atencio continues. “Yeah, we were. I was going to do it. It was a third event. I found out ten days before the event that he tested positive. What was I supposed to do? He was the main event. I couldn’t hold the event. It was the main card.”

Barnett’s appearance on Inside MMA represented the first time he’d made as public an appearance as this since the positive test results came at the end of July. His attitude was positive, and though he rebuked allegations that Affliction’s undoing had anything to do with him, he was also eager to point out Affliction’s accounting practices and the elements of their ability to earn, versus their ability to spend.

“Well, if you want to know about any previous tests, there’s plenty of information out there that I’ve already dealt with the NSAC on that…” Barnett said of his prior allegations of positive anabolic tests. “We don’t have enough time to go through all that.”

“If they really want to find out why they didn’t run any more events, they should check into their accounting and everything else,” Josh told Inside MMA Host Bas Rutten. “They had a lot of counsel from people with experience…. wink, wink… that tried to help them set these things up, budget correctly, put together proper contracts… and they didn’t listen, straight up. They spent way more than they earned. I am not to blame for Affliction folding.”

Rutten then mentioned the legal liability Affliction may face for cancelling an event in the manner which they did, abruptly and with little notice prior to the event. He cited refund demands and potential damage liability, and expressed that Atencio had indulged his concerns. Bas stated that at the end of the day, the ultimate end of the event may have been Josh’s fault, but seemed to suggest that the undoing of the organization may not have had all too much to do with Josh.

“As much as he’s trying to say that there, he’s just trying to look for a good out,” Barnett insisted.

“Affliction 3 would have went on, and there wasn’t going to be an Affliction 4.”

Bas concluded the recorded segment of the interview asking Josh how he felt about missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight Fedor, and asked what his take on possibly losing out on that chance forever may mean to him. Josh was quick to assert that this wasn’t the case at all.

“If there’s one thing I have people beating my door down over,” Barnett says, “it’s to fight Fedor. It’s just a matter of time.”

Josh Barnett: Baby-faced Assassin Turned Instant Villain

I’ve been a fan of Barnett’s since just before he fought Randy Couture at UFC 36, when he was gunning to become the youngest Heavyweight Champion in UFC history against a then-39-year-old veteran. I was in Vegas for the fight, the UFC’s first event after attaining new-era sanctioning from the NSAC. Barnett stepped into the bout as a +180 underdog. Prior, I’d watched Couture have insurmountable difficulty with Ricco Rodriguez, a heavyweight similar in size to Barnett. I put my money on Barnett and when he won, my expenses for the weekend were paid for. He was my new favorite fighter.

In the years that followed his first positive test, Barnett went 15-4, racking up 3 consecutive losses to Mirko Filipovic in 2004, 2005 and 2006, then losing a Unanimous decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to end 2006. Barnett’s bouts at both of the first two Affliction events in 2008 and 2009 yielded no positive test results in either case, nor did his Les Vegas Pride FC showing in 2006.

Following his first recorded positive test in 2002, Barnett didn’t return to the United States in a competitive capacity until 2006, when he fought Pawel Nastula in the only stateside show Pride FC would ever produce.

No one’s ever questioned Barnett’s competitive presence. Fans long anticipated that he’d be the one to finally fell the mighty Fedor, dating back to his days in Pride. The two were never scheduled to fight while signed to the organization, and though Barnett asserts that the fight may still happen, M-1 politicking and complications regarding his ability to be licensed in the states could hinder the effort for some time to come.

At UFC 107 in Los Angeles, Josh Barnett was in attendance. I’ve met Barnett several times throughout his career, an honor for sure. Barnett is a true professional whose educated and analytical penchant alongside his well-spoken dialect offer all the right ingredients to a formula that would derive a true American ambassador for MMA.

With some of the most historic wins in the sport to date, Barnett was recognized as the youngest UFC heavyweight to ever hold a championship belt before the results of his bout with Couture was overturned, and he was stripped of the title he’d achieved so early in his career. Six years later, a similar test would serve to result in another career impedance, this time by way of a fight he’d not even yet competed in.

Whether or not Barnett is using anabolic steroids to further his career is a null subject. I squarely believe that few athletes competing today would pass on the opportunity to utilize these “supplements” were they afforded an opportunity to do so without risk or penalty. To single-out and persecute Barnett for any such thing as though he were the only one to be caught using, least of all on more than one occasion, would simply be unfair.

In addition to Josh Barnett to-date, Phil Baroni, Vitor Belfort, Stephan Bonnar, Kit Cope, Alexander Crispim, Nick Diaz, Hermes Franca, Royce Gracie, Dennis Hallman, Chris Leben, Kimo Leopoldo, Bill Mahood, Nate “The Great” Marquardt, Sean McCully, Johnnie Morton, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Pawel Nastula, Alexandre Nogueira, Kevin Randleman, Antonio Silva, Ken Shamrock, Sean Sherk, Adam Smith, Tim Sylvia and Anthony Torres, as of March of 2010, have all tested positive for anabolic substances while competing in sanctioned Mixed Martial Arts.

Clearly, anabolic substance is an option available to all fighters of all skill-sets, whether of fledgling experience (Johnnie Morton) or world-renowned expertise (Royce Gracie). In all reality, these substances exist because loopholes in current regulated testing procedures can be exploited to create a negative test for a user of these substances. To believe that these options would be as popular as they are if the scenario played out any differently is equal parts naïve and optimistic.

Barnett may have very well used these substances to improve his opportunities as a mixed martial arts competitor. In all reality, he may also be telling the truth about not using at all. Really, is it important?

As fans, it’s easy to forget that even as we survey the actions of someone much more famous than ourselves, all os us are much better off taking our own personal inventories, and looking to happenings like this not as reasons to judge, but as a great chance to learn a lesson. Action and consequence go hand-in-hand, and if Barnett’s most recent lost opportunity to compete in the United States against arguably the world’s number one heavyweight fighter has taught us anything, it’s that some fighters will go to every length necessary to assure their chances of winning. Sometime, they will do this with complete disregard to the potential penalties, and no concern for their own reputation.