Bellator announced earlier this month that Emelianenko will headline an event in Moscow on Oct. 23, but no opponent has been officially announced. Speculation and debate has run rampant as to who should get that matchup, along with several high-profile names raising their hands to get the opportunity.
When Barnett heard the news of Emelianenko’s return to the cage, he immediately picked up the phone.
“It took me a matter of seconds to let Scott know [I wanted this fight],” Barnett told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “As for Fedor returning to action, if he feels, truly, that he’s got more left in him, then I salute him. I know that it’s tough for the people on the outside looking in to watch a person with so many fights and, let’s say, they have the opinion of a declining career. Well, the thing is, careers in terms of professional athletics are incredibly short, rare, and not the kind of thing that you can ever pick back up again. My opinion is to use it while you have it and when the door is closed, it’s closed for good. So don’t leave anything on the table.”
Barnett and Emelianenko were supposed to meet in the main event of Affliction 3 in August 2009. But the bout and the event were scratched after Barnett failed a pre-fight drug test prior to the card. It was the first and only time the two put pen to paper to compete in an MMA bout.
Since the announcement, Barnett has been a favorite among fans to get the fight. That isn’t much of a surprise to “The Warmaster,” who hasn’t competed in a MMA bout since his third-round submission win over Andrei Arlovski at UFC Fight Night 93 in September 2016.
“Of course my name is at the top of the list, it’s almost as if they made the list just to make it seem like there was an illusion of choice in this case,” Barnett said. “Even from the responses on Twitter and everywhere else on the internet, it’s really quite obvious that everyone is saying, ‘Yeah, duh, this is the fight to make.’ Some of these other fights have interest in their own rights, but they’re not this fight, me vs. Fedor.
“But really there’s more circumstance as to why things don’t happen and why they do even when we’re in the same organization. So people at times will ask me, ‘Who do you want to fight?’ I could always throw a name out there, but it doesn’t mean anything. It means jack squat because that fighter has to agree, that fighter’s management has to agree, then the promoter has to agree. So anywhere in between those three people, anybody says no, there’s no fight. When you’re dealing with the landscape of multiple organizations, or with me and Fedor being in different places, or sometimes just narrowly missing each other for various reasons – I was in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament as well, and he lost, he wasn’t able to move on and forward.
“It’s really just a matter of lining things up in such a way that they can happen and, of course, these things take a lot of money and a lot of logistics. So it’s not so easy to put these fights together. There’s just too much on the line.”
Emelianenko is coming off of a first-round finish of Quinton Jackson at Bellator 237 in December 2019 and has won three of his last four appearances. For Barnett, the time for this long-awaited matchup is at its peak point with Emelianenko’s career winding down.
“Time will tell whether that’s the case or not, but it’s definitely available,” Barnett explained. “It’s an opportunity, and the idea of fighting in Russia sounds fantastic to me. I don’t care that I would be the away [team], or the opponent for the hometown boy. Personally, sure, I’m glad. I think he deserves all of that and then some. If people have short memories, I’m his friend, so I support him having the most of whatever he can get out of life because him fighting in Moscow—even if I happen to get this match—doesn’t take anything away from me at all. I suffer nothing.
“I’ve actually enjoyed being in Russia. The times that I’ve gotten to go over there, work over there, work with people over there, I have a pretty strong fanbase in Russia myself. In fact, because of that, it makes a really solid argument to why Fedor should be fighting me over there because we’re two of the most popular heavyweights in Russia. And the fight is in Russia for the Russian hero. There’s nothing like going in there and fighting a hero is his own backyard and that’s where the heroic moments are going to happen. Win, lose, or draw, I think it would be an amazing opportunity, not just for me, and if this is his last fight, well then, what a place and way to do it with someone who actually really gives a sh*t about him and wants to venerate him even if I beat him. I don’t want his name, I don’t want his legacy, I don’t want anything about this matchup to be a negative toward Fedor in any way.”
“I’m just letting the promotion do what they want and, again, if he can say, ‘Yes, this is the fight I want,’ and his management is totally down for it, well Bellator could say, ‘Well, we’re not making it,’ [and] what are you left with,” Barnett continued. “But I could just keep annoying Scott Coker, and if I don’t get a bout agreement here soon, I guess I’ll have to start sending really annoying memes and YouTube videos, and Rickrolling him, and I’ll find my way in.”
All in all, Barnett believes he’s clearly the correct choice to get the fight in Emelianenko’s home country of Russia. But should the promotion go another direction, the 43-year-old would be ready to close the proverbial door and lock it behind him.
“Yeah I will, and maybe pissed isn’t the right word, but I will be very disappointed,” Barnett explained. “I would be incredibly disappointed because I would see it as the end of that opportunity. That would be gone and I would then do nothing but work to find other potentials and leave that one behind, completely disregard it. Unless it somehow came back to me, otherwise, I would throw it away and be done with it. The juice ain’t worth the squeeze and I don’t care what the internet says. It will just be, nope, I’ll put my efforts into things that will be more worthwhile.
“But it would basically be a ball in their court kind of thing. He could just do the one fight in Russia and be like, ‘It was a good enough fight, bye!’ With every single fight, you can almost say every single training session, you just don’t know. His body has been through a lifetime, and then some, amateur and professional athletics. I don’t know to what level injuries and chronic pain are affecting his life, and I can’t really take for granted that he’s just going to exist for me to fulfill that match, or vice versa.”