Josh Barnett generally comes across as a sharp guy, which makes one wonder about the moments in his professional life when he's seemed utterly foolish.
Not that the 33-year-old fighter, a man with many thoughts on many topics, cares about what you or I or anyone else thinks.
“I can't worry too much about opinion. Then I'm going to give that external source credit and my motivations won't be my own,” Barnett (29-5) said between sips of his favorite Starbucks frappuccino. “And I can't do that."
The world according to Barnett, who fights Saturday in Dallas against Brett Rogers (11-2) in the quarterfinals of Strikeforce’s single-elimination heavyweight tournament, is heavy on:
"I was never one to start fights, but man I loved being in them. Once I felt like I had the OK to swing on somebody, then all the chains I carried with me on a daily basis were all released. That any sort of proprietary notion of how I needed to be and what people expected of me was gone. I could be me, to the fullest. Being in a fight is when I feel most alive in the entire world. It's the thing I was built to do. It's what I'm best at.
"If it all collapsed tomorrow and MMA was dead, I'd still fight people. I'd say these are the rules, let's meet up at this gym at this time and let's fight. I love it."
Libertarianism and personal responsibility
“You don't need a law to tell you what to do," Barnett said. "A red light is not so much a matter of telling you what to do as it is just trying to make it so everyone can exist in the same environment.”
Holding up personal responsibility as a virtue, some might note, falls flat considering his notorious history of performance-enhancing drug use. Barnett denies using steroids, blaming three positive tests (two in Nevada and another in California) on tainted supplements.
"No matter what truths are missing or apparent, no matter what's considered right or wrong or how I feel about it, I have to deal with it and move on.”
Freedom of expression
"I think MMA at its best is the environment that allows for the most freedom of expression in combat, [but] I find this is becoming more and more diminished," Barnett said.
"I think freedom of expression in that ring is paramount. That's how you develop new and more interesting ideas and concepts -- though new is relative because I'm sure someone has done this all before we took notice of it."
He doesn’t appreciate paint-by-numbers thinking. That’s also one of the reasons Barnett is impassioned by “deathcore,” a sub-genre of death metal, which to the uninitiated comes off like Cookie Monster unleashed upon the musical world.
Barnett promoted a benefit concert in Hollywood, Calif., at the end of May featuring some of his favorite bands in the name of relief efforts for Japan. They raised close to $3,000.
“There’s not a whole factory making music here,” he said as decibels ramped up at the House of Blues. “This is people with heart and soul that will play in front of no one or everyone. They’ll play just as hard, every single time.”
Not getting comfortable inside systems
Barnett believes most people are comfortable operating in bureaucracies, even if those systems don’t allow them to reach their full capabilities.
"I'm not a person who lives to be forced to kneel by anybody. I like to live my life for myself and for the people with me. And yet, I don't expect anyone to adhere to my politics or my ideals. Just me."
"I'm not a big fan of anybody getting in my way about anything. I've never been able to accept it. You decide to live in a country and abide by its laws and governance, and yet everyday if I think about it, even a little bit, I'm bugged by it. I don't like feeling any sort of yolk upon my neck for anything, anyone or anybody."
His rogue sensibilities will give way to reality, however.
“If I wanted things to be different I could up and move. I could go somewhere it's more lawless, but I choose to stay here. So I choose to be a part of this."
"It's a DNA thing. I'd like to get a DNA test to see if I have the Warrior Gene," Barnett said. "Some of my sentiments on things seem far and above what most people can relate to."
Barnett, for example, touts the way in which he’ll put away Rogers on Saturday.
"Ever since the day I met him, I've always got the vibe that he thought he can kick my ass. I'm sure he still feels as such. That being said, I'm glad he does. It means he's going to go out there and try to beat me up, which will make it better when I punch his heart out."
You almost get the sense he means it literally.
"I would," he confirms.
Switching a cell phone ringer to vibrate in movie theaters just isn’t good enough, he said.
"I think there's a massive lack of courtesy in almost every aspect of daily life, and people don't have to be accountable about these things anymore."
"You can't be insincere. You have to take you and you have to make it public in an accessible way. From the heavy metal, from my philosophies on fighting, from a lot of the things I say and do are really me. The fact that I don't really give a f--- about anything or anybody -- ANYBODY -- that's 100 percent me."
Currently, there may not be a person Barnett despises more than Antonio Silva, the mammoth Brazilian who advanced to the tournament semifinals by stopping Fedor Emelianenko in February. Silva, set to fight the winner of Saturday’s main event between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, has spoken in unflattering terms about the American heavyweight.
"I had never said two crossed words about the guy, ever. I think he doesn't understand the subtlety of going out and cutting a promo. He's stepped over at least three or four lines with me. I can tell you what, I don't look forward to fighting him in a ring because I'm going to give him notoriety, even by crushing his skull in a cage. If there's going to be something that happens, it won't be there. And it will only happen once."
"He really got under my skin."
Barnett became the No. 1 heavyweight in the world for a reason in 2002. He was a talented physical force. Yet in the blink of an eye, he went from being the youngest champion in UFC history to a steroid-tainted pariah.
The Strikeforce tournament isn’t Barnett’s first attempt at redemption, yet he’s aware it could well be his last.