Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett signed with Bellator MMA on Monday following two and a half years away from the sport.
Barnett, 41, last fought in the main event of a UFC Fight Night in September 2016, submitting fellow ex-champ Andrei Arlovski. Three months later, however, his career was sidetracked when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency notified him of a potential doping violation. Barnett went through a long appeal process and was cleared to fight last year, but he instead asked for and received his release from the UFC.
Barnett (35-8) signed his Bellator contract during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show. Although he revealed no specifics on a debut with the promotion, Barnett did offer a hint, saying, "I do love my tea and crumpets." Bellator has an event in London on June 22.
"We're excited to have Barnett join the Bellator roster," promotion president Scott Coker told ESPN. "There are a lot of intriguing matchups in our heavyweight division, and I look forward to seeing him inside the cage as soon as possible."
During the show, Barnett spoke of some of the matchups that intrigue him.
"There's a lot of opportunity with something like this. There's great athletes," he said. "I get to screw around with guys like Matt Mitrione and Chael [Sonnen] and to see Fedor [Emelianenko]. Hopefully I can fight Fedor, simply because I love the man. It would be great to have it done, for us to get in the ring."
Barnett also has his eyes on the man who in January defeated Emelianenko to become Bellator heavyweight champ, Ryan Bader, who also reigns at light heavyweight.
"I would love to fight Bader, but we'll see what we can get first," he said. "There's a lot of tender morsels over there at Bellator that I can sink my teeth into."
Lately, Barnett has been more involved with pro wrestling than MMA. On Thursday, he will host Josh Barnett's Bloodsport, which will be headlined by another ex-UFC heavyweight champ, Frank Mir, making his pro wrestling debut against Dan Severn, a UFC Hall of Famer who also spent time in WWE (then called WWF).
The event is in Jersey City, New Jersey, three days before WWE's Wrestlemania at nearby MetLife Stadium.
Barnett became heavyweight champion in 2002 at UFC 36, beating Randy Couture. It later was revealed, however, that he had failed a drug test for the second time in less than a year, so Barnett was stripped of his belt. He left the UFC and went on to fight in several promotions, including Pride, Affliction and Strikeforce. In 2012, Barnett was a finalist in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, losing to Daniel Cormier, who now reigns in the UFC.
While fighting in Strikeforce, Barnett worked for Coker, so he's familiar with the Bellator boss.
"Scott and I have a long history," said Barnett, "and [Bellator is] on U.S. television and it's still an international fight league. The ability for me to exploit this opportunity into even bigger avenues exists. And vice versa -- they can exploit me more."