Josh Barnett, considered by many as a top 3 Heavyweight in the world, will enter the Affliction ring Saturday as a large favorite against Pedro Rizzo, who happens to be the only man to ever knock out the ‘Baby Faced Assasin’. Barnett will also make his way back to a large US stage for the first time in 6 years. Barnett is planning to greet Rizzo and American fans once again.

image of Josh BarnettJosh Barnett won 10 of his first 11 professional MMA fights and became the UFC heavyweight champion in the process. The UFC later stripped him of his title when he failed a drug test in 2002. 14 months later Barnett would begin fighting in Japan and has only fought in the US once since. He became one of the biggest stars in Pride with wins over Mark Hunt, Aleks Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. He was a Japanese fighting superstar.

When Zuffa bought Pride in March 2007 Barnett was not offered a deal with the UFC and began a 14 month lay off. Rumours were that the UFC brass had an issue with Barnett, but he stated he had no ill feelings toward the UFC and made that clear in 2007,

“UFC is well aware that I have no beef with them. There are no personal issues keeping me from signing with the UFC. I just have not received any offers from them yet.”

In March 2008 Barnett began fighting back in his home away from home, Japan. At Sengoku: First Battle he was victorious over Hidehiko Yoshida. He followed that up in May of this year, by defeating friend and long time training partner, Jeff Monson at Sengoku’s Second Battle. They were two fights he should have won and did.

Two months later Barnett is up against a old foe, Pedro Rizzo. Out of Barnett’s 5 loses the one name you may not recognize is Rizzo. Known by the hardcore fans with having incredible one punch knock out power, Rizzo’s 16-7 record is not something that catches every fan’s eye. However, it was that same one punch power that ended their first contest, at UFC 30, seven years ago.

At 22-5, Barnett’s ranking fluctuates from person to person. But if we anticipate Randy Couture’s inactivity to continue into the fall, then most would rank Barnett as at least the number 3 Heavyweight in the world behind Fedor Emelianenko and Nogueria. And although the two have never fought, Barnett is usually the consensus choice with having the best chance to beat Fedor.

Unhappy when Pride was purchased, Barnett called it a “sad day for Mixed Martial Arts.” A year and a half later Barnett is clearly happy with the direction Affliction is headed and the fighters under contract.

“This collection of fighters proves there isn’t just one name in the industry. There is no closed door. These guys [Affliction] are going to blow the door wide open and it’s up to the fighters to do their job and put on a great fight.”

Saturday night Barnett will look to do just that. Put on a great fight, and introduce himself to Rizzo and the American fans once again.