After a prolonged, bureaucratic battle with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett has been cleared of all wrong-doing, meaning he’s now allowed to fight again for the first time since his September, 2016 defeat of Andrei Arlovski. Given that the UFC heavyweight division is perpetually starving for top talent, this is fantastic news.
So, who should the now 40-year-old Barnett fight in his anticipated return to action? For a fighter of his caliber, there are always plenty of interesting options, but here are three that we find particularly compelling.
Cain Velasquez is one of the few heavyweights on the UFC roster riding a layoff that rivals Barnett’s. In fact, Velasquez has actually been out a few months longer than Barnett, having last fought in July of 2016. As a fellow former UFC heavyweight champ and long-time staple of the top-10 looking for a chance to return to the fracas after years on the shelf, he could serve as the perfect ‘welcome back’ for a returning Barnett. Let these two legends duke it out to decide who still belongs in the title conversation in the year 2018.
Another fantastic option for Josh Barnett’s return to action is the UFC’s 10th-ranked heavyweight Alexey Oleynik. The similarities between Oleynik and Barnett are actually quite interesting. Both are 40 years old. Both have a proven propensity for submissions. Both have fought more than the vast majority of their peers, as Barnett owns a 43-fight record, while Oleynik owns a record a baffling 64 fights long. Why not match these two experienced, 40-year-old grapplers together and see what happens?
Somehow, Josh Barnett and Fabricio Werdum haven’t fought yet. Despite the fact they’ve both competed under the PRIDE, Strikeforce and UFC banners, despite the fact that they stand out as two of the best grapplers in heavyweight history, despite sharing countless mutual opponents, they’ve never been locked in a cage or ring together. It may be a case of “better late than never,” but why not pit them together in the year 2018?
Who do you want to see Josh Barnett fight if he returns to the cage?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 3/27/2018.