Spinning Wheel Kick Puts UFC Fighter Chris Barnett In The Spotlight
Chris Barnett is not the typical UFC heavyweight.
Barnett — who also goes by “Beast Boy” and “Huggy Bear” — stands just 5-foot 9-inches and weighs in close to the UFC heavyweight limit of 265 pounds. He continues to thrive in the land of giants. In a division where the average height is in the 6-foot 3–6-foot 4 range.
The fighter wowed the crowd at Madison Square Garden in his preliminary card bout at UFC 268 on Nov. 6, when he sent a spinning wheel kick to Gian Villante’s head, sending the New Yorker to the canvas in the second round. He followed up with punches until the referee stopped the fight at the 2:23 mark, giving Barnett the win by TKO
For veteran Villante, this match was set up beforehand to be the last fight of his professional career.
Barnett has now won seven of his last eight bouts. He credits that record to making smarter decisions about his career and listening more. In addition, knocking out Villante earned Barnett a $50,000 bonus for “Performance of the Night.”
Barnett walks Zenger News through the spectacular knockout, explains how watching Mike Tyson videos helps him overcome his height disadvantage, and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Chris Barnett for Zenger.
Zenger: Congratulations on the big knockout win over Gian Villante at UFC 268. How has life changed since the huge victory?
Barnett: Only real change is more interviews and notoriety, but we still have the same head and same game plan. The focus hasn’t changed.
Zenger: In 2017, you lost three consecutive fights. Since then, you have won seven of your last eight. What changed?
Barnett: Just being smarter. That first loss, my eye had actually got split open, and it’s weird the way they called it over there, and I lost on points. You always think you scored more. It sat me out for a minute. And in Korea, they really don’t check all of your medicals. I was actually supposed to sit out longer than I did because of the cut, but again… just being stupid, I went back over there, fought again, and the guy hit me with a groin shot. With the rules, the way they work it, I told them it felt like I had to throw up, and they didn’t want to hear that. It was like, get up and fight, or they would call it. Me being who I am, I got up after that groin shot, and he caught me with a nasty hook.
I wasn’t even supposed to fight in my third loss. Because of the knockout, I was supposed to be suspended from fighting for a period of time, but with them not keeping up with records in Asia, I was able to take a short notice fight against Alex “The Spartan” [Nicholson], and same result, I got knocked out there.
That put me in a dark hole mentally. To be fighting the way I was and to take those 3 L’s… I just kept training. You start doubting your chin. But I was blessed to be able to get into a camp with [former two-time UFC heavyweight champion] Stipe [Miocic]. I got in the camp, and I said, this will determine whether or not I keep going. I was able to work real well with Stipe just mocking “DC” [Daniel Cormier, recognized as one of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history] style. That pushed me to get back on that horse.
That skid happened from me just being dumb. To switch it, I get the exact opposite results. Me actually training for fights, me getting ready for fights, and listening to people. I had to get back to what I did when I went on my first skid. I was a sponge. I always try to stay levelheaded, but you win a few, and you stop listening to certain things. Those three losses rattled me and got me back to where I needed to be.
Zenger: You seem to have a lot of fun inside of that octagon. Is that the case — you’re happy to be in this position, doing what you love?
Barnett: Yeah! It’s entertainment and art to me. I don’t need to be angry to go out there. I don’t have one of them traumatizing backstories. I grew up with my mom and dad. My older brother picked on me, that’s my worst “trauma.” I’m happy with life. This is just an outlet. I picked the most violent way to show that I’m happy with life. Life is too short not to enjoy it.
You never know what can happen. I’ve been through life. I’m 35, and I’ve seen things happen, I’ve been in situations, and you gotta enjoy this thing while you’re here. You only get one of them, so make the best of it. I’m just trying to be the living embodiment of that.
Zenger: Villante was very gracious in defeat. You guys basically did a joint post-fight interview together. Was there history there between you guys?
Barnett: He’s one of Stipe’s best friends. Knowing who Stipe is, if he calls anybody his friend, they are automatically my friend. The love and care that Stipe has shown to me is wild. Just a little short story: I was in Abu Dhabi, and me and my opponent got into an argument at the weigh-ins. I never do anything like that. I was way out of character. This man [Stipe] called me. Abu Dhabi time was like 4 a.m. where he was, but Stipe was calling, so of course I picked up. He called me just to check on me. He was like, “Dude, are you OK, because I have never seen you like that before?” That shows who he is.
There is no telling what this man was doing. He was either at the fire house [Stipe has been a firefighter in Cleveland for more than a decade], at the gym, or with his family. The fact that he took the time out just to check on me. Even though I was fighting Villante, his team, all the guys I know Villante was training with at Strong Style was hitting me, “Ah man, this is going to be a tough one to watch, but good luck to both of y’all.” They didn’t have to do any of that because Villante has been there way longer than I have. It just shows the level of respect that Stipe has for me.
My first interview when the fight was made, I said, it’s cool that I’m fighting Gian because I prefer fights like this. If I’m fighting a friend, my whole goal is to outdo them. That whole “I need to kill this dude,” nah, man. This dude just had a 2-week-old baby. I don’t need to go in there with that mindset and acting out of character. I like sparring with my friends because they do something, I get them back. You just always want to one-up your friends, especially in sparring. So, it was perfect.
Zenger: It’s impressive to see anyone pull off a spinning wheel kick, let alone a big man like yourself. We saw a little bit of that taekwondo background come out. Talk us through the setup for that kick.
Barnett: I was in MSG [Madison Square Garden], so I wasn’t holding back. What’s crazy about it is, I’ve done that move several times unsuccessfully. If you go back and watch my fight with Eric Prindle, the beginning of the second round. “Wonder Boy” [former professional kickboxer now fighting in the UFC, Stephen Thompson] did a perfect breakdown of what I was setting up. You get these guys thinking … big heavy guy, there’s no way. Even when they go watch my videos, they see me, and they’re like, “Yeah right!” I hit them with a little bit of that Trinidad James: “Don’t believe me just watch.”
That’s my mindset. The setup has always been the number one thing my dad showed me being a shorter fighter: “Get your roundhouse kick off! All you have to do is step because they’re expecting it, but they’re definitely not expecting a high hook kick.” That’s been in my DNA since I have been allowed to throw it in a taekwondo tournament.
Zenger: Most view your height as a disadvantage in the UFC heavyweight division because those guys are giants. How have you been able to navigate the division at only 5-foot 9-inches?
Barnett: Honestly, watching [Mike] Tyson. I know the height thing on paper always looks crazy — 6-foot 4-inches against 5-foot 9-inches. When we get in the cage and start bouncing, everybody is my height. I guess that’s just a thing from taekwondo. In my head, if I can kick you in the head, then we’re the same height. I know a lot of these guys are 6-foot 4-inches and 6-foot 5-inches; it’s a challenge for me around 6-foot 7-inches. I know I can get my foot up there with certain techniques. I watched a lot of Mike Tyson videos because he was always the shorter fighter.
Recently, Teddy Atlas does these short videos he’s been putting up, and so much of what he says makes sense. And then my “cheat code,” my reach is 74 inches, which isn’t average for a dude my height. I think the average for that reach is 6-foot 2-inches to 6-foot 3-inches. So, even someone taller than me, that reach is still a surprise. There was this guy in my gym who was 6-foot 6-inches, and literally my middle finger was touching the second part of his middle finger. That just doesn’t make sense.
Zenger: How soon can we expect you back?
Barnett: I’m ready to go. I’m at my best when I’m constantly fighting. I went on a nasty run. I think it was like 5-0 one year. Which is crazy for a fighter to fight that many times in one year. At this point, once I’m in shape, just keep the ball rolling with me. I can fight whenever, as long as there are no crazy injuries. After this last one, my heel hurt a little bit, but I was still ready to go.
We’re looking at [Brazilian heavyweight] Carlos Felipe— he wants it in February, but with that roster you gotta get every other heavyweight a fight, also. They might not have anything for us until March. I’m literally standing in the front row with my hand up, just in case one of these guys don’t want to take a fight.
Sign me up. I don’t care who it is or where they are ranked, sign me up. The way I’m feeling now, still being in shape, I feel great. I got so many more tricks up the sleeve, that’s what’s so crazy about all of this. They are wowed off of that [last fight], and that was a C+. Hopefully, I’ll fight again February, but if anything pops up, I’m definitely going to jump on it.
Zenger: What was it like for you to perform in the mecca, Madison Square Garden?
Barnett: I felt like [Michael Jordan] every time he walked in there and hurt the Knicks. I was waiting on Spike Lee to pop up. It was wild. It was overwhelming, to be honest, because I wasn’t expecting the love. I was expecting everybody to go crazy for him because I was in his backyard. As soon as I came out… I picked “Harlem Shake” as my intro music for a reason. When that came on, I was like, “Here we go, you gotta give it to em.”
I guess they felt the love that I was putting out. They instantly gave it back. As a matter of fact, I got more pop than him when I came out than when he came out. I’m one of those energy types. The feeling was great. I was actually more out of breath after the fight than I was during the fight, with me yelling and flipping. I’m glad I put my “stamp” on MSG. They got pictures of Conor [McGregor] and everybody else doing their stuff, so hopefully I’ll get a little picture on one of them walls in there.
Zenger: Anything else you’d like to add?
I appreciate you. Keep me on your radar, so I can get on here and chit-chat with you again.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff