When Luke Barnatt starts off a sentence with “I’ll be very frank and opinionated,” that’s not breaking news; it’s just business as usual. It’s a gift that could get some people in trouble, but for the 25-year-old middleweight, it’s an attribute that has made him one of the rising stars in the UFC.
Of course we can say that now, but heading into his match with Andrew Craig last October, some believed it was too much too soon for the TUF 17 competitor.
“I believe in my head that (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva was testing me with Andrew Craig,” said Barnatt. “If Luke manages to win, then we’ve got a brand new guy over in England that we can look forward to supporting. I surprised everyone and got the win in emphatic fashion, and now I’m here and they’ve got to deal with me.”
That’s not a bad thing, as Barnatt is young, brash, and unafraid of sharing his thoughts on the world, both in and out of mixed martial arts. But all that means nothing if you can’t fight, and while he showed glimpses of what he could do on TUF and in his debut Octagon win over Collin Hart last April, it was the Craig fight that was the revelation, as he weathered some early storms from the Texan before submitting him in the second round and picking up a Fight of the Night bonus in the process.
Today, as an unbeaten prospect with the gift of gab, Barnatt has as high an upside as any fighter in the UK has at the moment, so it was no surprise when it was announced that his third UFC fight would be at home in London this Saturday against Mats Nilsson.
“Fighting in England is a great big deal to me, especially London,” he said. “In Manchester (where he fought Craig), being the hometown fighter is great, but that’s not really my hometown. London is my hometown. It’s where I’m from, where I was born, where I grew up. The O2 is 45 minutes away from my house, so it’s the closest I’ll ever fight to home, and I’m very excited about that.”
And UK fans should be excited as well, as he’s a homegrown fighter eager to carry the flag for England for the next generation.
“They (the UFC) are definitely pumping money into different continents and trying to make it a worldwide thing, and I’m in the position right now where I can be the face of the continent like (Alexander) Gustafsson from Sweden. We’ve got (Michael) Bisping, but Bisping lives in America. I don’t fault him for that, but I can be the face of the UK.”
Yeah, it’s a bold statement, especially for someone with just seven pro fights, but you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and he may turn out to be prophetic if he keeps on the winning track. And as far as he’s concerned, he’s not leaving home shores anytime soon.
“The game has changed,” said Barnatt. “I completely back Bisping, (Dan) Hardy and (Ross) Pearson for moving to America; that was the right move and it was the right move five years ago. Now it’s not. We’ve got enough talent in England to support anyone in the UFC. My team at Tsunami (Gym) is fantastic, and it’s not like we’re behind in any way over here in England now. I have fantastic training partners, I can bring over people to help me with specifics, we have some of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the world here, and it’s getting big over here now, so the need to go to America is not so great. It’s still a viable option and I’m not going to say I’m never gonna move to America – one, the weather is beautiful and it’s just another lifestyle. I think the main reason a lot of guys go over there is because they’re respected for what they do, and in the UK we’re still seen as thugs or cagefighters. So it’s a nice break to go out to the States and actually get some respect for your craft. But I do believe I’m going to be the face of the UK in the UFC, and I believe it’s my responsibility to change that opinion of the general public and get people supporting this sport that’s changed my life. I want to do big things here in England, and I think I’m the man to do it.”
And if Barnatt keeps performing and keeps himself in the public eye, British fans will get behind him like they’ve supported the likes of Bisping, Hardy, and Pearson through the good and the bad. It’s a great thing to have, and Barnatt already sees the difference with his British fans compared to those around the rest of the world.
“You guys in America, you have the UFC every Saturday night in prime time, on TV,” he said. “My fans have to stay up to three o’clock in the morning to watch the UFC. We’ve got diehard fans over here that really, really care about the sport. You have a lot of fair-weather fans who will turn up on a Saturday night to an event or watch it on TV, and have beers with their mates. I’ve got guys staying up until three in the morning, in bed, on their own, on a laptop. Look at Conor McGregor in Ireland and how they get behind him. The English fans are the same, and it’s going to be wild in London.”
That’s just the way Barnatt likes it, yet while he’s embraced everything that has happened to him over the last year and is looking forward to even more success in the coming years, he has a unique view of his career and of MMA that you don’t hear too often, if ever.
“I always planned to be in it (MMA) for the long haul, but this is the thing with MMA: it’s like a beautiful woman; if you hold on to her too tight and care about her too much, she will go. If you’re relaxed, truly respectful, and do what you’re supposed to do, she will be with you forever. The people in the sport who care so much about their career and are so intense, they can’t take a loss and they can’t handle that. They’re not the guys who have longevity. It sounds a bit strange, but if you care a little bit less, you do a lot better.”
Yes, he just compared mixed martial arts to a beautiful woman. The same guy who sat for this interview while getting a haircut and ordering something online. According to Barnatt, the haircut went well, the ordering not so much. The interview, as always, was a rousing success.
He laughs, but then turns serious again.
“It (fighting) is a big deal for me, but I’ve seen guys where it’s so intense for them that the pressure just builds and gets on top of them and then when they fight, they don’t throw punches, they don’t attempt takedowns, and they don’t take risks,” he said. “I’m willing to take risks – I’m willing to take risks in the media and in the Octagon, because at the end of the day, I care about the sport and I care about who I am and what I’m doing, but I don’t care about it that much. Again, it’s like a woman – if you care about her and never let her out of your sight, you’re not going to be with her for very long.”
Sounds like Luke Barnatt has got things figured out pretty well.
To watch UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday, March 8, sign up here
Is Barnatt The UK's Next Breakout Star?
"Fighting in England is a great big deal to me, especially London. It’s the closest I’ll ever fight to home, and I’m very excited about that." - Luke Barnatt