Chris ‘Huggy Bear’ Barnett on what it’s like to be a super heavyweight in MMA

Characters are the life's blood of mixed martial arts. Were it not for personalities like Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Tank Abbott, Nick…

By: Stephie Haynes | 9 years ago
Chris ‘Huggy Bear’ Barnett on what it’s like to be a super heavyweight in MMA
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Characters are the life’s blood of mixed martial arts. Were it not for personalities like Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Tank Abbott, Nick Diaz and the many other characters of our fine sport, both past and present, the novelty of MMA would have worn off many years ago. The long layoff between UFC events provides perfect opportunity to introduce MMA fans to a new character that has been making waves on the regional and international circuits.

Chris Barnett, aka “Huggy Bear”, has been fighting since 2009 in the almost obscure super heavyweight division, but has set his sights on 265 and soon hopes to crack into one of the more mainstream organizations like Bellator or Titan FC, basically a promotion with a good TV deal. Eventually, he’d like to find his way to the UFC.

After an almost three year layoff that he says was the result of a promoter’s way of teaching him a lesson, he came back at the beginning of this year to continue his win streak by adding 4 additional victories to the list. His most notable wins are over recent UFC alum, Walt Harris, and long-time veteran, Travis Wiuff.

*Watch Barnett’s fight with Travis Wiuff in its entirety right here*

Chris Barnett from JFR on Vimeo.

The former owner/promoter of XFC, I’m not sure if he’s still with them in any capacity, but anyway, he was big on proving points and trying to set all his signed fighters straight according to his liking. He thought there was no better way than to sit one of his top guys on the bench. It was a long affair, filled with ‘Well if you fight anywhere else I’ll sue you’ but he didn’t want to book me any fights either. It was a long, drawn out, nasty story.

I would talk to other promoters and they would tell me that they thought I wasn’t looking for fights because he kept turning them down. At the time, all I was doing was looking for fights, because he wasn’t putting any on.

At the time I went with XFC, I was still pretty new to the sport and very trusting and wide eyed about everything. ‘Of course I’ll sign a 5 fight deal for X amount of years [laughs]. I love you, you guys love me. Of course you wouldn’t do anything wrong [laughs]. I just wanted to be a part of something, but I ended up learning a really hard life lesson.

Chris says his base is a combination of two disciplines, wrestling and Tae Kwon Do, and that he feels diversity in training is the key to his success.

I tend to bounce around for training. My philosophy has always been that you can’t learn one thing from one person for too long. I like to pick up as much as I can from several gyms. Where I’m training right now is the Hardcore Gym in Georgia. I also have a family owned business, Barnett Tae Kwon Do that I train out of.

My fight base is pretty much Tae Kwon Do and wrestling. I started wrestling in 10th grade and ended up with a wrestling scholarship. That is what pushed me towards MMA. A couple of the guys from the gym were talking about Matt Hughes, and at the time, I didn’t even know who he was. The guys were going on about him and telling me that Tae Kwon Do didn’t really have a place in MMA. I’ve set out to prove them wrong, but I have definitely found that my wrestling has helped out tremendously.

Fighting at super heavyweight has proven to be a bit of a challenge in the United States which has been the driving reason behind his desire to drop to heavyweight, despite finding success in the division abroad.

Overseas, they love the supers. If you’re a big guy fighting over there, you’re doing well. Over here, they’re like, ‘He’s just a fat guy, he’ll never do well.’ I love that people think like that. It makes me happy to shock them with the exact opposite. Guess what? I’m beating these guys all “out of shape.”

What do you say when one guy steps in the ring with a six pack, and then I come in looking like I just ate a cheeseburger [laughs]? You just lost to a big guy that walked out in a bear suit. I mean, I walked out to “Happy.” How do you explain that? That’s right, you can’t explain that [laughs].

So yeah, the super heavyweight scene in the United States is kind of like ‘Eh, whatever’, but in Japan, it’s fantastic. If I could be the next Bob Sapp, only a version of him that doesn’t dive for the floor when someone thinks about throwing a punch. What he did was make Japan and pretty much all of Asia love him. I would like to engage Asian fans the way he did. Hell, I want to engage all MMA fans and have them cheer for me.

With a 5th fight this year already booked for November 21st for Island Fights against another UFC veteran, Darrill Schoonover, Barnett will be making this fight his last one at super heavy. Having already dropped 32 pounds, he’s anxious to explore bigger options at 265.

I guess I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag. I’m on my way down already. We’ve been putting in the work and I’m already at 295 and it feels great. I’m taking the steps that I need to take. I’m learning how to put the candy bars down and I’m going for a run instead. I have fought at 265, and I know it’s the best weight for me. It’s one of those things where you have to be brutally honest with yourself. ‘Okay, it’s time to suck it up and get to work.’ I need to get back down if I want my spot in the sun.

It’s not just about winning and a paycheck. It’s about having fans and doing your personal best. I want to be glorious and for people to see it. I want to be my best. The best. I can’t do that without putting in the work. That’s what I’m doing now.

Special thanks to Mike Afromowitz for hooking us up with Huggy Bear.

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About the author
Stephie Haynes
Stephie Haynes

Stephie Haynes has been covering MMA since 2005. She has also worked for MMA promotion Proelite and apparel brand TapouT. She hosted TapouT’s official radio show for four years before joining Bloody Elbow in 2012. She has interviewed everyone there is to interview in the fight game from from Dana White to Conor McGregor to Kimbo Slice, as well as mainstream TV, film and music stars including Norman Reedus, RZA and Anthony Bourdain. She has been producing the BE podcast network since 2017 and hosts four of its current shows.

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