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EXCLUSIVE: Chris Barnett on getting Ciryl Gane’s respect and return fight at UFC Vegas 51

Jason Burgos

Not only did Chris Barnett’s knockout win at UFC 268 score him a legion of new fans, it even got the respect of former UFC interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane.

Barnett is one of the most interesting new faces in the heavyweight division. At 35, he could be viewed as a prospect since he only has two UFC appearances under his belt. Yet he already has a great deal of experience and is a name fans have quickly become familiar with because of his teddy bear look and electrifying fight style.

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In November, he walked into a hostile New York crowd and somehow made one of the most loyal and jaded fan bases in sports turn in his favor, despite beating a local fighter. The spinning wheel kick that led to opponent Gian Villante’s downfall was one of the lasting moments from an event that had many, including the 2021 fight of the year.

Chris Barnett now has the admiration of the one and only Ciryl Gane

chris barnett, ufc vegas 51

Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Shinning under the brightest spotlight can certainly bring a new level of recognition among fans and fellow fighters. However, despite the notable increase in his social media followers, the man that’s known as “Huggy Bear” says his status in the sport hasn’t really changed that much. Especially with his contemporaries. Barnett feels many fighters already knew and respected him before he even joined the promotion. However, he admits now they are a bit more willing to directly reach out and laud his talents.

“I had a post a long time ago where I said I’m your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter. Because a lot of the fighters that were out there knew about me. I would go train with the [Alistair Overeem’s]. So if I was at Jackson-Wink MMA I’m seeing all of the big names. Even before I was signed [with the UFC], me and [Israel Adesanya] were cool,” Barnett told Sportsnaut.

“But with that last fight though, not to say there was a justification behind me getting signed, but yea, the guys did congratulate me. On the [non-UFC] fights I had to go through the comments on [social media]. After this one, I was getting the straight DMs,” he said with a laugh.

While many of his fellow fighters were well aware of his abilities as made his way up the MMA ranks fighting for promotions like Road FC and Rizin, he does admit his win late last year did draw the attention of one of the best fighters in the division: Ciryl Gane. A man that had no idea who he was before the fight, but was a new fan afterward.

“I’ll say the top guys, that I’ve never been around, they’ve noticed me too now. But even if they didn’t I’m still a fan regardless. … Ciryl Gane in New York, he didn’t know who I was. Before the fight, I ran up on him and was like, ‘Hey man, you ain’t add me on Instagram.’ He was like, on a ‘I don’t know you’ type thing,” Barnett recalled with a laugh. “That night, as I walked by to do my other interview he gave me the head nod like, ‘Yes sir brother.’ And I was like, yea!”

Barnett looks at UFC Vegas 51 as a redemption ‘rematch’

chris barnett, ufc vegas 51
Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

On April 16, at UFC Vegas 51, “Beastboy” will return to the Octagon to face Martin Buday. A UFC debutant Barnett is actually familiar with after the Slovakian earned his UFC contract by beating his teammate Lorenzo Hood last year at an edition of Dana White’s Contender Series. He looks at this fight as an opportunity for revenge. But not for his teammate’s loss, but for his own that he suffered in his May 2021 UFC debut.

Last spring, Barnett stepped in on short notice to face former heavyweight contender Ben Rothwell. Unfortunately for him, he lost by second-round submission. In Buday, Barnett sees a mirror image of Rothwell and a chance at redemption for his debut failures in a “rematch” with a younger version of the former UFC talent.

“It’s funny you mention Ben Rothwell, that’s how we’re looking at [Buday]. He’s a young Ben Rothwell if you really look at him. The way he fights and everything. Big, athletic, supposed to be a ground guy — brown belt — but they finish more fights standing up,” Barnett explained. “Jiu-Jitsu wise, same kind of level. [Same kind of] height. Has to cut down to 265. That’s also put a spark under my but because I’m not losing a rematch. I’m looking at him as young Ben Rothwell.”

UFC Vegas 51 goes down on Saturday, April 16 from inside the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event will air exclusively on ESPN+.