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Former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett has been called "the world's strongest nerd," and for good reason: The 6'3", 249-pound mixed martial artist is a HUGE comic book fan, both literally and figuratively. The guy has encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel and DC continuity, and he can also break every bone in your body.
However, Josh is a gentle giant when he's not on the clock, and he took some time at San Diego Comic-Con to answer our questions about superhero fighting techniques.
When did you start getting hardcore into comics?
I was probably like 8 years old. [My friend's brother] had a copy of this X-Men comic with Wolverine on the cover -- he was bleeding, he had half his mask ripped off, he had his claws out. It was the issue where the Marauders go into the tunnels under New York City and start killing all the Morlocks. I remember seeing this thing and being totally blown away. Holy crap, that guy's made of steel! This is fantastic! I have to get more of this!
From there, it led on to manga and I got super-deep into that.
It's cool to like comics now, but for a long time, it marked guys as weaklings.
I understand the introverted aspect of comics to a degree -- of doing something outside the norm socially for folks -- so it makes that divide, but you don't have to be that way. I was captain of my football team; I went to State every year as a wrestler. I'm a jock, but I'd say to nerds, "What's it like being so close to a jock and not getting a wedgie?"
I've been to role-playing game conventions, I've played "Warhammer 40k," I bought a bunch of "Magic: The Gathering" cards today. I'm buying these damn cards again! I wear my nerdom on my sleeve -- I have no problem with it.
Who's your choice for best superhero fighter?
You can't choose someone like Superman. He doesn't have much in the way of technique. He's pretty much invincible -- ultra-strong, ultra-fast, but there's no technique.
If you really want fighting technique, there's only one comic, and that would be "Fist of the North Star." This guy knows the deadly art of Hokuto Shinken, where he can strike you in certain ways and make your body parts respond differently -- paralyze you or make your head explode. Kablooey, your head takes off...and then your skull explodes all over the panel.
You can't really break that move out in UFC, huh?
Well, I'm just holding it back for that special moment when I turn the UFC into a Gallagher concert.
How about the Punisher's fighting technique? Or does he just shoot guns?
The Punisher is a helluva dude, man. He's super-skilled.... I don't doubt for a second that the Punisher can trade blows with anybody, but he's more of a weapons specialist.
Lobo is a helluva brawler. All that drinking, smoking, womanizing and philandering. He dies, goes to heaven, gets kicked out of heaven, goes down to hell, gets in a giant brawl and gets kicked out of hell. Wolverine couldn't kick Lobo's ass, as much as I love Wolverine. And I'm not a fair-weather newbie f**kin' jump-on-the-new-bandwagon Wolverine guy; I'm an old-school brown-and-orange suit guy.
We love Hugh Jackman in the role, but Wolverine is 5'3" in the comics. What can short dudes learn from Logan?
He's not supposed to be a tall guy; he's broad and very thick. I guess he's like Glenn Danzig with less crooning.
For a short guy, wrestling is a pretty fantastic art -- the whole idea of off-balancing people and getting underneath them. You've got a low center of gravity, you can tip a guy over. Or learn how to box like Tyson -- I don't mean box to his ability, but his style with the bobbing, weaving, stepping and hooks. Or get built-in claws and be invulnerable.
Sometimes it helps to have minions -- you can just have your underlings take all the ass-whoopin', like Magneto with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Are the Batman movies at all realistic from a fighting standpoint?
I think they do a pretty good job of keeping it entertaining with some amount of realism. One thing I like about the new movies, and especially the Batman animated stuff, is that Batman's a big dude: 6'4, 250 pounds, ripped, Olympic-level athlete with unreal levels of intelligence and martial arts skill. If you think common street thugs are kicking Batman's ass, even five of them, I don't think so. 'Cause when a dude is 6'4" and punches you in the face, that's pretty much it. Batman is kicking ass and taking everyone's names.
Are there any comics specifically dedicated to MMA?
There really isn't a lot...my friend Kiyoshi Nakazawa is working on a comic called "The Prize" that's all MMA-related. The moves are all real, legit techniques. He's a judo black belt; he knows what he's talking about. Hopefully next year for Comic-Con, we'll have some books assembled. I'm the assistant -- it's his deal, I'm just trying to help him get it going.