Chris “Beast Boy” Barnett is a young, talented mixed martial artist who jumped at the chance to fight for the Maximum Fighting Championship’s inaugural heavyweight title this weekend. He has been a lifelong martial artist and was honored to be offered such an opportunity in his promotional debut with MFC.

Unfortunately, his dreams were dashed in the days leading up to the fight with a scary reminder of just how dangerous the sport can be. It’s especially scary for someone that has been so involved in fighting for such a long time.

“I’ve been in taekwondo since I was age four,” said Barnett in an exclusive April 30 interview with The MMA Corner. “From then on, I stuck with it, but I branched off into wrestling. I’ve always kept wrestling, whether it was summer gymborees or stuff like that. From there, I moved into a little bit of capoeira when I moved down to Florida.”

In April 2009, Barnett debuted as a professional MMA fighter, earning a win by decision. He won his next four fights by knockout, before suffering his first and only loss by majority decision. He won his next two fights, with his last one taking place almost exactly two years after his debut. From that point, while still training, Barnett decided to take a break from MMA competition and actually made his pro boxing debut in August of the same year. He has currently been out of the MMA ring for over two years.

But in 2013, Barnett received a call he wasn’t exactly expecting.

“I was on my way back home from Delray,” Barnett explained. “I had linked up with a manager from KO Dynasty, and he said, ‘How would you feel about fighting for MFC?’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute. I haven’t fought for two years. I’d love to fight for anybody.’ So he called them back and let them know I was down. Then he called me back and said, ‘How would you feel fighting for the belt?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, where do I need to be? I’d be happy to.’”

It was at this point, after two years out of action, that an incredible opportunity had finally jumped into his lap, and with Barnett being only 26 years old, it’s an opportunity that could shape his future in the sport.

The first issue that fans might be skeptical about is ring rust. However, for Barnett, ring rust is not a factor.

“This last couple years has been like one long camp,” said Barnett. “I’ve been going camp-to-camp helping other people get ready for fights. Even though you’re helping somebody else get ready for a fight, you’re still learning so much. The camps I was a part of, I was always staying active. It wasn’t like I took two years off, and all I was doing is beach vacations, chilling and watching the dolphins. During the two years, I was boxing, doing jiu-jitsu tournaments and making sure I was still going to be a whole fighter.

“I think ring rust is almost like a mental state of mind. You get ring rust because you get nervous, because there is so much going on at one time. Me, I love the chaos, and I want that. Whether it’s boos or cheers that I’m walking out to, it makes me that much more hyped in the ring.”

Barnett made that statement on April 30, only ten days before his heavyweight title shot. Little did he know that a different brand of chaos was about to ensue.

On May 6, less than a week later, the young fighter received some disheartening news. He would not be able to compete on the MFC 37 card after all, because of problems with an eye that would keep him from getting medical clearance.

“I didn’t know I was injured,” Barnett said in a follow-up interview with The MMA Corner on May 8. “I knew my right eye had been giving me some problems in the past. Then, next thing you know, I’m getting my medicals on Monday, and the lady’s telling me, ‘You’ve got three tears in your retina.’ She said, ‘Obviously, we don’t advise you to do this.’ Then she said, ‘I’m not going to sign off on this. You’ve got three tears. If you get punched, it could tear off.’

“The way she explained it to me is that the retina is like a movie screen. Once that gets torn or broken or detached, that’s it. They can do all the surgery they want, but it will never go back to the way it was.”

In utter disbelief, Barnett would not accept the first doctor’s assessment, especially after having been looked at by previous doctors with no warnings whatsoever of his condition.

“I went to a couple other doctors and said, ‘Look. Somebody please sign me off. Let’s keep this moving. This is for a title.’ It took some family talks, and I was talking to my management, and I’m just like, ‘Longevity. Longevity. You’re still young in this sport. You need to think about longevity.’”

Barnett eventually made the decision to step out of the fight. At this point, he was feeling about as low as he could possibly feel.

“It’s like, I was two years out and now this happens,” Barnett said. “You get to the point that it’s depressing, you’re sad, and you just start questioning things. I was questioning this stuff to where I was like, ‘Is this for me?’ I got past that quick. Later that night, I was so mad, I went to the gym and started hitting the bag and lifting and running. The only thing I can think now is, it can’t get any worse from here. All I can do is go up. I’m 30 minutes out of the gym now.”

Almost immediately after the most disappointing news of his young life, Barnett is back in the gym, doing everything he can to get better, stronger and faster. Fortunately, the three retinal tears he has endured are repairable and he is wasting no time getting that out of the way.

“The way I’m looking at this whole eye thing is that I can’t wait,” admitted Barnett. “I can’t wait to get the surgery—hopefully Friday. If not, then next week. I’m looking forward to getting it done and getting right back to it. I have to go to the retinal specialist. For what she was saying, she’s seen tears before, but she’s never seen three, especially with somebody doing what I’m doing. She said the sooner I get this done, the better I’m going to be.”

Well, although this is not a total loss for Barnett, who plans to continue advancing in his career after getting his eye fixed, this unfortunate turn of events is a promotion-killer for MFC with its headlining fight hitting the skids. However, there are still some great match-ups on the card and the show will go on.

That being said, one has to wonder how that conversation went. Barnett’s dealings on the matter were with MFC’s Director of Media and Fighter relations, Scott Zeer.

“I was talking to Scott,” Barnett explained. “They were understanding, but, I mean, it was a title shot. It’s a big fight. That was my feeling too. This was a big fight. I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, oh, oh, I can’t fight.’ I was like, ‘Put a patch over my eye and I’ll go fight.’ That’s what I explained to Scott. If it was my arm, my shoulder, my leg or something else, I would just put some tape on it and go. I mean, of course they were upset, but it was handled a little better than what I’d been through before, having to come out of a fight.”

Hopefully, the relations between Barnett and MFC do not sour over the incident. Barnett is a great fighter who only plans on getting better, and the MFC is a top-of-the-class organization that continues to grow with some amazing cards.

However, some barbs were traded early on, with MFC chief Mark Pavelich blaming Barnett’s management, KO Dynasty, for not catching this sooner, so that a replacement could be found for Barnett. KO Dynasty fired back, but Barnett has stayed out of the argument.

“I’ve never had great backup like this, like I did from my manager,” said Barnett. “They weren’t just in this to get that next check. They were generally concerned for my safety. That’s big hats off to Mickey [Dubberly]. MFC came out with a little article blaming management as far as not getting my medicals in time. As far as I feel about it, I don’t blame them at all. That’s how I do it. I get my medicals in the last week or two weeks. If I was going to blame somebody, I’d blame the doctors that looked at my eyes, two, three years ago that said I was fine to fight.”

Barnett is fully aware that this could have happened recently or long ago, so he’s not actually blaming anybody. He just wants to keep his career moving forward. Barnett is the type of guy that has big plans for his future, and they’re not going to get completely crushed by a repairable medical issue.

“From what Dr. Lawson said, it’s going to take two to three weeks to heal, and after that I’m going to train a little bit, just to see where I’m at,” Barnett explained. “I’m going to get ready, and if MFC has a fight, that’s cool. If not, I’ll contact them. I’ve got some other promoters down in Florida that want me to fight on a couple of their cards. If that’s what I have to do to prove to the world that I’m fine, let’s go.”

Barnett has bigger plans than to just keep fighting. In fact, not only is he carrying a positive attitude into his downtime, he’s looking at it as a game-changing opportunity.

“Honestly, with this time I’m not going to be fighting, it’s time for me to get chiseled,” stated Barnett. “I didn’t get exactly into the look I wanted. So, it’s time to get that ‘UFC look,’ not knocking MFC or anything. The UFC just has a certain look, unless you’re Roy Nelson. It’s time for me to get that look. Right now, I’m usually sitting around 273 [pounds], so it’s time for me to drop down and get to a beyond-comfortable weight. I want to be the fastest-possible heavyweight out there.”

When someone gets a title shot for one of the largest regional organizations after a two-year absence and then gets that opportunity yanked away less than a week before the fight, it’s hard to bounce back from that in weeks or even months, but Barnett was looking at improving his future within hours. His attitude is amazing.

“I’m staying positive and keeping it moving forward,” admitted Barnett. “My worst feeling overall is for my fans. In my mind, I was bringing this belt back home, and I was doing this, and then this. I couldn’t wait. And then, it’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, you can’t fight. You have three holes in your retina.’ Everything’s positive now. I’m getting really positive feedback from my coaches and fans.”

In the face of adversity, Barnett has shown tremendous maturity for a guy in his mid-20s. His eye is damaged, but it can be repaired. Once he gets his shot to jump back into action, fans can be sure to see a man with a fire in his belly. It will just be a more chiseled belly.

Photo: Chris Barnett (R) (XFC)