News that Dutch striker Gilbert Yvel was scheduled to face Josh Barnett at Affliction's upcoming "Day of Reckoning" raised many eyebrows.
Few fighters in the game are as controversial as Yvel. Despite one of the most exciting and explosive skill sets in the heavyweight division, his career has been marred by several in-ring incidents that made him unemployable to most big promotions. Among the most notorious: biting a referee in a 1998 bout in Russia, eye gouging Don Frye at PRIDE 16, and most alarmingly, knocking out a referee in 2004 at a show in Finland.
In February of 2007, the Nevada State Athletic Commission denied Yvel a license to fight for his past misbehaviors.
To ensure he will licensed for "Reckoning," Yvel and his representatives will meet with Assistant Executive Officer Bill Douglas in early January for a closed-door session.
But Yvel has another advocate in his quest to fight on American soil: Barnett.
"As much trouble as he's encountered in MMA circles, at least he's not like football," Barnett told MMAWeekly.com. "Gilbert has his troubles, but I can actually see allowing that guy to fight under circumstances. But a guy like [Adam] 'Pacman' Jones can go into a strip club and have him and his friends assault dancers and shoot up the place, and the NFL will bring him back; coaches will vouch for him and people will give him a second chance, when he's just a dirtbag."
Barnett says the amount of controversy Yvel generates is mostly undeserved.
"The funny thing is reading about how vehemently people feel about Gilbert Yvel, a guy who's broke some rules in the ring, but to date, nobody's ever been seriously injured by him," he said. "Then you've got a guy like that, who shoots places up and acts like a total buffoon, and people will go out there and vouch for him just so he can intercept a few passes.
Barnett and Yvel share history. The two fought for PRIDE in its formative years, although never against each other. Yvel never found his stride in the now-defunct Japanese promotion, losing all but two of his appearances there. Barnett, on the other hand, cemented his reputation as a top-ten heavyweight. Barnett says the two hung out several times and got along well.
"I say the majority of his fights are less controversial than the few we think about," Barnett continued. "According to his last two fights, he hasn't had a single incident. So he seems to be doing his thing without causing so many issues, and I've always had a decent relationship with him."
And ultimately, Barnett needed a fight, whoever it might be. After Affliction scratched the Oct. 11 date for "Reckoning" and re-booked the show with AndreArlovski vs. Fedor Emelianenko, Barnett was out in the cold. The waiting was getting to him.
"I need to be active," he said. "I'm not here to sit around and watch TV and play video games and listen to heavy metal. I need to be out there punching somebody in the face. It's gotta be somebody."
To be fair, it's been almost five years since Yvel's last major incident. Barnett feels Yvel is not the same man who knocked out a referee and kicked him while he was down.
"I'd like to hear his side of the story on that one," Barnett said. "Because sometimes, there have been a few referees I could have knocked out, although it's not anything I'm ever going to do. We're human beings."
But when it comes to fighting dirty, if Yvel tries anything, Barnett won't tolerate it.
"When it comes to going crazy, like fouls or infractions or anything like that, I don't worry about that, because nobody will take it as far as I will ... that much I know," he said. "If somebody wants to poke my eyes or bite me, that's my career, and if it's not an eye for an eye, it will be an eye for both your eyes, some of your teeth, your limbs, whatever I can get before somebody pulls me off of you."