ST. MARYS — After training for more than eight years, 22-year-old Sean Barnett finally has a chance to fight professionally.
Barnett signed a multi-fight Mixed Martial Arts deal with Gladiator Challenge. UFC stars like Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson and Urijah Faber started their successful careers with Gladiator Challenge.
Barnett will face 2008 Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo on March 24.
The two will square off in the flyweight weight class, which is 125 pounds. The fight will be the main event at the Soboba Casino Outdoor Arena in San Jacinto, Calif.
“I am excited to showcase my skills on Gladiator Challenge,” Barnett said. “It’s a show that has helped many fighters move up to the next level.”
Barnett’s coach and manager, Jody Poff, knows Barnett is ready to take on the challenge.
“Sean will be facing an Olympic gold medalist,” Poff said. “If he wins, he’ll get a title fight.”
Barnett trains at Peak Submission in St. Marys. Even though Barnett will be fighting a well-known opponent, he will have the experience advantage over Cejudo. Barnett has competed in more than 40 amateur fights.
“Sean has the experience level and their styles match up well,” Poff said. “Sean is a well-rounded fighter. Submission is the best part of Sean. That is the top of his game.”
Barnett stands at 6-foot-1 while Cejudo is only 5-4. Barnett considers this to be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
“I’ll have the reach advantage and I have more legs,” Barnett said. “I have to keep my weight back and keep my distance. He’s a strong wrestler, and I can’t let him get in on me.”
Barnett started training for MMA to help with his wrestling career while in high school.
“It all started with friends telling me to try it, and I kept putting it off,” Barnett said. “I finally did it and I enjoyed it.”
While Cejudo’s only job is to train, Barnett does not get that luxury. He is the varsity wrestling coach for the Roughriders and also works as a full-time electrician for Area Energy and Electric.
“I go to work from about 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. then I would head to wrestling practice, which starts at 3:30 (p.m.) and then do my own training after that,” Barnett said.
Cejudo has been on everything from the Tonight Show to SportsCenter. Barnett would love nothing more than to go out to California and make an impact.
“I think my cage awareness and ground game will help me out a lot,” Barnett said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the ground going back to my wrestling days. I just have to take my shots on him.”
Barnett has also worked with local boxing coach Lonnie Rettig and Jerry Poe for kickboxing.
Although Poff is considered his main coach and manager, Poff considers their relationship to be much more than that.
“He is like my little brother,” Poff said. “Sean has paid his dues with over 40 amateur fights. It is now paying off finally. He just needs to go in there and make a statement.”
NOTE: Delphos Jefferson wrestling coach Ryan Walls is also on the card at Gladiator Challenge in a single fight deal.