COLUMBIA — Mixed martial artist Mike Barnett had been training for months for this moment — his shot at the Midwest Fight League lightweight championship.
The Coliseum at the Missouri State Fairgrounds teemed with fans. The arena rumbled with cheers — and sometimes boos — from the crowd. Barnett's father and younger brother drove from St. Louis to Sedalia to watch him fight.
Only one thing was missing — his opponent.
“When I first found out that my guy didn’t show up for the second time, two hours before my fight, I was first in shock,” Barnett said. “I didn’t really know how to act, and then I got real angry.”
It wasn't the first time Barnett, 24, had been stood up in the octagon. In January, at the Whiskey Wild Saloon Showdown in Columbia, Barnett’s opponent also failed to appear.
But that was different. That bout wasn’t for the championship.
“I’ve thought about what I would say to him, and I’d just want an explanation, first of all,” Barnett said.
Barnett typically starts physically preparing for his matches months beforehand, intensely training three to four nights a week at the Hulett House Gym, located at 124 E. Nifong Blvd. He also must manage his diet.
“The diet is intense,” he said. “When I’m managing my weight for my fights it gets rough. Usually two cans of tuna a day, 200-calorie diet.”
A 200-calorie diet may seem like starvation to most, but it’s necessary for Barnett. He usually weighs about 170 pounds, but must drop to 155 pounds to compete in the lightweight division.
The hard work and months of sacrifice only make his inability to compete because of his opponents sting that much more.
“I wish I knew why they’re not showing up for the fights, but I want to say I guess I can take that as a compliment,” he said.
But for Barnett, competitions are about much more than himself. The teammates and friends he trains alongside are also stepping in the ring.
“I love watching the guys I train with win 'cause I know that I do work with them day in and day out,” he said. “I train them, and they train me, and we all learn stuff from each other, so seeing them get in the ring and win, it's just as good as me getting in there and winning myself."
For now, he will continue to train and bide his time until his next shot at the title.
“I want to compete so bad, and I want my belt,” he said. “That 155-pound title is mine for the taking. My next opponent is going to have to feel the wrath of all this that's going on because I've got a lot building up inside of me. Especially after having this happen twice in a row."