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PART-TIME FIGHTER PACKS A FULL PUNCH

Chris Barnett is turning heads - with his fists - in Xtreme Fighting Championship.

You may have seen Chris Barnett at a few places around town. Perhaps it was at Lowe's, where Barnett holds a day job. Maybe it was at a local nightclub where Barnett likes to work on his breakdancing.

Saturday, he was on national television.

Barnett, a Tampa resident, was live on HDNet as part of the Xtreme Fighting Championship card at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday.

"It's all happened so fast," Barnett said.

Barnett, who has a strong background in wrestling and tae kwon do, decided to give cage fighting a try and attended an open tryout at the XFC Mixed Martial Arts Training Facility in Brandon last October.

"I put a guy down in like 18 seconds with a spinning sidekick," he said. "I think I made a pretty good impression."

Barnett was so impressive, he earned a slot on the XFC's next card in Tennessee in April, which was also televised on HDNet.

His debut was a success as Barnett won a unanimous decision against Johnathan Ivey, a fighter who'd entered the cage more than 60 times in his professional career.

"From that point on, people started recognizing me," Barnett said. "It was like I went from a nine-to-fiver to where I am now in one day."

Saturday sped up that transition as Barnett scored a technical knockout against Daniel Perez with 47 seconds left in the second round.

The formerly unbeaten Perez handed rising MMA star and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Marcus Jones his only professional loss.

Still it's hard to blame Barnett for still feeling like a "nine-to-fiver" because he still is. Barnett stocks shelves at Lowe's before heading to the XFC gym and L.A. Fitness in Brandon for training.

"Hopefully now I can end the Lowe's job," Barnett said. "I'm going to be training full-time."

Barnett, who weighed 320 pounds a year ago, now fights at 265. But this big man knows how to move. When he's not training and working, Barnett spends his time pursuing another passion - breakdancing.

"You should see the look on people's faces when they see a guy my size on the floor," Barnett said. "I mean, not many dudes my size pull off air chairs on a dance floor."

Barnett's agility for a heavyweight has many buzzing about his future in the sport. Saturday was a much stiffer challenge than Barnett's first fight, but he took on Perez and used strikes to score the TKO Saturday in the second round.

"Daniel Perez is tough," XFC president John Prisco said. "But Chris Barnett is an exceptionally gifted athlete."

Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

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