Josh Barnett took a hard-fought decision win in Japan. | File photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Going five rounds was not part of the plan for Josh Barnett.
While “The Warmaster” made an impressive return to action following a lengthy absence on Saturday night, he expected his headlining encounter with Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night in Saitama, Japan, to end much earlier than it did. Instead, Barnett spent 25 minutes in the Octagon with “Big Country,” roughing his opponent up with knees, punches and elbows in close quarters for the majority of that encounter.
When all was said and done, Barnett landed a UFC record 92 significant clinch strikes and a heavyweight record 146 significant strikes overall. Despite having just finished a grueling bout, the 37-year-old heavyweight had a sense of humor about the absurdity of it all.
“Wow, a lot of strikes, huh? For one, I didn’t want to have to throw that many strikes, so I blame Roy,” Barnett said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I blamed Roy immediately after the fight. I go: ‘Five rounds? You’re a dick.’ We’re not supposed to be there that long. Have you seen us?”
Of course, clinch offense has been a specialty of Barnett’s for years, and it propelled him in his first promotional appearance since December 2013.
“It’s just work, work, work, work and being able as a heavyweight to put your weight on your opponents. There are times when Roy’s putting his weight on me and he’s the heavier fighter and I’m carrying that 261 [pounds] and he’s carrying my 239,240,” Barnett said. “We’re just trying to wear those muscles out, make them labored, and I had a lot of good work in the clinch. I was able to be very, very active there.
“I’ve always been good in the clinch. I’ve always liked doing Greco as well, so it was pretty natural for me. It cuts down his ability to hit with a long shot, which Roy is known for.”
Nelson never did find a home for his trademark overhand right, but he did display some new skills. The portly heavyweight found a home for kicks to the head and body on several occasions and also landed a personal UFC best four takedowns. Still, it was not enough to overcome Barnett’s relentless pressure against the fence.
“I think the biggest thing that I was disappointed with was that I just got outworked,” Nelson said. “There were times... when I could’ve just moved and I didn’t. But I did a lot of good stuff tonight. If I compared to my last fight, today was a better fight than my last fight.”
Nelson has now lost five of his last six fights. However, those setbacks have all come against the cream of the heavyweight division: Barnett, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic. Barnett, who rebounded from a first-round technical knockout loss to Travis Browne at UFC 168, believes there is still a place for Nelson within the organization.
“I don’t think wins and losses really tell an entire story. If you need a heavyweight division to make noise, be exciting and to have perennial contenders that are going to always be capable of racking up wins and finishes then you have to have Roy Nelson,” he said. “People get hung up on wins and losses. I lost my last fight, but that’s not the kind of performance to expect from me ever again. Tonight I gave my all and I was able to win this win but it wasn’t anything like my last fight. I’d have to watch our fight, but I think he made improvements from his last fight as well. I know you can stick him in the ring with anybody in the UFC and they have to respect what he brings.”
Despite earning his first victory since August 2013, Barnett didn’t set any kind of timeframe for his next bout.
“I don’t know,” Barnett said of his future plans. “Stay in shape… The thing is you build upon things no matter what. Even the losses you have to build upon them. You have to dissect it and try to grow form it. You have to grow from wins. There’s a lot that I could pick out to try and improve my own performance.”