Josh Barnett has not suffered back-to-back losses since 2005. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
A slew of Japanese stars and action fighters are joined by an interesting mix of prospects, contenders and journeymen as the Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its return to Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on Saturday, with UFC Fight Night “Barnett vs. Nelson.”
Former UFC heavyweight champion and onetime Pride Fighting Championships mainstay Josh Barnett takes on Roy Nelson in the main event, while Gegard Mousasi meets Uriah Hall in the co-headliner. Elsewhere, flyweight super prospect Kyoji Horiguchi looks to get back on his feet against Chico Camus.
Will Barnett do the homeland of fellow catch wrestler Kazushi Sakuraba proud, or will Nelson add yet another devastating knockout to his resume? Here is a closer look at the entire UFC Fight Night “Barnett vs. Nelson” card, with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsJosh Barnett (33-7, 5-2 UFC) vs Roy Nelson (20-11, 7-7 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: After an absence of nearly two years, Barnett returns to take on one of MMA’s heaviest hitters in one of MMA’s most storied venues.
Nelson has been a knockout artist for so long that most, perhaps even “Big Country” himself, have forgotten his excellent jiu-jitsu skills. Before coming to the UFC, Nelson was known for his solid guard passing and top control, the highlight of which was his crucifix -- one of the few positions in grappling actually improved by the presence of his generous belly. However, lacking the wrestling chops necessary to get the fight to the ground, Nelson has certainly found a new comfort zone on the feet.
Nelson’s standup is rudimentary, to say the least, but no one can deny his effectiveness. Every one of his seven UFC wins has come by way of knockout, and, with the exception of a mercy stoppage against Mirko Filipovic, all were administered by Nelson’s thudding right hand. Nelson has continued to implement his limited game thanks to deceptively quick feet and a pawing left hand that every once in a while turns into a respectable shotgun jab. Add in the former International Fight League champion’s inhuman chin and you have the recipe for a very dangerous knockout artist. The major flaw in Nelson’s approach is his stamina, which has failed him in the later rounds of many recent fights. Consider the fact that he and Barnett are scheduled for five rounds -- Nelson has never even seen the fourth -- and that leaky gas tank starts to seem like a real liability.
Barnett is no master of transitions himself. Like a 248-pound Ronda Rousey, he has gotten himself into trouble rushing headlong into clinches rather than sliding in behind punches and feints. A similarly telegraphed takedown attempt in Barnett’s last fight saw him blasted into oblivion by the elbows of Travis Browne, as he lost consciousness while still clinging to a double-leg he never finished.
Fortunately for Barnett, his skills in each individual phase have always been solid enough to fill in some of the gaps. The highlight, of course, is Barnett’s submission grappling, a potent blend of aggressive, Sakuraba-esque catch wrestling and positionally sound Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Barnett gets lots of love for his opportunistic leg lock game, but his guard passing and top control are excellent, as well, and his mounted arm-triangle is a reliable finisher. Barnett is choppy but effective on the feet, calling on an eclectic blend of Savateur kicks, muay Thai elbows and basic boxing to get the job done. His takedowns are workmanlike but his clinch wrestling is something to behold, and he hides his trips and throws in a hailstorm of short punches, elbows and knees.
THE ODDS: Barnett (-255), Nelson (+215)
THE PICK: Heavyweight MMA is always unpredictable, and there are few elements more chaotic than Nelson’s right hand. “Big Country” is a live underdog, particularly considering the long layoff from which Barnett is returning. At 37 years of age, however, a rest might have been just what Barnett needed, and if his postings on social media are any clue, the man has been keeping himself in shape. What’s more, Nelson has spent the last two years absorbing more punches than he has been delivering, dashing any hopes of a late-career renaissance in the process. The pick is Barnett by TKO in round five.
Next Fight » Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall