Fight Picks and Preview: UFC Fight Night – Barnett vs. Nelson

Nelson Barnett Japan

After spending the last three weeks with Invicta, Titan, Bellator and BAMMA it’s back to the Octagon for this weekend’s top mixed martial arts action as the UFC visits the famous Saitama super arena in Japan for its latest international fight night event.

Fittingly, considering it’s the venue of PRIDE’s big shows in the early part of the millennium, the old-school heavyweights top Saturday night’s card as veteran Josh Barnett takes on the hard-hitting Roy “Big Country” Nelson.

A former UFC heavyweight champion, Barnett is one of the longest active MMA fighters in the world today having made his debut way back in 1997. Now forty fights deep in his career, the nomadic “Warmaster” has fought in Affliction, PRIDE, Strikeforce and more, as well as his two stints in the eight sided enclosure. Wins over the likes of Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Hunt were the highlights of his prime while his return to the UFC after an eleven year absence as a 35 year-old in 2013 has seen Barnett go 1-1 with a win over Frank Mir and a loss to Travis Browne.

Like Barnett, Roy Nelson spent long periods on the outskirts of the UFC before making his debut in 2009 as he won the tenth, and most successful, season of “The Ultimate Fighter”. Since then Nelson has had a turbulent fourteen fight stint with seven losses and seven wins. Of the seven wins, every single one has come inside the distance while the only man to stop Nelson inside the Octagon was the Super Samoan Mark Hunt who knocked him out almost a year ago to the day.

As fighters these two are very different in their approach. Barnett is a well-rounded mixed martial artist with an impressive adherence to the traditional arts. Catch wrestling has been his base for years and once he gets you to the ground his strikes and submissions from side-control and mount are up there with the best in the division. On the feet the former champ is a neat, technical striker who ups the power when needs be, while his takedown offence comes largely against the cage, along with some knees to the face usually, or from trips.

Nelson, on the other hand, is all about swinging hands like there is a sale on windmills. “Big Country” is known for his ungodly power in his overhand right and lets it fly early and often while he still has enough gas in his tank to make it count. To that lethal weapon, he has also added some nifty lead hooks and uppercuts which also sting, while on the ground the former IFL champion has an extremely dangerous top game with one of the best crucifixs in the world – although he rarely uses it anymore because of his addiction to throwing bombs.

As a contest, this one, like almost all heavyweight bouts, will be very exciting early but has the potential to turn sloppy if the finish doesn’t come. Look for Nelson to come out swinging like he always does with that overhand shot while Barnett will be trying to keep him at distance with the jab all the way out or tie him up with a clinch all the way in. If Nelson can’t land that one big shot early doors he is likely to fade midway through and, over five rounds, it will undoubtedly favour Barnett from that point on with his superior conditioning and variety. For me, Nelson not being able to get the KO early and Barnett dominating is the likeliest outcome. I think “The Baby Faced Assassin” will make it a clinchfest early to tire Nelson and get some takedowns with ease once the second half of the fight comes around. From there it will be a case of Nelson toughing it out and, if the past is anything to go by, toughness certainly isn’t an issue for Big Country. Either way, it will decide who is still potentially relevant at the highest weight class.

Like the main event, the other big fight on this card sees an MMA veteran take on a TUF alum as middleweight contenders Gegard Mousasi and Uriah Hall fill the co-main event slot. A former DREAM and Strikeforce champion, Mousasi has been around the upper echelon of MMA for most of his twelve years as a professional fighter despite only making his UFC debut in 2013. The Dutchman has wins over legends Mark Hunt, Melvin Manheof, Mark Munoz and Dan Henderson but his losses to Jacare Souza and Lyoto Machida in the UFC mean he is still outside the championship fold for the moment.

For Uriah Hall this fight is a chance take out the number six ranked middleweight in the world and leapfrog his way into the rankings having taken the fight on around four weeks notice following the withdrawal of Roan Carneiro. Entering the UFC in 2013 also, Hall had already lost on the local scene to future UFC stand-outs Costa Philippou and Chris Weidman while his opening two octagon fights also ending in defeat and with him being branded timid and “not a fighter” by UFC president Dana White. Since then Hall has improved with four wins out of five appearances but this match-up against Mousasi is undeniably his toughest take to date.

When looking at this fight as a contest it’s really a case of the wily veteran against the younger (in fighting years), more athletic physical specimen. As the veteran, Mousasi will be looking to mix his elite striking with a tremendous takedown game, which he has used particularly well as of late, to put Hall off his game. “Primetime” conversely likes to establish a rhythm on the feet before throwing a few feelers followed by his power shots when he deems them warranted. In the past, Hall has had a problem letting fly with shots because of that necessity to throw them from a perfect rhythmic base and Mousasi will know that as he attempts to play destroyer accordingly. For me, the x-factor in this fight could be Hall’s useful takedown defence and his ability to establish distance. If those two things are on point for him on Saturday, I think he has the potential to land the big shot and finish the Dutchman.

Outside of that this card doesn’t have too much in the way of excitement although former flyweight challenger Kyoji Horiguchi should be in a fun fight against Chico Camus while German Nick Hei and former UFC Dublin main-eventer Diego Brandao are also in action. This one, though, is all about the big boys and should have it’s crescendo at the perfect time.

Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson – Barnett weathers the storm, wins decision
Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall – Hall gets the finish
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Chico Camus – Kyoji‘s striking sees him through
Takeya Mizugaki vs. George Roop – Mizugaki takes the decision
Mizuto Hirota vs. Teruto Ishihara – Hirota

Katsunori Kikuno vs. Diego Brandao – Brandao via early finish
Keita Nakamura vs. Li Jingliang – Jingliang via KO
Nick Hein vs. Yusuke Kasuya – Hein via decision
Naoyuki Kotani vs. Kajan Johnson – Johnson because Kotani is awful

Shinsho Anzai vs. Roger Zapata – Zapata decision


My bet for this week is a simple Uriah Hall win at 11/4

START TIMES (Irish time)

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 2

Main card – 3am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook