With a thundering comeback after a near-disaster in one rollicking round of action, Lavar Johnson bumped his Octagon record to 2-0 with an exciting stoppage of Pat Barry. Squaring off in the first bout of the UFC on Fox 3: "Diaz vs. Miller" televised card last night (Sat., May 5, 2012) in New Jersey, the heavyweights put on an exciting battle that was tailor-made for a nationwide television audience.
It was the kind of red meat thrown to the fans bereft of the classical pitfalls than can turn mainstream audiences off. And it's no accident these two kicked off the card. Johnson and Barry are headhunting sluggers, both with considerable grappling deficiencies and big-time power.
There's a special place for this kind of fighter, and with the UFC's attempt to secure an expanded foothold in the eyes of the sporting public, heavyweight barnburners go a long way toward the effort.
In recent years, Barry has occupied that niche status as a kind of operational hand grenade designed to detonate and create excitement. Win or lose, "HD" has always supplied an exciting fight, despite his obvious shortcomings on the mat in a game where grappling and takedown defense are huge factors in keeping opponents from dictating the fight, particularly in the heavyweight division.
However, with Barry's loss -- his third in four fights over the last 11 months -- Johnson may have displaced him as the resident UFC heavyweight slugger destined for exciting matches, if not implied contender status.
Lavar's modest ground game was showcased by Barry, of all people, dominating him on the mat for much of the bout's 4:38 of action. But fight fans have short memories, particularly newer ones, and a fight like Johnson vs. Barry will resonate in the mind of the lesser-educated fan for some time.
Coupled this with his Godzilla-like stoppage of the eminently durable Joey Beltran in his debut, and you wonder how they'll maximize Johnson's pair of big wins. Will they throw him in against a potent wrestler anytime soon?
I don't think so.
He offers too much excitement in the right kind of fight, particularly with the kind of thrills and TV-friendly viewing he can create in a brawl precisely like his previous two wins. At some point, Johnson will have to face the tough music of taking on the UFC's better wrestlers, but right now he's precisely in the kind of spot where his value can be maximized with the right style match-up.
That's the kind of parallel matchmaking world that allowed the UFC to get the most out of Barry's skills, given their limitations, and a pretty good one to be in for the time being.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or at twitter.com/jasonprobst.