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UFC Japan: 'Barnett vs Nelson,' The Report Card

Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

Well that was a war. And who better to fight in a war than the "Warmaster," Josh Barnett?

He and Roy "Big Country" Nelson put on a show to cap off UFC Fight Night 75 from Saitama Super Arena in Japan last night (Sat., Sept. 26, 2015), in a fight where just about everything but the kitchen sink landed.

More on that later.

The main and co-main events saved what had, up until that point, been a relatively sleepy card apart from a Diego Brandao finish and the sloppy brawl in the Road to UFC: Japan Featherweight finale.

I gotta be honest with you. I had no idea there was a road to Japan. I've always heard it was a 12-hour flight.

As always, I'm here to break down the performances of each fighter on the main card and assess their "grade" they might receive were this an academic lesson.

So, who passed with flying colors and who was wearing the dunce cap? Find out below.


Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

What a frigging battle. These two pretty much emptied the gas tank of every last drop of fuel over the course of five gruelling rounds, much of it consisting of punishment dispensed on Roy Nelson from the brutal knees and punches of Josh Barnett.

Watch the Highlight Reel right here.

Every time Barnett landed a knee my mouth puckered and my body winced in sympathy. And yet Nelson ate those shots time after time and kept coming back for more like he was at an all-you-can-eat shitkicking buffet. Roy Nelson withstood so much punishment in that fight that scientists will probably ask him if they can start making bomb shelters out of materials from his chin.

Not that Barnett got off easy. Nelson also landed some bombs that would have dropped a building, yet the "Warmaster" walked right through them to land his own counters, followed up by two or three more. We also got to see a little bit of the wrestling prowess of "Big Country" who succeeded in taking down Barnett several times, which is no small feat against a man with his pedigree of grappling skills.

After the fight, the gracious and well-spoken Barnett addressed the crowd in Japanese, thanking them for coming to the see the battle, before giving props to Nelson for his mental and physical toughness. It was a redeeming and endearing moment for a card that had, for the most part, been kind of boring.

As for Nelson, he goes down to defeat once again in lopsided fashion, a loss that will surely cast a spotlight once again on the questionable work ethic of an otherwise talented fighter. Coming in at 261 pounds, it seems ridiculous he ever considered dropping down to Light Heavyweight, yet with his fifth loss in six fights I can't think of any other alternative to salvage a career sinking faster than the Titanic. Sadly, while he's undeniably mentally tough inside the Octagon, his sheer laziness appears to be a continuing detrimental factor in ever achieving true greatness.

Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

The storylines coming into this fight were fairly dull. On the one hand you had the heavy favorite in Mousasi, a man with a fearsome reputation in grappling and striking who has 31 finishes on his resume. On the other there's an underachieving underdog who failed to live up to expectations after scoring one of the most brutal knockouts in the history of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, losing to such mediocre fighters as Rafael Natal and John Howard.

I've seen a few upsets in my time. There was George St-Pierre losing to Matt Serra. More recently we saw TJ Dillashaw destroy Renan Barao in their first battle. But, I don't think I've ever seen an upset that included such a highlight-reel finish. I mean, Uriah Hall absolutely brutalized Gegard Mousasi with a brilliant combination that truly could not be overstated, even if Joe Rogan were screaming into a microphone about it.

If he was screaming into a microphone, then good. It deserves screaming.

Not only was the win surprising, it was also supremely satisfying. After a first round in which Mousasi played blanket to the bed that was Hall, I'm fairly certain he thought he could play out two more rounds in exactly the same fashion. Which is why it was not surprising that he came out searching for another 10-second takedown. But, his greatest mistake was his complete disdain and disrespect for Hall's ridiculous power, lurching forward to grab for a takedown even as the spinning kick was coming for his jaw.

Watch the brutal finish right here.

Credit certainly goes to Mousasi's legendary chin, as he was wobbled from that devastating kick but not finished. Yet moments later, even as the Iranian was lunging for yet another hapless, hopeless and desperate takedown, Hall landed the kind of flying knee that would put most people in a coma. After that, it was simply a matter of Hall battering the punch drunk fighter into the mat. Boom. His first loss via technical knockout in 45 fights.

Suddenly, there are completely new storylines. We finally witnessed Hall's true potential last night, a devastating power striker with finishing instinct. A man not to be underestimated or overlooked ever again.

As for Mousasi, he may just be the 2015 version of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Another fighter with a mountain of talent and toughness, unable to overcome his own mental lapses. One thing seems certain. Last night, the "wasted potential" sticker was peeled from the forehead of Hall and branded with a hot poker on Mousasi's.


Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

I know I was supposed to be entertained by this fight but... I wasn't. Sorry. I don't know. I guess I feel bad for the flyweight division. It should be exciting. They move at the speed of light with technique and skill and grace. But I found myself inadvertently browsing the Internet while the fight was going on, looking over now and then to confirm that Kyoji Horiguchi was putting a shitkicking on Chico Camus over three rounds as we all expected would happen.

There were a few moments of excitement when Horiguchi stunned Camus in the second round, but these guys recover from being rocked faster than the browser windows changes when your boss walks by your office. So after the few dramatic seconds it's back to the dancing game of lunge and parry, attack and retreat.

Honestly, it felt like I was watching tennis. Some back and forth for a while, some polite applause from the crowd, and then back to square one. Let's be honest. This isn't the bloodsoaked violence you signed up for when you began watching mixed martial arts.

Or maybe it is. I'm not going to judge you. It just didn't do it for me. Dare I say it? I was pretty bored and mainly thinking about the next fight. Perhaps it's not fair. I'm sure the skill displayed in the fight was leagues beyond anything we watched for five rounds in the main event. But given the choice between the two I know which one I'd pick every time.

As for Chico Camus, the dude is a sadly wasted talent. I don't know what's going on there, but dropping to 125 pounds simply isn't working for him. He's too slow for the weight class, doesn't fight with enough urgency, and seems to have completely abandoned the style that actually won him his flyweight debut fight against Brad Pickett. Maybe that's why Pickett packed his bags and went back to bantamweight where he belongs.

Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

Imagine if Jon Jones fought at Light Heavyweight the way George Roop fought last night? I mean, it may not be the best example since "Bones" is incredible anywhere the fight goes, but my point is that Roop doesn't seem to realize he's a genetic fucking freak at 135 pounds. Dude has a reach advantage over anyone who shows up to fight him, yet he insists on trying to be Chad Mendes.

Why Roop decided to fight in a phone booth with Takeya Mizugaki is beyond my understanding or comprehension. He clinched with the Japanese fighter at every given opportunity, even after landing shots that clearly demonstrated he belongs at range. I mean, I think Roop all showed us an important lesson about learning. You can teach technique but you can't unteach stupid.

Roop's most impressive career win, a head kick knockout over Chan Sung Jung at WEC 51 in 2010, did not happen by trying to wrestle. Five years later he still hasn't figured it out.

Mizugaki, meanwhile, was happier than a pig in shit, using his dirty boxing and grappling to outwork and outhustle the rangy fighter. Happy, that is, until he stood sobbing like a lost child at a mall in his post-fight interview. Although, the translator said he was ecstatic, so there you go.

Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

Derp. I'm trying to figure out the game plan of Katsunori Kikuno.

1. Stand directly in front of power puncher Diego Brandao

2. Drop my hands

3. ???

4. Profit

Sadly, that plan didn't work that well as Brandao waxed Kikuno in just under 30 seconds in what might just be one of the easiest nights of any UFC fighter who had to travel 12,000 miles for a fight.

I mean, what else is there to say or evaluate here? Kikuno came out with his hands down, got punched in his face, and finished. It has to be one of the most bizarre fights I've ever seen.

Photo: Esther Lin, MMAFighting.com

This was a fairly cool little "Japan featherweight final" between two -- let's face it -- completely irrelevant fighters. Mizuto Hirota already flunked out of Strikeforce and UFC back in 2013 so it's hard to imagine how adding two extra years to his 34-year-old body would help his chances, but you've got to admit the "kid" has heart.

Hirota was up against Teruto Ishihara, a younger and considerably more arrogant looking puffed up flyweight trying to make it into UFC by going up 20 pounds in weight. It was clear that Ishihara was the faster, more technical fighter from the outset, dropping Hirota several times in the first and second rounds.

But as the fight wore on deep into the second round and then into the third, you could see that Hirota possessed something that Ishihara will likely never surpass. Heart. Hirota kept coming and coming and coming, tiring out the younger and faster fighter to the point where you could visibly see Ishihara fading. Despite the close fight, it seemed clear who the winner would be.

The judges, however, had other plans. Perhaps due to a scoring error, a flight of fancy or some other reason, one of the judges handed in a 10-10 round, making it a draw. In some respects it seemed appropriate, as the two men were taken away in an ambulance to be treated at the hospital for their war wounds.

On the other hand it seemed just like the same colossal fucking failures the UFC endured back at the Flyweight Tournament Semifinal in 2012 and the inaugural Lightweight Championship fight at UFC 41, which caused the promotion to outright shutter the division. Sheesh, get your shit together, guys.

Quick Hits From The Undercard

  • Keita Nakamura (B-) made a stunning comeback in the third round after getting absolutely outclassed on the feet in the second by Li Jingliang (C+), who demonstrated Exhibit A why you don't give up your back mindlessly to a guy with 17 rear naked chokes on his resume.
  • Kenny Florian and Jon Anik said that Yusuke Kasuya (C) is the best Lightweight fighter to come out of Japan. And if he didn't spend the whole fight high-fiving Nick Hein (B+) every time the German kneed him in the balls, he might even prove it. Instead he got dominated, 30-27.
  • Maybe it's just that UFC 174 sucked more than the movie Ishtar, but I've had a vendetta against everyone and anyone on that card. Perhaps that's why I didn't give Kajan Johnson (B+) any credit headed into this one. He not only dismantled Naoyuki Kotani (F), he looked pretty good doing it. Except the third round. You kind of let that one get away from you, bro.
  • Shinsho Anzai (C) did little more than tuck his head and jump between the legs of Roger Zapata (D), who seemed curiously disinterested in smashing the Japanese fighter. An injury ended what was likely a foregone conclusion anyway. Zapata looked awful, but Anzai seemed to have the striking diversity of a quad amputee.
That's a wrap! See you guys next week when Daniel Cormier puts his paper... I mean his belt on the line against a guy who was last seen getting smashed by the guy who was last smashed by Cormier. Hooray?

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