Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson entered Saturday night’s UFC fight Night 75 main event in Japan as they always do… looking to unleash violence that entertains. Aside from the entertainment factor, however, both men had a lot more to fight for.
Barnett was making his first start in nearly two years and coming off of a loss to Travis Browne his last time out. Nelson, never quite fulfilling his full potential since winning season ten of The Ultimate Fighter, entered the bout having lost four out of his last five fights, including his two most recent bouts.
In short, each man needed the victory to stay relevant at the top end of the UFC heavyweight division, and they fought like it. No one can ever say that either man doesn’t come to fight. They both tried to find the finish, but neither could.
By the end of the fight, both were battered, bloodied and bruised, gasping for air, but it was Barnett that held the upper hand throughout.
The first round was a lot of give and take, as Nelson followed his usual game plan, trying to find that big overhand right that would take Barnett out early. But Barnett would have none of it.
As much as Nelson went for the low-output, high-power finish, Barnett played it smart, using his height and reach to land punch combinations so that he could move into a clinch, where he did the bulk of his damage. Frequently utilizing the Thai clinch, Barnett did a lot of work on Nelson’s body early, landing knee after knee and punch after punch, particularly in the opening two rounds.
As Nelson’s gas tank emptied, Barnett upped the stakes, unloading with uppercuts, elbows and knees to the head in the clinch, but just wasn’t able to put him away. By all rights, any man should have dropped under the onslaught the Barnett unleashed, but Nelson is not any man, he’s every man.
Nelson was running on fumes in the final two rounds, but he never gave up, still able to land that one big shot or takedown that kept Barnett honest. And by this point, if only because of his shear output and attempts to finish the fight, Barnett was fading as well.
But he remained fresher than Nelson until the final bell, courtesy of a visible effort to be well conditioned for this fight, and the judges rewarded him in kind, scoring it a unanimous decision victory for Barnett.
The “War Master” appeared emotional after the fight when talking about competing in Japan, which is really a home away from home for Barnett. Much of his career success has come while fighting and wrestling in Japan.
“Every time I fight in Japan, I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” Barnett said. “I love this country.”
The victory put Barnett back on the map after his lengthy stay outside of the Octagon, but leaves Nelson in limbo, now having lost five of his last six fights. It’s not, but if it were up to Barnett, Nelson won’t be going anywhere after this fight, despite many recent results not falling to his favor.
“Roy’s a champion. It’s not about belts, it’s about the way people fight,” Barnett stated. “Roy Nelson fights like he means it. He’s the kind of people we need in the UFC. Roy’s the man.”