Another Fight Night is upon us as the UFC makes its way back to Japan for an event headlined by Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson. We’ll be taking a look at a few of the main card fights: first up was Takeya Mizugaki vs. George Roop, then Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Chico Camus, then Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall, and now we’re on the night’s main event, Josh Barnett (33-7) vs. Roy Nelson (20-11).
Both heavyweights are coming off losses, but outside of a loss in their last fights, their recent records tell very different stories. Barnett was KO’d into oblivion by Travis Browne in December 2013, so when Barnett steps back into the cage, it will be just a few months shy of two years since he last competed. Barnett is 3-2 in his last five, and his only other loss was to current UFC champion Daniel Cormier (under the Strikeforce banner).
Nelson last lost Alistair Overeem in March of this year, and while he’s been more active than Barnett, he has had less success. Nelson is 1-4 in his last five fights, his only win being a first round starching of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Barnett is a big name in Japan having fought there for the Pride promotion as well as in some Japanese pro wrestling bouts. Both men are looking to bounce back from their losses and work up the heavyweight ladder, but Nelson needs this win more.
The oddsmakers favor Barnett in this fight as he is the favorite at -290 while Nelson is the underdog at +245. Barnett will have a reach advantage over Nelson and his catch wrestling skills should be a very interesting matchup against Nelson’s underrated BJJ game.
Barnett leads the way in the statistics for nearly every category, but Nelson packs definite one punch KO power in addition to having been more active over the last two years. I think smart money would pick Barnett to grind out a decision here, and if he can smother Nelson on the ground with a strong top game, Barnett could eek out a (probably fairly boring) decision.
But if Nelson stays busy and sets up his overhand, he definitely has the power to end Barnett’s night early. Nelson needs this win, and he needs it badly. While another loss likely wouldn’t mean a release for Nelson because of a lack of depth in the heavyweight division, it will knock him even further down the ladder. This makes me hopeful that Nelson has taken his training for this fight seriously and will be prepared for what Barnett will bring to the table.
Although Nelson isn’t known for a particularly speedy attack early in fights, he should realize that overwhelming Barnett early could set him right up for one of those big overhand rights. Don’t look for Nelson to walkoff KO Barnett like he did Nogueira, but once he puts Barnett on the mat, he’ll be able to finish the fight there with punches about midway through the first round.