The UFC travels to one of the most important nations in the development of MMA, Japan, for UFC Fight Night: Barnett vs. Nelson. Japan isn't the hotbed for MMA popularity that it was in the late 90's and early 2000's, but the UFC is doing what it can to kick the sport's popularity in the land of the rising sun with solid cards like this event Saturday's on FS1.
It is headlined by a true MMA and professional wrestling star in Japan, Josh Barnett, taking on the bombastic Roy Nelson. The co-main event is an excellent fight between two skilled middleweights, Gegard Mousasi and Uriah Hall.
Below that, top flyweight contender Kyoji Horiguchi gets a chance to get back on the winning track, at home, against Chico Camus. Further down the card, fellow former world title challenger Takeya Mizugaki returns to action and looks to show that he's still got it.
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Josh Barnett (33-7) vs. Roy Nelson (21-11)
As usual, Roy Nelson will be facing a much taller opponent in the heavyweight division in the form of Josh Barnett. He's used to that, but what he isn't used to is an opponent who has perhaps just as much ability and knowledge about the submission ground game as he does.
As the best catch-wrestler in the world, Barnett is a terror on the mat with his rough but technical style of fighting. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Nelson is slick on the ground as well, especially when he gets the top position.
I imagine that it will be hard for Nelson to take Barnett down, however. If anything, the former world champion likely has the wrestling advantage, here.
But, "Big Country" has the punching-power advantage. If he can hurt Barnett and make him think twice about coming inside, Nelson could put his larger opponent on his heels.
We bet that whoever gets top position in this fight will win. If it stays on the feet, it will be interesting to see if Barnett has improved enough during his time away from competition to match Nelson's dangerous striking.
Prediction: We'll take Nelson via upset TKO win
Gegard Mousasi (37-5-2) vs. Uriah Hall (12-5)
This middleweight contest is a fascinating one between two of the division's more skilled strikers. Mousasi sits a ninth all-time in the division in strike differential while Hall has landed 52.9 percent of his significant strikes, good for fourth in the division, according to FightMetric.
Both fighters also have plenty to gain with a win. Mousasi has a chance to extend his win-streak to three, against a surging, larger, and young new talent and Hall has a chance to prove that he is ready to fight the elite.
Hall is a sniper with his single punches and kicks, while Mousasi has relaxed and sharp boxing skills, on the feet. Hall has the striking power advantage, and Mousasi won't want to be too sleepy on the feet. The European is certainly capable of doing damage with his strikes, as well, but as the better grappler, he'd be smart to try to get Hall on his back when the opportunity arises.
Prediction: Mousasi by decision
Kyoji Horiguchi (15-1) vs. Chico Camus (14-6)
Horiguchi is trying to get back on track after a literal last-second loss in April to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Camus wants to prove that he's ready for title contention, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to do so.
Camus needs to be aggressive and have great conditioning, if he is to make Horiguchi move backwards and tire, leading to openings. Otherwise, Horiguchi is a very tough out for Camus or anyone.
Heck, even "Mighty Mouse" had to make adjustments and grind it out before he was able to impose his will on the young Japanese contender. Horiguchi has good hands, solid wrestling and the patience of a much older fighter.
Prediction: Horiguchi by decision
Takeya Mizugaki (20-9-2) vs. George Roop (15-12-1)
I love this fight between two underrated bantamweights. Mizugaki has world-class ability and may have one last run in him if he can get back on the winning track.
Roop is always dangerous with his submission ability on the ground and his crazy reach on the feet. Mizugaki will have to buzz in and out with strikes on the feet, and not get wrapped up on the inside or stunned with strikes on the outside of Roop's punches.
Roop needs to corner Mizugaki and hope his heavy punches have enough speed on them to connect.
Prediction: Mizugaki by decision
Katsunori Kikuno (23-7-2) vs. Diego Brandao (23-10)
Kikuno is a true veteran of the sport, and has had some good success in his recent UFC run. However, he may be vulnerable to exactly what makes Brando most dangerous -- striking power.
Kikuno simply doesn't lose that often, unless he gets caught with big strikes and stopped. Brandao will want to be active enough to hope to connect with one of his big punches, but not if it means getting sloppy, off-balance, and opening himself up as Kikuno has real submission ability.
Prediction: Brandao by TKO stoppage from strikes
Mizuto Hirota (17-7) vs. Teruto Ishihara (7-2)
Hirota is the old dog who's gotten another shot at the big leagues after a recent streak, and who hopes to prove that he can make his mark on the biggest stage MMA has to offer after an already successful career. Ishihara is the young upstart who hopes his dynamism, youth, and relative lack of mileage lead to victory against the veteran.
We'll take Hirota. Even when he's lost, it's been against the best, and usually only by decision. He's got real power, as Ishihara does, but a great deal more experience.
Prediction: Hirota by decision
Keita Nakamura (30-6) vs. Li Jingliang (10-3)
Nakamura was just a kid when he dropped back-to-back decisions to strong wrestlers Drew Fickett and Brock Laren in the UFC. Since then, he's gained a world of experience, strung many wins together, and even leads his own team. Li has handled himself quite well over three UFC fights, and he has size, submission ability and durability to spare.
Prediction: Nakamura by decision
Nick Hein (12-2) vs. Yusuke Kasuya (9-1)
Kasuya is a dangerous submission fighter and Hein is a stifling presence. If it ends soon, we think it will be Kasuya, but Hein is a good pick for the decision win.
Prediction: Hein by decision
Naoyuki Kotani 33-12-7 vs. Kajan Johnson (20-12-1)
Kotani needs a win, badly, and a submission is his best chance, here. That said, Johnson is solid on the ground, as well, with 40 percent of his career wins coming by way of submission.
More importantly, the TriStar team member has renewed confidence after winning three out of his last four fights.
Prediction: Johnson by decision
Shinsho Anzai (8-2) vs. Roger Zapata (4-1)
Zapata has to travel a long way to prove that he belongs in the UFC. Anzai is also likely eager to score his first UFC win, in his native country. It will be tough for Zapata to keep Anzai off of him and defend the takedown.
Prediction: Anzai by decision