Josh Barnett enjoyed rousing support in his home away from home in Japan as he picked up a unanimous decision victory over a very game Roy Nelson in the five-round main event Saturday night.
Barnett has been a mainstay in Japan for a huge part of his career between fighting, cornering other fighters and his second career as a professional wrestler. Barnett even gave up his traditional walk-out music and instead treated the Japanese fans to the same song he used once upon a time while he was competing in PRIDE Fighting Championships.
From the outside looking in, it appeared that Barnett might want to work his grappling game to avoid Nelson's notable power. Conversely, Nelson has one of the deadliest punches in the sport with the sledgehammer he carries around in his right hand.
But once the fight started both men went in the complete opposite direction.
Barnett immediately began looking for strikes from the clinch, including a huge knee that he fired right up the middle early in the first round. The former UFC heavyweight champion even launched a head kick that glanced by Nelson's head, who then countered by grabbing the leg and dragging the fight to the ground.
Nelson was actually able to secure a total of four takedowns during the fight, but he could never capitalize on the position as the referee stood them up time and time again.
Round two ended up being Barnett's best work all night as he was the aggressor pushing the action while punishing Nelson with everything in his arsenal.
Barnett bludgeoned Nelson in the body and head with his knees from the clinch while also pounding away with short inside elbow before separating to wing huge uppercuts.
"Clinch work wasn't good enough," Barnett said about his offensive onslaught. "Nothing I did in here was good enough tonight, but it's a good starting point."
Despite his self-criticism, Barnett landed a total of 95 significant strikes from the clinch, which according to Fightmetric is a new single-fight UFC record.
There were a few moments where it appeared Barnett might be close to finishing Nelson, but then the always-resilient former "Ultimate Fighter" winner would bite down on his mouthpiece and find a way to fight back.
Towards the end of the round, Nelson even unloaded a head kick that blasted Barnett in the face, and while he never flinched or fell down, it was clear that that was a strike he probably never expected when the fight began.
The next three rounds were considerably slower than the first two, with Barnett getting the better of the exchanges in the clinch while brutalizing Nelson with continued shots to the body and head.
Nelson was able to stay alive by always presenting a dangerous counter with his wild punches and takedown attack that Barnett was finally able to stave off as the minutes ticked away into the fourth and fifth rounds.
When it was over, both men were gasping for air but when the decision was returned Barnett got the victory by unanimous decision with the scores reading 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47.
An emotional Barnett addressed the crowd in Japanese while a smile crept across his face as he was able to return to the scene of many of his biggest accomplishments across mixed martial arts as well as his time spent in the country as a popular professional wrestler.
"Thank you Japan, I love you, I love you, I love you," Barnett said. "Every time I fight in Japan I'm excited and nervous at the same time but I love this country, thank you."
Barnett even celebrated with his opponent, who gave him everything he could handle over five rounds. Barnett stated prior to the fight that he wanted to get back into the title race in the heavyweight division, and while he didn't score a spectacular finish, Nelson pushed him for 25 minutes and he was forced to show he was ready for those championship rounds.
"Roy Nelson's a champ. He's a warrior and he's the kind of people we need in the UFC," Barnett said. "That's what people want to see fight. That's why I gave Roy everything I could and he took it and came back and that's why Roy is the man."