After a three-week break from our screens, the UFC finally returned to its seat at the head of the MMA table with UFC Fight Night 75. The event, which emanated from the historic Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, marked the organization's first stop in "The Land of the Rising Sun" in over a year.
The 10-fight card, which featured action across 7 of the UFC's divisions, was highlighted by performances by some of Japan's best fighters, and capped off by a classic heavyweight showdown between Roy Nelson and Josh Barnett. And though it was robbed last-minute of a highly-anticipated "Kid" Yamamoto vs. Matt Hobar bout, it delivered as a memorable night of fights all the same, complete with all the wild finishes, back-and-forth battles, comebacks and upsets we crave.
Here's a recap of the action for those who missed it!
The Main Card:
Josh Barnett Earns Decision Triumph over Roy Nelson
In the main event of the evening, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett returned from a two-year absence—the longest layoff of his illustrious career. He made his return against fan favorite Roy Nelson, who looked for his first win since April of 2014. Given the finishing capabilities of both men (they owned a collective 46 leading into the bout) few people expected this one to reach the judges' scorecards. Yet that's precisely what happened.
For five grueling rounds, the two heavyweights grappled, clinched, and traded heavy artillery. And though Nelson landed some big shots, and more impressively 4 of 9 attempted takedowns, by the time the final bell chimed, Barnett had simply done more. Over the course of the bout, "The Warmaster" landed a total of 212 strikes, 171 of which were deemed significant—more than enough to earn him the nod.
The unanimous decision victory propels Barnett to 34-7 overall, and 2-1 since rejoining the UFC in August of 2013. Nelson, on the other hand, who saw the "championship rounds" for the first time, falls to 20-12 overall, and more worryingly, 1-5 in his last 6. Considering the scale of his recent competition, however, he's likely to be kept around for another UFC bout. Win, lose, or draw, people always tune in to watch Big Country do his thing.
Uriah Hall Shines Against Gegard Mousasi
For all his talent, few people gave Uriah Hall a chance against Gegard Mousasi in UFC Japan's co-main event. Though he's shown flashes of brilliance in the past, his being able to deal with the former Dream and Strikeforce champ's well-rounded skill-set and massive experiential edge seemed unlikely.
Hall proved the world wrong with a jumping, spinning back kick, a flying knee, and some follow-up ground-and-pound, which combined for an onslaught that looked like it belonged in the wheelhouse of button-mashing Tekken player. The victory followed a tough round one, which saw him taken down and threatened with multiple submission attempts. Needless to say, he avoided such trouble in the second.
The victory, which is undoubtedly the biggest of his career, moves Hall to 12-5 overall, and 5-3 in the UFC. Now on a 2-fight streak, expect him to enter the UFC middleweight rankings shortly. Mousasi, on the other hand, experiences the first knockout loss of his 44-fight career—a career that his seen him mix it up with big punchers like Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson, Ovince St. Preux, Mark Hunt, Melvin Manhoef and Hector Lombard. He now sits 37-6-2 overall and 4-3 in the UFC.
Kyoji Horiguchi Overwhelms Chico Camus
The only flyweight bout of the night pitted recent divisional title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi with the ever-capable Chico Camus. And though many pundits—including Michael Bisping and Brian Stann—picked Camus for the upset, Horiguchi instead reminded the world why he is so highly regarded.
For three rounds, the 24-year-old Kid Yamamoto protégé baffled his opponent with lightning fast lateral movement and slick footwork, repeatedly scoring with punches and kicks across all levels in the process. And though Camus was able to fire back with a few good shots, by the time the final bell rang, there could be no other outcome than a Horiguchi decision victory.
The decisive win moves the young Japanese fighter to an awesome 16-2 overall. He is now 5-1 in the UFC, with his lone loss coming against reigning flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson—a man he seems destined to meet again in the future.
Camus, meanwhile, slides to 14-7 overall—a record that is hardly indicative of his talent or heart. And while he appears unlikely to contend for the title any time soon, against Horiguchi, the Roufusport student reaffirmed his status as a tough test for even the world's top flyweights.
Takeya Mizugaki Drags George Roop to Decision
The lone bantamweight bout of the night paired Japan's Takeya Mizugaki with 6'1 American George Roop. Given Mizugaki's status as the UFC's eighth-ranked bantamweight, this marked a massive opportunity for the American who, over the course of a 26-fight career, has never won more than three-fights in a row. In the end, however, Roop was unable to capitalize on this chance.
For three grueling rounds, Mizugaki out-punched his towering opponent and wore him down inside the clinch. By the time the final bell rang, he'd done more than enough to earn the judges' favor.
The unanimous win moves Mizugaki to 21-9 overall, and separates him from back-to-back losses to Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling. Roop, meanwhile, stumbles to a tough 15-12 overall record and 4-6 in this, his second UFC stint. Now on a two-fight skid, it's hard to say whether he'll get another shot with the organization.
Diego Brandao Smashes Katsunori Kikuno
When he competed on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, Diego Brandao was a force of destruction. And though he's enjoyed just tepid UFC success since winning the show, he channeled his former self when he stepped onto the canvas in Japan. In other words, it was not a good night to be Katsunori Kikuno.
With a sledgehammer of an overhand right, the Brazilian floored his Japanese opponent before sealing the deal with a wild onslaught against the cage. It's the 13th first-round stoppage of his career and it moves him to 20-10 overall and 6-3 in the UFC. Kikuno, on the other hand, stumbles to 22-8 overall and 2-3 in the UFC. This is just the 4th stoppage loss of his 30-fight career.
Teruto Ishihara and Mizuto Hirota Brawl to a Draw
UFC Japan's main card was kicked off by Road to UFC: Japan finalists Teruto Ishihara and Mizuto Hirota in an exciting prospect vs. veteran matchup. And despite the mammoth stakes of the bout—there was a six-figure UFC contract on the line—the two featherweights threw caution to the wind and went for it with reckless abandon.
After three rounds of action that saw both men land huge shots and eat plenty of leather in the process, the back-and-forth nature of this hectic bout manifested itself in a majority draw. Luckily, it was announced that both men will be awarded UFC contracts. And considering they also seem likely to leave Saitama with Fight of the Night bonus checks in their wallets, both fighters have plenty to celebrate.
With the draw, the 34-year-old Hirota now sits at 17-7-2, while the 24-year-old Ishihara moves to 7-2-2.
Keita Nakamura Scores Epic Come-From-Behind Win
The final bout of UFC Japan's undercard came courtesy of the welterweight division, as former Sengoku, Deep and Shooto Pacific Rim champ Keita Nakamura mixed it up with China's Li Jingliang. For most of the bout, it looked like a bad night for the Japanese fighter.
Throughout rounds one and two, Jingliang landed at will to the head and body, dropping his bewildered opponent repeatedly. All signs pointed to a third-round stoppage for the China Top Team rep, yet when the stoppage did materialize, he found himself on the receiving end. After a executing a slick scramble from bottom position, Nakamura wound up on Jiangling's back, at which point he sunk in a deep rear-naked choke. Seconds later, the Chinese fighter fell to the ground in an unconscious heap to the roar of the Japanese fans in attendance. It was a comeback for the ages.
The rear-naked choke victory, which is the 14th on his resume and third in a row, moves Nakamura to an impressive 31-6-2 overall. With a successful UFC debut in the books, he's now on a five-fight win-streak. Jingliang, in contrast, returns to the loss column after a recent knockout win over Dhiego Lima. He's now 10-4 overall.
Nick Hein Edges Yusuke Kasuya
The third bout of the night paired Japan's Yusuke Kasuya with Germany's Nick Hein in an interesting lightweight pairing. And though Hein was pegged as a sizable betting favorite, it turned out to be very close fight.
Though he was dealt a fairly heinous groin shot, round one was all Kasuya's. Round two belonged definitively to Hein. The third and final round could have gone either way. In the end, the judges gave it to the German. The win propels the 31-year-old onto a two-fight win-streak, and to an overall record of 13-2. He's now 3-1 in the UFC. Kasuya, on the other hand, comes up short in his UFC debut and loses for just the second time. He's now 9-2-2 overall.
Kajan Johnson Outduels Naoyuki Kotani
The second bout of the night paired veteran Japanese lightweight Naoyuki Kotani with onetime Fightland contributor Kajan Johnson.
Unfortunately for the Japanese fans in attendance, this one was all Johnson. Relying on slick footwork, a diverse striking attack, and a whopping 9-inch reach advantage, the Canadian looked better than ever throughout rounds one and two. And though Kotani did enjoy some success in round three, it was too little, too late. All three judges gave it to Johnson.
In victory, the Tristar rep moves to 21-11 overall, and 3-1 in the UFC. He's now riding a two-fight streak, and if he continues to emulate Demetrious Johnson as he suggested in his post-fight interview, that streak is bound to grow. Kotani, meanwhile, slips onto a three-fight losing streak and remains winless throughout five fights over two UFC stints. He is now one of just five fighters to have lost five consecutive UFC bouts.
Zapata Injury Gives Anzai a Hometown Victory
The UFC's return to Japan began with an exciting welterweight pairing. In one corner we had Shinsho Anzai, a Japanese gunslinger who returned to action for the first time in over a year. In the other, we had TUF 19 alum Roger Zapata, who made his return after an even longer layoff of more than two years. Unfortunately, the end of this one turned out to be a little anti-climatic, as a third-round finger injury to Zapata forced the referee to put a halt to the action.
Though it surely wasn't the victory he was hoping for, it's a victory for Saitama's Anzai all the same. He now sits at a strong 9-2 overall with a 1-1 UFC record. Zapata, on the other hand, loses his UFC debut and moves to 4-2 in sum.