The biggest surprise in Saturday night’s main event at UFC Fight Night Japan? It went the full five rounds.
When heavyweights are involved, you expect a quick, sudden finish. But Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson took each other’s best shots and were still standing at the end.
They weren’t fighting for a title, but their performance was certainly championship-worthy on a night of watchable, unpredictable bouts. Let’s get started with today’s Talking Points.
1. Barnett’s big night.
Josh Barnett hadn’t been in the Octagon in almost two years, but his punches, knees and kicks were on target, giving him a unanimous decision win.
“Nothing I did in here tonight was good enough,” Barnett said. “But it was a good starting point.”
More than good. Neither Barnett nor Nelson expected their fight to go five rounds, but they held up well against each other’s best shots. Barnett was commanding in the clinch, landing uppercuts, knees and elbows that found their mark but weren’t able to cut down “Big Country.”
More from Fight Night Japan: Full Results | Post-fight bonus recap |Barnett outlasts Nelson in five-round thiller | Hall spin-kicks way to victory over Mousasi | Horiguchi, Mizugaki, Brandao win in Japan | Watch: Uriah Hall’s KO kick against Gegard Mousasi | Watch: Barnett’s passionate Octagon address to Japanese crowd | Watch: Uriah Hall talks after victory |Gallery: Best sights from Japan
Give Nelson credit, though. He was winded but showed an impressive chin. Barnett landed a single-fight heavyweight record 146 significant strikes, but Nelson somehow kept his feet.
Barnett (34-7) now looks primed to move up from his No. 8 spot in the heavyweight division. He turns 38 years old in November, so a title shot will have to come sooner rather than later.
2. Uriah Hall’s highlight reel.
Uriah Hall spent most of the first round against No. 6 middleweight Gegard Mousasi on his back. A different tactic changed the course of the fight in the second.
Hall, unranked but likely to find himself in the top 15 this week, came out firing after a troubling start. In spectacular order, a spinning back kick smacked Mousasi flush in the face, and a flying knee dropped him before a series of right hands brought an end via TKO.
In the opening round, Mousasi owned a 19-1 edge in significant strikes and had control for 4 minutes 38 seconds. But Hall, who has wins in five of his past six fights, finished off the bout in just 25 seconds of the second.
Is he worthy of the UFC’s top 15? You bet.
3. Horiguchi: back in business
Kyoji Horiguchi probably isn’t ready for a rematch with UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, but he proved he’s one of the elite fighters in the division with his unanimous decision win over Chico Camus.
Horiguchi, the seventh-ranked flyweight, was quick, strong and powerful against a tough opponent in Camus, showing off his striking skills, inside fighting and superior counter-punching.
In his previous fight, Horiguchi was submitted by Johnson with one second left in their title bout. If he wants another shot at the belt, this was an important step forward.
4. Fast and furious.
That’s precisely how Diego Brandao looked against Katsunori Kikuno. In a mere 28 seconds, Brandao came rushing forward and quickly landed an overhand right that knocked his Japanese opponent to the canvas.
Brandao wasted no time finishing off Kikuno, giving him a second consecutive win after he suffered back-to-back losses to Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor – both first-round TKOs.
A few more fights like that and Brandao could find himself back among the top contenders in the UFC featherweight division.
No. 13-ranked Camus is no pushover, but with losses in three of his past four fights, he needs to start winning or risk no longer being a viable contender.
5. A six-figure contract – but no winner.
Mizuto Hirota and Teruto Ishihara looked as confused as the crowd upon hearing the judges’ decision in their “Road to the UFC: Japan” featherweight finale. There was no declared winner.
After an entertaining and close bout, the two fighters stood in the center of the Octagon waiting for their arms to be raised. But one judge favored Hirota 29-28, the other had Ishihara ahead by the same score and a third called it 29-29 -- majority draw that left neither happy.
It was an unsatisfying end to a wonderful three-rounder. Ishihara was the quicker, more athletic fighter, landing big left hands that dropped Hirota in each of the first two rounds. But Hirota was the savvy aggressor, pressing Ishihara against the cage and throwing several big shots.
Afterward, UFC president Dana White said that both fighters would receive contracts with the organization, which is both fitting and well deserved. But maybe he should go one better.
How about a rematch?
6. A surprising reversal of fortunes.
It would be fair to say that welterweight Keita Nakamura looked finished in his three-round bout against Li Jingliang. His face was bloodied, and he had no defense for Li’s stinging jabs.
In an early prelim bout that was largely fought in a stand-up position, Nakamura appeared to be overwhelmed by his opponent – that is, until he somehow took the back of Li and applied a rear naked choke in the third round that rendered Li unconscious.
Nakamura, who had lost three of his four UFC fights, proved a resilience that young fighters can emulate. He didn’t give up, even when he was absorbing a barrage of head shots that put him down in the second round.
But Nakamura is a veteran with 40 MMA fights. He clearly understands the importance of never giving up, even when all appears lost.
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez