After a three-week break, which in this day-and-age is a long break, the Octagon returns on Saturday night as the UFC makes its now annual trip to Japan for UFC Fight Night 75 from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The main card airs on FOX Sports 1 on Saturday night, with preliminary action taking place on FOX Sports 2.
The event will be headlined by a five-round bout in the UFC's heavyweight division as veterans Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson square off following a coaching stint on the UFC Fight Pass exclusive television show, UFC: Road To Japan. The finals of that reality event will also take place on the card as Mizuto Hirota meets Teruto Ishihara. In the co-main event of the evening, former Strikeforce and DREAM champion Gegard Mousasi takes on Uriah Hall, who steps in as an injury replacement for the toughest bout of his career. The rest of the card will be filled with Japanese fighters. Let's take a closer look at the night's action and find five storylines to keep an eye on as we head into Saturday night's UFC Fight Night 75 event.
1. Who has more left to give in their career: Josh Barnett or Roy Nelson?
Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson meet in the main event of Saturday's event, and it is an interesting time in both men's careers as they head into their headline bout. They coached eight fighters during UFC: Road To Japan in the lead-up to this event, and now they meet in a fight where both could be fighting for their UFC futures. It's not to say either man will be cut due to the depth issues in the UFC's heavyweight division, but Barnett is 37-years old and Nelson is 39-years old, and their best days are likely behind them. Barnett also hasn't fought in over a year-and-a-half as he was last seen in the Octagon eating elbows from Travis Browne in a 60-second loss at UFC 168 in December 2013. Nelson has lost four of his last five fights, and he hasn't looked all that competitive in those losses. His only win in over two years was a knockout win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who recently retired.
Barnett has had a lot of success in his career in Japan, and returning to action there may be quite the confidence boost for him. His time away should have gotten him healthy, but it will be interesting to see if he suffers from any form of rust. His only losses since 2006 have come to Browne and Daniel Cormier, so it's not like he has been getting blown away by lesser fighters. Meanwhile, Nelson has only fought once in Japan, and it came one year ago when he was knocked out by Mark Hunt. It was the only time in Nelson's career he has truly been knocked out, and it came at the hands of one of the hardest hitters in the sport. It is hard to envision a repeat of that on Saturday night.
All of Nelson's wins in the UFC have come by knockout and he will be looking to do the same for Barnett. It has seemed for the longest time that Nelson has given up on following a gameplan in looking to headhunt. He either gets the knockout or he struggles mightily and doesn't look good. Barnett has good wrestling and good submissions and a style to make Nelson look bad if Nelson can't land the big right hand. Barnett will probably look to drag the fight out, but he will also want to test the chin of Nelson to see if there is anything left there. It's heavyweights and anything can happen, but this fight has the chance to be a long, drawn-out and not neccessarily exciting fight. I like Barnett to get the win in this one as I see him having more to give at this stage in his career.
2. Can Uriah Hall score the upset win over Gegard Mousasi?
Gegard Mousasi is one a decent roll in the UFC's middleweight division, scoring wins in his last two fights. His only UFC losses have come to Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo Souza, and he is currently ranked sixth in the UFC's middleweight rankings. He is on the cusp of title contention, but has yet to beat a top-five ranked opponent. He was to face Roan Carneiro at this event, but with Carneiro being forced out due to injury, Uriah Hall stepped in to take a huge opportunity. It is going from a ranked opponent to an unranked opponent for Mousasi, but this is probably a more dangerous fight for him due to the striking prowess of Hall. Hall has solid kickboxing skills and is a violent opponent if he can connect. He fought recently, scoring a first-round TKO win over Oluwale Bamgbose on August 8 in Nashville. Stepping in on short notice will receive some good faith from the UFC brass, but he has a tough test.
Mousasi tends to, at times, fight below his skill level. He is highly talented and a legitmate contender to be a title challenger in the near future. He can have a boring and plodding style, but it is effective. Hall sometimes comes up mentally short, and he tends to fight below his skill set. Fighting Mousasi can be extremely frustrating, and it will likely get in the head of Hall. Mousasi may look to take the fight to the mat, and Hall would prefer to keep the fight on the feet. For all of Hall's flashy kickboxing skills, Mousasi is a better overall striker. This is definitely Mousasi's fight to lose. I don't see Hall being able to score the upset, but funnier things have happened in the UFC. However, Mousasi will take this fight the distance and score an uneventful decision win.
3. Can Kyoji Horiguchi and Takeya Mizugaki rebound in their home country?
Kyoji Horiguchi and Takeya Mizugaki are the only Japanese fighters ranked in the top ten of their divisions, and both have fought for championships during their time under the Zuffa banner. Horiguchi is coming off a loss to Demetrious Johnson when he challenged for the UFC Flyweight Championship at UFC 186 in April. Mizugaki challeged for the WEC Bantamweight Championship in his Zuffa debut, losing a decision to Miguel Torres in April 2009 in one of the best fights in WEC history. Mizugaki is looking to bounce back from two straight losses to Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling that ended his five-fight win streak.
Horiguchi will take on Chico Camus, who is looking to bounce back from a loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 188 in June. Camus was looking to get into title contention after an impressive flyweight debut win over Brad Pickett, and he will be looking to improve on his record of just three wins in seven UFC bouts. Mizugaki will be taking on long-time UFC and WEC veteran George Roop, who returns after being out of the Octagon since a first-round knockout loss to Rob Font at UFC 175 in July 2014. Roop is just 4-5 since returning to the UFC following the WEC merger, and he could very well be fighting for his UFC future. The same could be said for Camus, so Horiguchi and Mizugaki will need to be impressive in front of their home country fans.
4. Katsunori Kikuno and Diego Brandao both have title aspirations. Who takes a step forward?
Admittedly, this fourth storyline was originally written about Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto, who was scheduled to compete on this card against Matt Hobar. However, both Yamamoto and Hobar fell victim to the injury bug, and the bout was scrapped from the card. The featured preliminary bout between Katsunori Kikuno and Diego Brandao was moved to the main card, and it takes this spot on our preview. Brandao is a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter, but he has had mixed success, sporting a 5-3 record in the Octagon, but those losses have come to Darren Elkins, Dustin Poirier and current interim champion Conor McGregor, all tough opponents. He won his last bout by stopping Jimy Hettes at the end of the first round in April.
Kikuno is just 2-2 in the UFC and is coming into the fight off a first-round knockout loss to Kevin Souza in March. He has talked lately about his big aspirations of being champion, but it is entirely possible that he is fighting for his UFC career in this bout. Both of his losses have come by knockout in the first round, but he did score an impressive submission win over Sam Sicilia in Japan last September. Both men are far away from title contention, but should be able to put together a nice little scrap on Saturday night. Brandao has a penchant for being violent, and Kikuno does have the suspect chin. I expect to see Brandao getting his hand raised and taking a step forward in the 145-pound division.
5. What else on the card is there to look forward to?
With this being a fight night event in Japan, the card is filled with Japanese fighters. In fact, nine of the eleven total bouts feature Japanese fighters. The fight card also features the finals of the "UFC: Road To Japan" when featherweights Mizuto Hirota and Teruto Ishihara meet. Hirota has fought in the UFC twice before, losing both bouts, but he returns on the heels of a three-fight win streak. Ishihara will grace the Octagon for the first time, and both of his career losses have come to fighters who have UFC experience.
In preliminary action, Keita Nakamura makes his return to the UFC on short notice when he fights Li Jingliang. A pair of lightweight bouts take place as Germany's Nick Hein takes on the debuting Yusuke Kasuya, and Naoyuki Kotani takes on Kajan Johnson. All four of those bouts take place on FOX Sports 2. In the lone bout on UFC Fight Pass, Shinsho Anzai takes on Roger Zapata, who will be making his UFC debut after competing on season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Full UFC Fight Night 75 Fight Card, Betting Odds and Predictions
MAIN CARD (FOX SPORTS 1- 10 PM ET/7 PM PT)
Heavyweights: (#8) Josh Barnett vs. (#11) Roy Nelson
Betting Odds: Barnett (-260), Nelson (+220)
Prediction: Barnett by decision
Middleweights: (#6) Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall
Betting Odds: Mousasi (-450), Hall (+360)
Prediction: Mousasi by decision
Flyweights: (#7) Kyoji Horiguchi vs. (#13) Chico Camus
Betting Odds: Horiguchi (-365), Camus (+255)
Prediction: Horiguchi by decision
Bantamweights: (#8) Takeya Mizugaki vs. George Roop
Betting Odds: Mizugaki (-245), Roop (+175)
Prediction: Mizugaki by submission in round 2
Featherweights: Katsunori Kikuno vs. Diego Brandao
Betting Odds: Kikuno (+170), Brandao (-230)
Prediction: Brandao by knockout in round 1
UFC: Road To Japan Featherweight Finals: Mizuto Hirota vs. Teruto Ishihara
Betting Odds: Hirota (-245), Ishihara (+175)
Prediction: Hirota by submission in round 1
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX SPORTS 2- 8 PM ET/5 PM PT)
Welterweights: Keita Nakamura vs. Li Jingliang
Betting Odds: Nakamura (+170), Jingliang (-230)
Prediction: Jingliang by knockout in round 2
Lightweights: Nick Hein vs. Yusuke Kasuya
Betting Odds: Hein (-280), Kasuya (+200)
Prediction: Hein by decision
Lightweights: Naoyuki Kotani vs. Kajan Johnson
Betting Odds: Kotani (+190), Johnson (-270)
Prediction: Johnson by submission in round 3
Welterweights: Shinsho Anzai vs. Roger Zapata
Betting Odds: Anzai (-130), Zapata (-110)
Prediction: Zapata by decision