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UFC Fight Night Japan: Observer Main Card Picks & Preview

By Josh Nason, WrestlingObserver.com

This past week saw more noteworthy news out of the cage than in it, lowlighted by the revelation that the UFC may have been a little less than aggressive when investigating Vitor Belfort’s testosterone levels prior to his light heavyweight title fight against Jon Jones at UFC 152 two years ago, as well as the continued fallout from the Nevada Athletic Commission’s 5-year ban of Nick Diaz just over a week ago.

While the MMA faithful are bothered by what’s going on, you don’t feel like these wrongs and issues are being addressed by those in power. Why? Because the most powerful sports media entity in the world -- ESPN -- frankly doesn’t give a damn about MMA.

With similar scandals involving the NFL or Major League Baseball (like anything with the word ‘gate’ attached to it), we hear about it non-stop which creates a public outcry to get resolution. As of Saturday morning, we still haven’t heard anything from the UFC on the Belfort situation.

Why haven’t we? Because they don’t feel the need to answer the call of MMA media that doesn’t collectively carry the stroke that ESPN does. Because when ESPN makes something important, especially a scandal, and when sponsors that are indirectly involved to a scandal feel the heat, the public gets the answers they both want and need.

And part of that is something that we all know deep down in our hearts: that the business of fighting isn’t the most reputable one in the world. There’s lying and corruption and dollars being made off the back of people making dimes, but that’s how it’s been since long before we were all around. Fighting is a spectacle and while many great people have done their part in covering MMA like a true sport deserves, it’s ESPN that really matters. That’s why Dana White appears on SportsCenter, not MMAFighting.com, to make a big announcement. The casual sports fan matters, not the lot of us excited to see Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson on Saturday.

If a potential cover-up doesn’t get ESPN excited, nothing will. Then again, perhaps if Deadspin has published the Josh Gross story in the summer when football season wasn’t in full swing or found a way to tie Vitor Belfort into SpyGate, maybe ESPN then would have taken a look.

Before we get to this week’s UFC Japan picks, hear a preview of the show with yours truly and MMA Fighting’s Marc Raimondi on the 13th episode of Josh Nason’s Punch-Out.

*****
Our panel:

- Jack Encarnacao (84-33 | .714) Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair, Steve Austin impersonator
- Steve Juon (78-39| .660) AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer
- John Pollock (75-42 | .633) Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host
- Mike Sempervive (75-42 | .633) Wrestling Observer Live co-host | Big Audio Nightmare
- Front Row Brian (74-43 | .625) MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host
- David Bixenspan (73-44 | .616) Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host
- Dave Meltzer (70-47 | .589) Wrestling Observer founder & writer, smoke dectector battery expert
- Mike Sawyer (69-48 | .589) Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion
- Josh Nason (68-49 | .571) Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter enabler

*****

Josh Barnett (33-7) vs. Roy Nelson (20-11)
Heavyweights

I wish that Barnett fought more often, but as I mentioned on this week’s JNPO, he’s got so many outside interests that fighting is just one part of the Wheel O’Barnett. This bout makes it into ‘Interesting Fight’ territory given the location and opponent. Barnett last laced ‘em up in December 2013 where he lost in 60 seconds to Travis Browne’s elbow, snapping a two-fight win streak. I doubt he’ll ever get another crack at the UFC heavyweight title, but in the current landscape of the division, he could get a shot at UFC 200 -- it’s that tumultuous. 

The 39-year-old Nelson has really hit the career skids, dropping four of his last five. Three of those losses were decisions, and there’s no doubting his ability to take punishment. However, there is a lot of doubt in his ability to get a ‘W’ against anyone of note.

Barnett (favorite): Nason, Juon, Encarnacao, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix, Pollock, 
Nelson: FRB, Sawyer

Gegard Mousasi (37-5-2) vs. Uriah Hall (11-5)
Middleweights

This is an interesting fight as Hall replaces the injured Roan Carneiro. After a listless defeat to Jacare Souza a year ago, the emotionally listless Mousasi has back-to-back victories over Dan Henderson and Costas Phillipou. If he can pick up another two or three wins, he should find himself in line for a title shot at this time next year. Sometimes listless, sometimes violent, but always head scratching to watch, Hall is coming off a first round destruction of Oluwale Bamgbose. If there was ever a time for Hall to unleash the potential, it’s tonight.

Mousasi (big favorite): Nason, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Encarnacao, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix, Pollock

Chico Camus vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (15-2)
Flyweights

The 25-year-old Horiguchi got a title shot against Demetrious Johnson way too soon in his career and managed to last nearly 25 minutes before submitting with just one second remaining in the fight. That loss snapped a nine-fight win streak and a 4-0 mark in the Octagon. The always game Camus is a tough fight, but is just 2-3-0-1 since 2013. He’s coming off a close decision loss to Henry Cejudo in June.

Horiguchi (favorite): Nason, BRB, Juon, Sawyer, Encarnacao, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix, Pollock

Takeya Mizugaki (20-9-2) vs. George Roop (15-11-1)
Bantamweights

The 33-year-old Roop has been on the shelf for more than a year, but he wasn’t lighting the world on fire before that, going 3-2 in his return to bantamweight. His last three defeats have all come the way of T/KO, so he’s showing an increased propensity for seeing the lights at the end of the fight. After a nice five fight win streak, the 31-year-old Mizugaki has suffered back to back defeats at the hands of Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling.

Mizugaki (favorite): Nason, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Encarnacao, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix, Pollock

Katsunori Kikuno (23-7-2) vs. Diego Brandao (19-10)
Featherweights

The 33-year-old Kikuno is 2-2 in the UFC, and has been knocked out in the first round in both of his defeats. The 28-year-old Brandao’s career hasn’t taken off like many thought following his TUF 14 season victory. He’s 5-3 in the Octagon and has lost two of his last three. He is coming off a first round TKO (doctor’s stoppage) win over Jimy Hettes in April, so maybe there’s hope for him yet. His last KO win came in 2011, so I think Kikuno is safe...for now.

Kikuno: Encarnacao
Brandao (favorite): Nason, FRB, Juon, Sawyer, Meltzer, Sempervive, Bix, Pollock