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Barnett outlasts Nelson in five-round thriller

Read on for Fight Night Japan main event results...
 
Fighting in Japan for the first time since 2010 and in the Octagon for the first time since 2013, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett thrilled the fans he had performed in front of for years in the UFC Fight Night main event at Saitama Super Arena on Saturday, winning a grueling five-round unanimous decision over Roy Nelson.

“Clinchwork wasn’t good enough, nothing I did in there was good enough, but it’s a good starting point,” Barnett said, saving his praise for his opponent. “It’s not about belts, it’s about the way people fight, and Roy Nelson fights like he means it. He’s a warrior and he’s the kind of people we need in the UFC. That’s what people want to see fight and that’s why I wanted to fight Roy and that’s why I gave everything I could, he took it and came back.

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

Scores were 48-47 twice and 50-45.

Nelson just missed with his patented right hand as the bout opened and the two engaged, yet surprisingly, “Big Country” followed up with a takedown, putting Barnett on his back against the fence. Barnett was effective in stalling the action, forcing a restart from referee Steve Perceval at the midway point. Barnett went at Nelson once the two were standing, landing with hard knees at close range, as well as a thudding kick to the body. With under a minute left, Nelson got a second takedown, but again, he wasn’t able to do much with it.

Mixing up his attacks well, Nelson began letting his hands go while standing in round two, scoring points even if he wasn’t ending Barnett’s night. In the second minute, Nelson landed with the right hand, but Barnett shook it off and began firing off his own strikes, jarring the steel-chinned Las Vegan. The two heavyweights proceeded to battle at close range against the fence, Barnett holding the edge with his dirty boxing attack. Once separated, Nelson scored with a big kick to the head that got the attention of “The Warmaster” before they settled into another clinch before the horn ended the round.

The pace dipped in the third, Nelson looking to clinch while the 37-year-old Barnett appeared to be the fresher of the two, but “Big Country” may have done enough work to edge the round on the scorecards.

The grueling battle had clearly taken its toll on both men as round four opened, but Nelson, fighting in a fourth round for the first time, was seemingly exhausted, and Barnett took advantage, flurrying with both hands as the two battled at close range. Nelson gamely absorbed the shots, and when he got a second wind, he fired off an elbow and then scored a quick takedown. Both fighters rose quickly and locked up once more in an effort to catch a breather before Perceval restarted them with less than a minute left.

After more clinch work in the first three minutes of round five, Nelson got an important takedown but wasn’t able to keep his opponent on the mat for long, and it was back to the fence until a final charge from both in the closing moments, drawing an appreciative roar from the crowd at the horn.

The number eight-ranked Barnett, who was coming off a 2013 loss to Travis Browne, improves to 34-7. The 39-year-old Nelson, who has lost three straight and five of his last six, falls to 21-12.

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