Ask anybody within the confines of the Saitama Super Arena how they felt about UFC Fight Night 75, and you’d likely get a positive reaction.
Not just because Japanese fight fans are some of the most respectful, knowledgable bunch in all of MMA, but because the UFC’s 2015 trip to Japan offered about as much back-and-forth action as it did staggering KO and submission finishes.
No moment was quite as exciting or confusing as the main card’s opening bout — a three-round war between 10-year MMA veteran Mizuto Hirota and 24-year-old striker Teruto Ishihara to determine the winner of Road to UFC: Japan.
Unfortunately for the fighters and the promotion, the three judges ruled the bout a split draw. One of the judges handed out the rare 10-10 round, preventing the Dana White and the UFC from crowning a clear-cut winner. Unable to decide who’d be getting the six-figure contract with the promotion, the UFC president announced they’d be giving the two warriors the Stephan Bonnar-Forrest Griffin treatment and awarding both Hirota and Ishihara with contract offers.
The two men shared a moment together after the fight, likely before knowing they’d both be signing to continue their days inside the Octagon.
— Michinori Tanaka (@michinori_tamj) September 27, 2015
By sheer definition, neither Ishihara nor Hirota will be listed in our rankings; but with a six-figure contract in their hands, I doubt they care.
Here’s how we ranked the main card winners for UFC Fight Night 75:
5. Takeya Mizugaki
With the tears that came out of him immediately after the fight, you’d have to wonder what Takeya Mizugaki would have sounded like had he won impressively. The Japanese fighter admitted to nearly calling it quits following his first-round loss to former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz last September, saying he was out to give it his all in a three-round bout with George Roop.
But if Mizugaki did indeed give it his “all” on Saturday night, he should be pretty worried. It’s not that he looked bad, per se — but he certainly didn’t look great, either. He struggled to fend off an unranked, clinch-happy Roop for a majority of the bout, often finding himself with his back pressed up against the cage waiting for an opening to push off. When he did get himself back into the open waters of the Octagon, he didn’t quite take full advantage of his wide-swinging opponent, even allowing Roop to land nine more total strikes.
Still, it’s nice to see the former WEC fighter get his hand raised. Somebody with that much passion deserves a victory or two in front of his country folk.
4. Josh Barnett
You have to hand it to Josh Barnett; he fought relatively well for being a 240-pound, 37-year-old fighter who just went five rounds against a heavy, heavy man. Thinking back, most fans watching around the world are going to remember this fight for one overarching theme: the clinch.
Barnett would press Roy Nelson up against the cage for a bit and land some heavy strikes before “Big Country” managed to turn the tides and offer his opponent much of the same. That took up about 15 minutes of the 25-minute affair.
But it was those 10 minutes in between the moments up against the cage that proved what skills Barnett’s developed in recent years. Many a spectator (myself included) felt Barnett would be the wiser man to get this bout to the ground. Despite facing a BJJ black belt, Barnett could have utilized his often unmatched ground skills to smother Nelson and sneak his way into a submission of some sort. The gameplan was there, Barnett just didn’t seem to agree with it.
Instead the former UFC heavyweight champion opted to stand against the heavy striker, coloring himself a man unafraid of the fight-ending right hand often looking for his chin. Not only unafraid, but also willing to target his opponent’s chin as well, leading Barnett to a 146-60 stat line in significant strikes landed.
Currently eighth in the heavyweight division, a bout with Andrei Arlovski makes a little too much sense for Barnett right now.
3. Kyoji Horiguchi
Out to prove he wouldn’t fall into the depths of irrelevancy after losing a one-sided bout to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, Kyoji Horiguchi showed he’s still capable of retaining his post in the upper tier of the UFC’s 125-pound division.
Horiguchi used crafty footwork, lateral movement, takedown feints and quick hands to never offer his Chico Camus a static target for 15 minutes. He confused Camus for three rounds, using that advantage to outland him 80-66 in total strikes and 78-63 in significant strikes. Horiguchi didn’t quite have Camus in any sort of serious danger throughout the fight; but considering Camus has only been stopped twice in 21 professional bouts, you can’t really blame Horiguchi for coming up short in that respect.
While allowing the judges to have a say in the matter, Horiguchi proved he’s a talented young fighter with the capacity of improving upon his talents. If all goes according to plan, the 24-year-old flyweight could set himself up for a rematch with the champion.
2. Uriah Hall
With how crafty of a veteran Gegard Mousasi has become, few people were convinced Uriah Hall had it in him to defeat the former DREAM and Strikeforce champion. That much was proved true in the opening five minutes. The younger fighter struggled to contend against Mousasi’s attempts to grapple on the canvas.
But as the second round came to a start — a start that offers all competitors a chance to stand on their feet for as long as they can fend off opponents fond of the mat — Hall showcased what many of his supporters believed he could do: outstrike the patient striker. Mousasi stood there and attempted to duck right as Hall unleashed a whip of a jump spinning back kick to his opponent’s temple. Before Mousasi could regain his wits, he ate another big shot from “Primetime,” this time in the form of a flying knee to the face.
On the biggest stage, and against the toughest opponent, of his 10-year career, Hall finally proved himself capable of defeating a top-caliber opponent. Currently unranked, the victory over the division’s sixth-ranked fighter likely skyrockets Hall into the top 10.
That said, unless he improves upon his ability to, at the very least, defend against top-notch grapplers, he’ll revert into his ways as a better-than-average, but not-quite-great middleweight. A mere glance at the division’s top four fighters — a list that includes Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero — should give Hall reasons for concern over his future. All of those fighters are better grapplers than the man who outmaneuvered Hall Saturday, and it’s not even close.
1. Diego Brandao
Moved onto the main card as a last-minute replacement for the scrapped bout between Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Matt Hobar, Diego Brandao made sure to perform with his main-card shine on FOX Sports 1.
There’s not much you can say about a fighter who stormed across the cage and landed a heavy overhand right just before having the referee pull him off. In just about every sense of the phrase — especially for Brandao — the 28-year-old Brazilian fought a perfect fight. Katsanori Kikuno somehow managed to land one strike in the 28-second beatdown he received from Brandao, but it was obviously no match for the 14 significant (and total) strikes landed by the victor.