The opening segment of Saturday's UFC on Fox 3 quadruple header is a certifiable slug-fest between heavyweight strikers
Pat "HD" Barry and "Big" Lavar Johnson. The main-card broadcast begins on the Fox network at 8:00 p.m. and is headlined by a lightweight tilt pitting Jim Miller vs. Nate Diaz.
Amidst the clamor of big-name heavyweights migrating to the UFC from Strikeforce, Lavar Johnson (16-5) didn't get much attention. After all, he'd suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the belly in 2009 and was fortunate to even be alive, much less still competing. Plus he sealed off his Strikeforce stint with back-to-back submission losses and all the hoopla understandably surrounded perennial top-10ers like Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum. Johnson drew Joey Beltran and his steel-clad head; a pair who'd mutually cemented a reputation for having outstanding resilience to the human fist.
Beltran ate heaping spoonfuls of leather from heavyweight gunslingers like Barry and Matt Mitrione without so much as batting an eye. Yet, just 10 seconds into their UFC on Fox 2 collision, Johnson clipped Beltran with a body shot that dazed him, walked him down for a few minutes and then crumpled him into unconsciousness with a late combination. It was the first time Beltran had ever been knocked out or stopped via strikes in his 20-fight career.
More UFC on Fox 3 Dissections
Pat Barry (7-4) is a lovable fan-favorite with technical kickboxing and devastating leg kicks. Scathing pre-fight smack talk and bad-blood rivalries will always have a place in MMA, but Barry embodies the good-guy role by wearing his heart on his sleeve, never making excuses or disrespecting his opponent and openly acknowledging the areas he needs to improve.
"HD" is dead even in the UFC after 8 turns, carving this chronological path: a TKO win over Dan Evensen via leg kicks in his debut, a submission loss to Tim Hague, a TKO over former training partner Antoni Hardonk, a submission loss to Mirko Filipovic, a unanimous decision win over Joey Beltran, excitement-laden losses to Cheick Kongo in one of the sport's most thrilling comeback knockouts and by submission to Stefan Struve and, finally, a 1st-round KO over Christian Morecraft on January's UFC on FX card.
Barry joins Mark Hunt as the only heavies on the roster who don't crack the 6-foot-tall ceiling and he's constantly battled with a massive disparity in height and reach. That factor will be at play in full force here, as "Big" Lavar Johnson is just that, clocking in at 6'4" tall with a wearisome 81" reach length, the gargantuan physique of a former college linebacker and skull-splitting punching power.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
When scrutinizing Johnson's remorseless beat-down of Beltran, the American Kickboxing Academy product made a subtle change to his striking style that paid huge dividends. In the past, Johnson, being a righty, utilized an open stance and was much more squared off, often leading with wide, sweeping left hooks to center his opponent in front of him and set up his outrageous straight right.
Against Beltran, Johnson assumed more of a closed stance with his feet staggered and his left shoulder farther in front of his right. Instead of barging straight forward to unload all haymakers, Johnson extended his already-stretchy reach advantage with this closed stance and keyed all of his follow-ups off of a busy jab. Additionally, the big fella was much more patient and calculating than the fairly primitive brawler he was in Strikeforce. He methodically steered Beltran back against the cage with his long, active jab and waited until Beltran was cornered and covering up before unleashing the big thunder shots.
Though Johnson moves well for someone of his girth and has an admirable size-to-agility ratio, his footwork is basic and he's not very light on his toes, as he plants his feet hard to generate so much power in his punches. He addressed this partially with the aforementioned change in stance and measured stalking but quickness and footwork are some of Barry's best attributes.
Johnson's strength and athleticism have facilitated a few takedown attacks, but the gist of this match up should be dictated by the range and distance factor. Barry will be faced with his usual chess match of relying on his speed -- both with his hands and feet -- and timing to dart in and out of range and inflict damage without taking any himself. His offensive tools are typically a chopping low kick from outside, which can be a concern considering the deep penetration of Johnson's counter punches, and blazing combinations with his hands at close range.
To implement those tools while minimizing risk, the method in which he enters into and retreats out from the striking bubble will be pivotal. Throughout his entrances and exits, his dedication to head movement and keeping his hands up will also be vital.
Another effective strategy he's used is to start in the traditional stance and gauge his opponent's reaction to a few crisp jabs and half-hearted leg kicks, which allows him to determine how much he can commit to them. If his foe sits back and tries to dodge, block or just defend, he knows he can attack with more vigor; if they blast with meaningful counters, he's more cautious with his release and doesn't turn his hips over fully so he's able to react defensively. Barry will also switch to southpaw and pester with low-velocity inside kicks with his lead leg while looking to plunge his lead right through from ever-changing angles. This makes him harder to predict and forces his adversary to constantly adjust to the changes.
It will be interesting to see how Johnson chooses to confront Barry -- whether he'll walk him down aggressively with heavy leather or slowly inch forward for a more judicious and reserved approach. I imagine that either fighter could use the element of surprise and catch the other off-guard with a takedown attempt, if for nothing more than to steal some momentum.
The betting lines have Barry as a medium-sized favorite in the neighborhood of -200, which seems fair. His striking technique overall is exceptional and he's now accustomed to navigating a speed-based path in and out range. The increased fight I.Q. in Johnson's last outing does leave me a little more hesitant and Johnson has only lost via strikes once before, so Barry will likely have to avoid even the slightest of mistakes for all 3 rounds -- which is a long time for Johnson to touch his chin. However, I see Barry's deft footwork, hand speed and big heart carrying him through.
My Prediction: Pat Barry by decision.