The UFC 164 co-main event saw two of the sport's longest tenured fighters face off in a fight that had surprising relevance to its division. Josh Barnett made his return to the UFC following an 11 year absence after he was stripped of the heavyweight title following a failed drug test. He entered the promotion on a win against the overmatched Nandor Guelmino. Other than a loss to top five fighter Daniel Cormier, Barnett hasn't lost a fight since Pride Shockwave 2006 where he dropped a decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. While Frank Mir is also a long standing former UFC champion, all his time has been spent under the Zuffa umbrella were he's flirted with top 5 status for the better part of the past decade.
If the nights two previous heavyweight contests were drawn out wars this was short and brutal. Barnett chared at Mir straight away and started drilling him with uppercuts and hooks in phone booth range. Mir responded and was landing the harder, cleaner shots early, but Barnett kept the pressure on and eventually pressed Mir's back into the fence. From there he started digging to the body with strong knees and back to the head with uppercuts. Mir seemed frozen by the pressure and wilted quickly. Finally Barnett was able to grab Mir in the clinch for a strong knee to the head that dropped him face first and sealed the fight. The result: Josh Barnett def. Frank Mir via KO (knee) at 1:56 of Round 1.
What was the high point?
Barnett's game-planning and his willingness to take damage to see the plan through. Mir has a known weakness for getting put up against the cage and beaten up there and Barnett exploited it despite having to eat a few hard shots to do it.
What was the low point?
Early stoppage controversy. This isn't to say the stoppage was early, it wasn't. Mir was on the receiving end of a flash KO and ate a few more hard strikes after it. The ref had every right to stop the fight. But his complaints both immediately post fight and later at the conference have given rise to the idea that the ref should have let it go longer. Maybe he could have, but to say it was early dismisses how badly hurt Mir looked when the fight ended.
Where do they go from here?
Barnett is now cemented as a top 10 heavyweight, maybe even top 5. Check your calendars, because yes it really is 2013 and I just wrote that. So from here he needs tests against the UFC crop. To start out I'd say give him Antonio Silva and see if one of them can put a little more steam into talk of a future title shot.
For Mir, this was his third straight loss, and for the first time in a long time it looks like he's fading out of the top 10. It's hard to tell at heavyweight where a single punch can make a huge difference in any fight, but it's hard to see him getting back to his former status at this point. He's still a solid test for young fighters though, so I'd Shawn Jordan his way if Jordan can get by Gabriel Gonzaga.
Watch it now, later, or never?
Watch it now. It may feel like a strange blast from the past, but this was a really fun fight from two guys not afraid to duke it out in the pocket. A solid TKO to top it off and it all makes for a very fun fight.
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