Single sentence summary:
The WarMaster returns to Japan and takes on the physical manifestation of America for the delectation of an aging PRIDE audience
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Josh Barnett was always something special as a heavyweight. A young, confident, athletically gifted big man who could hit heel-hooks and kneebars? It's kind of worrying that we don't really see these kind of big men making their way into the sport any more.
Coming up on 15 years in his MMA career, Barnett never quite achieved that early potential, and is largely famous for being the B-side to the Fedor-Nog-Cro Cop trio, and for a series of PED failures including the one which infamously contributed to the collapse of Affliction.
David: Series of PED failures somehow still fails to capture the sense of injustice when you consider Nick Diaz' current state. Not that I have hate in my heart for PED use in general, but Barnett always seemed so unrepentant about it all. It's hard to have a discussion about Barnett without talking about steroids though. After all, each one punctuated his career in a way that stalled his momentum. Especially the Randy Couture title fight. It's hard to understate just how dramatically it affected his career. Not that Barnett cares. He seemed to relish the Japanese limelight, and its culture.
Phil: Long ago in the mists of time, Big Country was a top position grappler. That Roy Nelson died when he won TUF, and he's now an overhand right, and a popular fan-favorite via a mixture of dealing some brutal knockouts when people got hit by the big right hand, receiving some brutal beatings when they didn't, and sheer physical incongruity.
David: Physical incongruity? Is that your way of calling Roy Nelson a sentient bowl of biscuits and gravy? To be fair, I think Nelson's change from grappler to striker was for the better. His grappling game has always been well above average, but if he had gone his career trying to win via top control he would have lost far more than he would have won in my opinion. He's an overfed Jim Goad in Pink Flamingo clothing; a walking talking manifestation of Denis Leary's Demolition Man monologue about buckets of cheese. I'm glad he's around to annoy Dana and win violently.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Heavyweight is waiting for someone to distinguish themselves. The Mir-Arlovski fight was awful. Stipe-Rothwell is probably next in terms of relevance, but Barnett and Nelson have charisma and cultural cachet which those guys don't.
David: Stipe-Rothwell? Ugh. As fun as it is to wax nostalgic about the time traveling nature of HW right now, this fight doesn't exactly represent the sport's apex in rotund pugilism. But it's got plenty of character.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Nelson primarily needs Barnett backing up. Big Country is not a counterpuncher, instead using the threat of the right hand, and occasional flashes of the left to drive people into... the right hand. He can occasionally hook or upper with the left, and much like when Arlovski tagged Mir with the left hand, this tends to generate a moment of sheer shock from both parties.
David: Like Dan Henderson, Nelson is good at making a predictable move manifest unpredictable violence. It's all about timing. While his fight behavior seems so limited, he's aware of the technique required to maximize his strengths. He looks like the absolute opposite of economy, but it's how he's been successful; knowing when to step in for the big right hand, and when to keep it holstered. His grappling hasn't been a factor in ages, but he's still a threat on the ground.
Phil: While he's physically tough, Barnett has never been unhittable, and he doesn't want to be trading bombs with the more powerful hitter. Instead, he either wants the clinch and dirty boxing, or top position. The first is easier to get, the second is harder but less risky. In both cases Barnett's game is ceaselessly unpleasant - in the clinch he's constantly shifting grips and hitting, and from top position, Barnett eschews the postured bombs of typical heavyweight grappling for the claustrophobic and grindingly nasty top control endemic to catch wrestling.
David: Barnett's success hinges so much on his philosophy. He was the first of a rare breed to intrinsically understand that mixed martial arts is more about flow than it is about mechanics.
When he nearly kneebarred Big Nog, it shocked a lot of fans, but it shouldn't have. Barnett is as legitimate as they come with his grappling, not just able to chain submissions, but able to chain his sequences. I think his striking his actually quite fine. It gets ignored because of his submission prowess, but he's always been a very stout technical boxer first and foremost. The full breadth of his versatility isn't emphasized until the bout starts being decided in the clinch, where he throws more weapons.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: MMAth time: Mir wrecked Nelson pretty easily in the clinch, but then got easily overpowered by Barnett. Sure, Nelson was ill, but even then it shows that his physicality is concentrated more into his swing than into grappling strength these days.
David: The thing about the Mir/Nelson fight is that Nelson just screwed up the strategy. I don't expect Barnett to outright dummy Nelson in the clinch, but I do expect him to accrue damage, and points with it. Nelson's problem in the clinch is that he does that Kenny Florian thing when he fought BJ, confusing pressure with offense.
Phil: Deterioration. Big Country got faceplanted by Hunt in a way which we haven't seen before. The beard'n'mullet combo is progressively graying. Barnett has been out for a long time and is also closing in on his 40s.
David: Yep. Senescence may not be a thing for all animals, but it is a thing for humans. Difference being, it'll affect Nelson far more dramatically than it will affect Barnett.
Phil: Nelson's increasing specialization (or limitation) makes him easier to gameplan for and turns his fights into a combination IQ and physicality test more than anything else. Barnett is many things, but a stupid or unathletic fighter he is not. Josh Barnett by submission, round 3.
David: No unnecessary talkshow devil's advocate here. You speak the truth bra. The truth. Josh Barnett by submission, round 3.