SAITAMA – Mark Hunt didn’t take a special game plan into his fight against 182-cm, 118 kg Roy Nelson. He just took his fists, and a whole lot of power.
Hunt floored Nelson with a perfectly timed uppercut to the delight of a boisterous crowd, many of whom likely remembered watching him in Japan during his PRIDE days, to win the main event of UFC Fight Night Japan with a second-round knockout on Saturday at Saitama Super Arena.
“My plan was only just to put Roy Nelson out,” Hunt said after the fight. “That’s the only game plan I have for most of the other fighters I (face).”
This is the third consecutive year UFC has held an event in Japan and the company expects to be back, likely in Saitama, around the same time next year. If this year’s Fight Night was any indication, the company is slowly making inroads in the country.
Fans were into the bouts and loud throughout the night.
The event featured 12 fights this year, six on a preliminary card and six on the main card.
Miesha Tate and Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama were among the early winners, as was Kang “Mr. Perfect” Kyung-Ho, who won Fight of the Night honors along with his opponent Michinori Tanaka. Hunt and Johnny Case each won a performance bonus.
The crowd was amped up well before the main event and ring announcer Bruce Buffer’s foot-stamping, deep-throated exhortations worked the 12,395 in attendance into a further frenzy as Hunt and Nelson prepared to throw down.
Nelson brought the fight to Hunt early, going in search of his devastating overhand right. Hunt bided his time and took his shots when he saw an opening. Nelson appeared to have been poked in the eye earlier in the fight, but stayed on the offensive.
“My eyeball hurts,” he said. “I was seeing double from the moment of that poke and it definitely affected my performance the rest of the fight.”
Even so, Nelson lashed out at Hunt with a few low kicks and even threw in a couple of takedown attempts.
“It happens, but I was ready for everything,” Hunt said.
Tate was a winner by unanimous decision over UFC debutant Rin Nakai in the organization’s first-ever female bout in Japan. A noted grappler, Tate employed more of a boxing approach against Nakai.
“I wanted to keep this on the feet to show I have a good striking set,” Tate said. “It’s something that’s still new to me being a wrestler, but I’m working on it. I think I did much better tonight.”
Nakai, meanwhile, looked for any opening through which to latch onto Tate and take her to the ground.
“I think she became more desperate so she became more relentless with the takedowns,” Tate said. “That made the striking a little bit more harder to time for me, because I’m still growing in this aspect. I think I did a pretty good job. Just looking forward to getting better.”
Nakai had been undefeated in her previous 17 bouts in other organizations.
Myles Jury scored a first-round win over MMA legend Takanori Gomi in their lightweight fight. Jury sent Gomi to a knee with a devastating right hand and pounced on the stunned Japanese fighter, delivering a series of blows until the fight was stopped 1:32 into the first round.
“I’ve been a fan of Gomi’s since I was 16,” Jury said. “Getting an opportunity to fight him, especially here in Japan in Saitama Arena, it’s just a very huge moment in my career.”
Fan-favorite Akiyama left Amir Sadollah’s face bloodied on the way to a win by unanimous decision. Twice the 39-year old put Sadollah on his back and rained down on him with a barrage of punches, as Sadollah attempted, in vain, to fend him off.
Kyoji Horiguchi, the 14th-ranked flyweight in UFC scored a first-round TKO of Jon Delos Reyes for his third straight victory.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Horiguchi said about who he’d like to fight next. “I want to face top guys.”
Kiichi Kunimoto had the crowd on his side against Richard Walsh, but surprisingly a few boos stood out among the applause when he was announced as the winner by split decision. Walsh seemed to get the best of the brief flurries of activity and received a nice ovation upon leaving the octagon.
“When the judges’ decision was read I thought I was going to win the split decision two rounds to one,” Walsh said. “I didn’t get hit or hurt. I got kneed once or twice but no damage was done. He took my back in the third round for two minutes but that’s it. What can you do? Sometimes fights don’t go your way. That was a tough opponent for me, someone with a lot more fight experience. He got the win tonight but I proved I belong here. I’m happy to be in the organization and I’m looking forward to my next fight.”
In a preliminary bout, Case dropped Kazuki Tokudome with a right hand and gathered him in a choke hold before the Japanese fighter could get up, to score a second-round TKO in his UFC debut.
“There’s no words that can explain the feeling of this moment right now,” Case said. “My whole MMA career was the lead-up to this point. Now the journey begins all over. It was a great debut.”
Kang won by split decision over Tanaka in a bout that was largely contested on the ground.
“I feel great,” Kang said. “I was a little worried that it went to a decision but very excited and happy with the outcome. I definitely had it in the back of my head, that fighting a Japanese fighter at home might influence the decision. I had that similar situation in Milwaukee when I fought Chico Camus. But tonight was my night. I want to move forward and take on a stronger opponent in my next fight and go out there and perform to the best of my ability.”
Katsunori Kikuno walked out for his fight against Sam Sicilia to the tune “We are the World,” he smiled throughout the fight, and utilized an unorthodox style that saw him keep his hand low, instead of in a more normal position. He went on to win with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
“Even though I was smiling, it was a really tough fight,” Kikuno said.
“I’m learning Okinawa karate,” he said when asked about his fighting style. “I couldn’t finish him by striking, but my technique is getting better everyday.”
Other winners included Maximo Blanco, Lim Hyun Gyu, Masanori Kanehara and Kiichi Kunimoto.