The ghosts of Saitama Super Arena were alive once more on Saturday night, as Mark Hunt delivered another highlight-reel, walk-off knockout to cap off the UFC's entertaining return to Japan at UFC Fight Night 52. This time Roy Nelson was on the receiving end of Hunt's theatrics, and, well, it was a doozy.
Both Nelson and the 40-year-old Kiwi looked to headhunt early, trading heavy exchanges but just falling short of their mark throughout the first round. Nelson favored his trademark his overhand right, the same shot that has starched so many heavyweights, while Hunt mixed things up with looping rights and lefts.
The second round brought a change to the fight's dynamic, as Nelson lunged onto an immediate single leg takedown and crawled upon Hunt's back. Hunt shook him off though, and then began to turn the tide with his powerful left hand. With Nelson bloodied, the end came swiftly. Hunt pawed out his straight left, slowly backing Nelson against the fence, then caught "Big Country" flush on the jaw with a picture-perfect short right uppercut, sending the big man tumbling face-first unconscious to the canvas.
The stoppage officially arrived at 3:00 of the second round.
When asked who he would like to fight next, Hunt, the UFC's No. 6 ranked heavyweight, was as succinct as ever. "A rematch is always good for me," he said. "So, anyone in the top-10."
In the night's co-main event, lightweight riser Myles Jury (15-0) made a resounding statement against Takanori Gomi (35-10, 1 NC), becoming the first man to knock out the former Pride FC champion in Gomi's 46-fight MMA career. The finishing sequence was a thing of beauty, as Jury double-pumped his jab then crushed Gomi with a fight-ending right hand just 1:32 into the first round.
"I've been a fan of Gomi since I was like 16," said Jury, who currently stands as the UFC ‘s No. 9 ranked lightweight. "Getting the opportunity to fight him, especially here in Japan, in Saitama Arena, come on, that's off the hook. It's a very huge moment in my career."
Elsewhere in the main card, a two-year layoff meant little to Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-5, 2 NC). The Japanese veteran brutalized Amir Sadollah (6-5) en route to claiming a bloody unanimous decision win, his first in the UFC since his memorable 2009 battle against Alan Belcher.
"Sexyama" set the pace early, potshotting Sadollah from the outside and unloading a steady procession of big elbows from half guard when the fight hit the mat. He picked things up in the second round, busting up Sadollah's nose with an array of straights and spinning strikes, then nearly finished the TUF 7 winner with a furious hailstorm of punches from top position in the closing minutes of the third.
All three judges scored the contest 30-27 in Akiyama's favor.
"I would like to thank all the fans who came here today, all of them who waited two-and-a-half years for me to come back," said the 39-year-old. "I told the UFC people that I would like to fight Wanderlei Silva once. I know the weight division is different, but if it's going to be possible, I would to fight him."
The highly anticipated UFC debut of Rin Nakai came and went with little fanfare, as one-time UFC title contender Miesha Tate (15-5) toppled promotional newcomer Rin Nakai (16-1-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten in a relatively sluggish affair.
Nakai's offense consisted mainly of takedown attempts, and while Tate shucked them off with ease throughout the opening round, she ultimately did give up her back in both the second and the third frame. The former Queen of Pancrase achieved little with the position though, allowing Tate to otherwise chip away with her significant reach and size advantage to take the decision, 29-28, 30-27, 30-27, on the judges' scorecards.
"I wanted to keep this on the feet to show that I have a good striking set. It's something that's still new to me, being a wrestler, but I'm working on it and I think I did much better tonight," said Tate, who improved to 2-0 since her failed rematch against UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
"I think she became more desperate (as the fight went on), so she was more relentless with the takedowns."
In other main card action, Japanese welterweight Kiichi Kunimoto (18-5-2, 1 NC) survived a harrowing first round to take a split decision win over TUF Nations alumnus Richard Walsh (8-2) -- although such scoring could be called dubious, to say the least.
Walsh dropped Kunimoto twice in the opening frame, cracking him with an early left hook, then splitting his nose open with a devastating flush knee. Kunimoto survived and managed to slow the pace into that of a clinch fight for a remainder of the final two rounds, ultimately securing his only takedown in the closing minutes and ending the bout hunting for a rear-naked choke from Walsh's back. Still, the damage of the opening exchanges far exceeded any offense Kunimoto mounted throughout the final 10 minutes.
Nonetheless, judge Mark Collett scored the contest 29-28 for Walsh, while judges both Kon Papaioannou and Tony Weeks awarded the decision 29-28 to Kunimoto, who now runs his UFC record to 3-0.
23-year-old Japanese prospect Kyoji Horiguchi (14-1) showed once again why he's a fighter to watch in the flyweight division, easily dispatching Jon Delos Reyes (7-4) to lay claim to his third UFC win in as many attempts. Horiguchi set the pace early, hurting Reyes in the opening seconds with a thudding body kick, then launched over the top later in the round with a devastating counter left hook. The shot dropped Reyes to his knees, and from there it was a mere formality, as Horiguchi secured the TKO win at 3:48 of the first.
"Thank you so much for all the support, I couldn't be here without you all," an elated Horiguchi told the Japanese crowd. "I'll keep winning, so keep an eye on me, please."
Highlighting the preliminary card, Japanese newcomer Masanori Kanehara (24-11-5) dominated Alex Caceres (10-7, 1 NC) for the opening 10 minutes then managed to hold on late, upsetting the top-10 ranked bantamweight in his impressive UFC debut.
Kanehara, a veteran of the game who claims wins over Chan Sung Jung and Kid Yamamoto, initially wobbled Caceres with punches in the first before spending a majority of the second frame clinging to the American's back, hunting for a rear-naked choke. Caceres regained his composure to take a closely contested third round, but by then it was too little, too late, as all three judges scored the bout 29-28 in favor over the hometown fighter.