There was little chance that the main event, featuring UFC lightweight champion Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar defending his title against former WEC champ, Ben ‘Smooth’ Henderson, would let us down. Two of the most energetic lightweights in the world, Edgar and Henderson were always going to put on a show last night but after five gripping rounds, we saw a new champion crowned in Tokyo.
Edgar started brightly, throwing decent combinations and repeatedly cleanly catching low kicks from Henderson as he simply tossed the former WEC champion aside on several occasions, taking the round 10-9. In the second round, Henderson began to look a little more confident but his kicks were being easily caught by the alert champion, sporting a hefty mouse on his left eye. Edgar took down the challenger briefly but at the end of the round, an upkick from ‘Bendo’ buckled the New Jersey native who survived the round but had a seemingly broken nose for his troubles. Due to damage done and some impressive transitions on the mat, Henderson took the round 10-9 to level the scores.
The champ came out hard in round three but found Henderson’s takedown defence to be stellar and the challenger was clearly coming into his own but late in the frame, Edgar bundled ‘Smooth’ to the mat twice, leaving the round wide open but in this writer’s opinion, going the way of Edgar.
There was a sense of some urgency about Edgar as the fight entered its championship rounds and although he hit a takedown in round four, Henderson quickly latched onto a tight guillotine choke off his back. ‘The Answer’, in trademark fashion, gutted it out and escaped but ate some solid shots – as well as dishing out some of his own – as the clock ran out, Henderson quite possibly securing a close round with his deep choke attempt.
The fifth and final round was just as hard to call, with both throwing shots and taking a few but Henderson ensured he came on the stronger as the clock began winding down, finishing the round with some ground and pound to sneak it on the scoreards. All three judges scored the fight in favour of Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson, crowned the new UFC lightweight champion in the Saitama Super Arena.
Next for Henderson: When the UFC absorbed the WEC’s lightweight division, many felt the big name 155lb’ers would struggle when thrown into the shark tank of the UFC. Former WEC champion Benson Henderson, begs to differ. The Colorado native has looked sensational since making the switch and was a deserving winner last night as he becomes the second man to hold a WEC and UFC belt, after Carlos Condit. At the last ever WEC, Henderson was stripped of his title by Anthony Pettis, who will surely be pushing hard for a second dance with ‘Smooth’ as he looks to snatch a second belt from the grappling sensation. The winner of May’s fight between Nate Diaz and Jim Miller will still get their title shot…..it will simply be a little later than expected.
Next for Edgar: The likeable lightweight was really growing on this writer as a champion but his tenure has ended and ‘The Answer’ should really consider dropping to 145lbs. Normally, this would be dismissed as a kneejerk reaction but Edgar has always lacked size against every opponent in his UFC career and the 5ft 6in firebrand could make some serious noise if he chooses to cut. This is far from a certainty though and if Edgar chooses to stay at 155lbs, expect a potential ‘Fight of th Year’ contender to be set up with Clay Guida.
Bader causes major upset, takes comfortable decision over ‘Rampage’ – where now for Jackson?
Former PRIDE and UFC champion, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, has been dropping hints of late suggesting his time in the sport could be over. The light-heavyweight great showed up to the weigh-ins 6lbs over the limit and if forfeiting 20% of his purse to Bader was bad enough, ‘Rampage’s performance left little doubt that this could be the swansong of one of the all-time greats at 205lbs.
Looking noticeably soft, ‘Rampage’ found Bader in a courageous mood as the former Arizona State wrestling champion kept coming forward and although his first round assault consisted mainly of caging Jackson and stifling him, ‘Darth’ did enough to win the frame.
In the second, Bader was able to survive a big slam by the veteran, landing awkwardly on his arm but quickly recovering and taking ‘Rampage’ down to enjoy some respite. Although the Power MMA man couldn’t inflict much damage, Bader landed a nice front-slam at the end of the round to seal a second in his favour, 10-9.
With just five minutes to recapture his PRIDE form, ‘Rampage’ was quickly caged and taken down by Bader who stuck to the veteran like glue and hauled him back down, gritting his teeth to ride out the round. All three judges saw the fight 30-27 declaring the winner, Ryan Bader, by unanimous decision in perhaps the biggest shock of the night.
Next for Bader: Full credit to ‘Darth’, he stuck to a solid and efficient gameplan and wore down one of the biggest names in the division. With this huge victory under his belt, Bader improves to 14-2 and the former winner of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ could be thrown to a big name such as Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua or maybe the winner of April’s main event in Sweden that sees Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira aiming to force themselves into title contention.
Next for ‘Rampage’: The end of the line has never seemed so certain for the charismatic Jackson and we should brace ourselves for another of the all-time greats to walk off into the sunset. The knockout artist has looked a shadow of himself in recent appearances and after publicly admitting that the sport has passed him by, the signs were there before last night’s fight. The Memphis, Tennessee native didn’t even stick around to address his adoring Japanese fans, so it’s not hard to see that this loss was a bitter one for ‘Rampage’ to swallow. Expect an official announcement in the coming weeks, as the fan favourite searches his soul in the aftermath of a disappointing loss.
Hunt rolls back the clock for PRIDE fans, knocks out Kongo in round one to continue his renaissance
The most unlikely of career comebacks continues, as former K-1 kingpin and PRIDE favourite, Mark Hunt, picked up his third straight UFC victory in Tokyo with a first round stoppage of Wolfslair Academy veteran, Cheick Kongo.
This writer felt that Kongo would look to expose the lacking ground game of the ‘Super Samoan’ but the Frenchman stood and traded with the notoriously hard-hitting Hunt and paid the price. A counter-punch dropped Kongo, but Hunt first allowed him to stand before smelling blood in the water and going for the kill.
Hunt cornered Kongo against the cage and let rip with a series of right hands, the fourth of which sent an escaping Kongo to the mat in a crumpled heap against the cage, forcing Herb Dean to intervene at just 2:11 of round one.
Next for Hunt: What can you say about Mark Hunt? The man continues to prove the critics wrong and has now amassed a 3-1 UFC record, a fine achievement considering ‘Hunto’ lost his Octagon debut and was considered the underdog in his three following fights. The iron-chinned Hunt shoots up the rankings in the UFC heavyweight division with his best win in the promotion to date and with Fabricio Werdum now needing an opponent with all other options taken, we could even see Hunt face the Brazilian for a potential title-eliminator slot.
Next for Kongo: The usually steady Frenchman is known for sticking to a workmanlike strategy and grinding out more well-rounded guys than Mark Hunt, but Kongo was beaten all ends up last night and again it could be suggested that the Paris native will never progress beyond the role of gatekeeper. Kongo seems to have no desire to try and make 205lbs, so let him duke it out with another recent loser in the division, Dave Herman.
Akiyama robbed, Shields takes controversial decision to spoil local fighter’s welterweight debut
As he put together a drab 1-3 UFC record as a middleweight, Japan’s Yoshihiro Akiyama could always be depended on for an old-fashioned brawl but having made the decision to cut to 170lbs, ‘Sexyama’ was dealt a bad hand by the judges in Tokyo as he lost out to Jake Shields.
Akiyama, in the best condition we’ve ever seen him, was very impressive throughout as he kept Shields backing up in fear of his heavy hands and showed some excellent takedown defence to constantly deny the grappler. Akiyama even dusted off some of his judo throws, tripping down the former title contender several times.
After three rounds, it seemed a done deal for ‘Sexyama’ who finally looked impressive inside the Octagon only for all three judges to see the fight in the favour of Jake Shields.
Next for Shields: The former Strikeforce champion is now 2-2 in the UFC but has yet to impress this writer in many aspects and he performed a miracle last night to escape Japan with the decision. The grappler still seems nervous and out of his depth at times in the cage but the Cesar Gracie pupil has confirmed that he is staying put in the welterweight division so a big name opponent awaits Shields later in the year, most likely crafty veteran Brian Ebersole.
Next for Akiyama: The ‘Sexy’ one drops to 1-4 in the UFC but let’s be honest here, Akiyama won that fight and Zuffa will show their support by giving the entertaining judoka a second fight at the weight-class he should have been at since day one. A scrap with UFC veteran Mike Swick could be a fun way to trim one welterweight from the roster.
‘The Barbarian’ invades Japan, beats Okami with stunning come-from-behind rally
UFC middleweight contender Tim ‘The Barbarian’ Boetsch was considered a major underdog in his main card bout against former title contender, Yushin Okami, but the native of Maine somehow survived an early onslaught to perform an incredible come-from-behind stoppage of the Japanese veteran in Tokyo.
Okami seemed to be cruising in the first round, beating Boetsch to the punch repeatedly and staying out of range to leave ‘The Barbarian’ moused up under the eye and a round down after five minutes. The second round was more of the same, with Okami winning the striking exchanges and eventually taking down the husky Boetsch, riding top control and ending the round working for an arm-triangle choke.
The fight looked cut and dried but in the last round, Boetsch came out bloodied with guns ablazing, knowing that only a stoppage would do. ‘The Barbarian’ first wobbled Okami with a partial headkick before caging the bigger man and unloading with a barrage of uppercuts that eventually folded Okami backwards against the cage. The referee intercepted as Boetsch tried to finish off the favourite, handing ‘The Barbarian’ the biggest win of his career at 54 seconds of the third round.
Next for Boetsch: Tim Boetsch probably made a few lucky fans very rich last night and with this massive scalp added to his collection, ‘The Barbarian’ moves to 3-0 at middleweight and seems a real force to contend with. Boetsch is getting no younger and his game attitude and entertaining style should secure him a lucrative fight with Mark Munoz or Chris Weidman in the summer.
Next for Okami: ‘Thunder’ had that fight in the bag it seemed, but a lapse in concentration sees Okami fall to 0-2 in his last two fights. If the UFC are serious about expanding the franchise in Japan, guys like Okami need to be kept around and ‘Thunder’ has an exceptional overall record in the UFC so he’ll get a final chance to redeem himself. A wrestler versus wrestler fight with UFC newcomer, Buddy Roberts, could be next for the Japanese middleweight.
Hioki bests Palaszewski over three rounds in tense affair, throws down gauntlet for Aldo?
Japanese featherweight sensation, Hatsu Hioki, may have underwhelmed making his UFC debut last year but the grappler turned in a far more convincing performances on home soil as he out-worked Bart Palaszewski to a unanimous decision on the main card.
Hioki may well have taken a 10-8 first round, looking far more comfortable with his striking before taking down ‘Bartimus’ and putting on a ground clinic, passing guard and attempting a crucifix before coming close to ending the fight with a sickeningly deep armbar. Palaszewski incredibly slipped free of the hold but as he took his stool, he knew he was a round down.
Round two was a striking contest, with Team Curran veteran Palaszewski finding confidence only to be taken down at the end of the round by a very comfortable and relaxed looking Hioki. There was a possibility of it being a round apiece, but Hioki ensured victory with a dominant final round in which he took down the striker early and again overwhelmed him on the canvas, ending the round trying for a rear-naked choke. It was a no-brainer for the judges who all saw Hioki as the victor, handing the Japanese veteran his second straight win inside the Octagon.
Next for Hioki: The submission wizard was brought into the UFC as a viable threat to Jose Aldo’s UFC featherweight title and although his first fight was a non-starter in some ways, Hioki’s latest effort could put him in pole position to fight for the title. The next ‘number one contender’ fight isn’t until May, and ‘Junior’ will need feeding before then so expect to see Hioki face Aldo for the gold in Brazil in June, serving as a co-main event.
Next for Palaszewski: ‘Bartimus’ falls to 1-1 in the UFC after a middling run in the WEC but the exciting banger from Illinois will get another fight, without a doubt. Expect to see the knockout artist trading bombs with George Roop or Leonard Garcia in the months to come, possiibly fighting for his UFC career.
It’s ‘Showtime’; Pettis knocks out Lauzon in round one, possibly seals title shot
Former WEC lightweight champion, Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis, made an emphatic statement in Tokyo as he made short work of fellow top contender, Joe Lauzon, to potentially book a rematch with his old rival and new UFC lightweight champion, Benson Henderson.
The two came out swinging and the anticipated war seemed to be on, albeit very briefly indeed. Pettis showed superior footwork to stay clear of Lauzon’s shots and around 1:20 of the round landed a flush headkick with a shin to the face sending ‘J-Lau’ flopping to his back. ‘Showtime’ let loose with some follow-up shots but it was done and dusted and the Duke Roufus prodigy took ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonuses home for good measure.
Next for Pettis: The youngster has gone 2-0 since losing his UFC debut to Clay Guida and considering he was the man who took the WEC title from Ben Henderson, it is only fitting that Joe Silva pits the two together for a very marketable rematch over the summer. All other top contenders are pencilled in fight in the coming months, so a ‘Smooth’ vs. ‘Showtime’ rematch is the way to go forward in the meantime.
Next for Lauzon: ‘J-Lau’, a notoriously early starter, was beaten to the punch there last night as a better striker made short work of him in the striking department. Lauzon won’t fall too far down the ladder though and the UFC like giving the Massachusetts native a winnable fight whenever he comes off a loss – we could see Lauzon square off against veteran striker, Spencer Fisher, in the months ahead.
Preliminary Card round-up
The Saitama crowd went wild for former PRIDE great, Takanori Gomi, who halted a two-fight skid in style in his home town by taking out fellow Japanese national, Eiji Mitsuoka in an inspired comeback. Mitsuoka seemed confident striking with ‘The Fireball Kid’ in round one, showing no signs of Octagon jitters as he ended the round constricting Gomi with a reverse triangle-choke to nick the round. The second round came to a bizarre and abrupt end when Gomi, defending a takedown against the cage, let loose on Mitsuoka and forced him to the ground where he simply covered up and absorbed a wave of shots from the veteran, ending the fight at 2:21 of the second round.
Next for Gomi: ‘The Fireball Kid’ has picked up a vital win and with that, will remain on the UFC roster for another two fights at least. Still capable of electrifying a crowd with his heavy-handed brawling, Gomi could be next in line for fellow knockout artist, Melvin Guillard, as both look to rescue their ailing careers.
Next for Mitsuoka: The newcomer looked good in round one but wilted badly under pressure in the second. Nonetheless, Mitsuoka will obviously be rewarded with a second fight, possibly against Finnish standout Anton Kuivanen to establish who has what it takes to stay in the big leagues.
The biggest upset on the preliminary card was surely Birmingham-based bantamweight Vaughan Lee’s stunning submission of Japanese fan favourite, Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto. The heavily favoured Yamamoto came out aggressive but despite hurting and dropping Lee early in the round, the veteran was then rocked himself by a flying knee from Lee as the round progressed. It forced a takedown attempt and from there, Lee went for the throat – first locking in a triangle choke before extending the arm of a trapped Yamamoto to get the tap at 4:29 of round one.
Next for Lee: The talented Brit moves to 1-1 in the UFC and Lee will be overjoyed with such an impressive submission over such a well-regarded name in Yamamoto. Lee is one to watch and a fight with someone like Edwin Figueroa might be interesting on an upcoming FX or FUEL card.
Next for Yamamoto: ‘Kid’s best days are well and truly behind him. Now 0-3 in the UFC, Yamamoto won’t get another shot as – with no disrespect intended to Lee – this was perhaps the easiest fight on paper that Joe Silva could give Yamamoto. He was humbled yet again and we shouldn’t expect to see the former legend fight in the UFC again.
A rather lacklustre middleweight affair on the undercard saw Japanese standout Riki Fukuda return from injury with a standard unanimous decision win over former WEC champion, Steve Cantwell. The young Nevada native had literally nothing for Fukuda who seemed slicker in the striking department and a more powerful grappler as he cruised through three rounds with Cantwell’s aggressive strikes only playing further into his hands. A dour contest was hardly well received but the Japanese fans could at least cheer for Fukuda, who took the clear-cut unanimous decision.
Next for Fukuda: The grappler didn’t exactly wow us last night but he got the job done with little fuss and Fukuda will be keen to get right back to action having spent the best part of a year on the sidelines. A fight with BJJ prospect, Rafael Natal, might be the next step for the well-rounded Grabaka man.
Next for Cantwell: ‘The Robot’ is now 7-6 and in all honesty, Cantwell has been on borrowed time for what seems like years. The inexperienced but tough Cantwell needs to go to the little leagues and sort out his record before making another run at the big leagues when better equipped.
A very close but uneventful bantamweight clash on the undercard saw Californian prospect Chris Cariaso pick up his third successive win inside the Octagon with a debatable unanimous decision win over Japanese veteran, Takeya Mizugaki. The two flattered to deceive for much of the fight but Mizugaki’s dominance was constanly jostled by the ever-active ‘Kamikaze’ who did enough to eke out the decision – an impressive win, considering home advantage was with Mizugaki.
Next for Cariaso: The American is in a fine vein of form right now but with decision after decision on his resume, Cariaso will need to start showing some killer instinct to get himself on the main cards. That said, a scrap with wrestling prospect, T.J Dillashaw, would be a solid way to kick off an upcoming free card.
Next for Mizugaki: The veteran was the favourite last night and although the decision was slightly contentious, Mizugaki hardly covered himself in glory either way as he falls to 2-2 in the UFC. The experienced bantamweight could face Eddie Wineland or Johnny Eduardo next as he looks to secure his place on the roster.
The opening fight of the night, and the only to air on Facebook, saw Chinese featherweight prospect Tiequan Zhang drop the ball again as he was on the receiving end of a brutal knockout at the hands of debuting Issei Tamura. A close first round saw both throwing bombs but Tamura came on stronger as the frame progressed, ending the round on top but needing less than one minute of round two to draw a line under the fight. As Zhang threw shots, Tamura threw a big right hand over the top to the face that dropped Zhang like a stone, his head hitting the mat leaving him starched just 32 seconds into the round.
Next for Tamura: The Krazy Bee team member couldn’t have wished for a better debut on short notice and the bullish Tamura could be an interesting addition to the 145lb division. We might see Tamura face Brazilian prospect, Felipe Arantes, on the June card in Brazil.
Next for Zhang: ‘The Mongolian Wolf’ drops to 1-2 and in all fairness, has looked poor in his last outings. There doesn’t seem to be anyone on the UFC roster that Zhang could potentially beat and we’ve probably seen the last of the Chinese featherweight in the USA.
That’s a wrap, ‘UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson‘ is in the bag as we were treated to a great night of fights from the Saitama Super Arena. It might not have been PRIDE at its heyday, but it was definitely an entertaining night of action and to make sure you keep abreast of all the breaking news and fallout surrounding the card, stay tuned to MMABay.
By Steve Davies