By: Matt Marcone
The UFC’s first event in Japan since 1997 had everything we were hoping for; a new champion, close decisions, tough fights, knockouts and even a vintage Rampage slam.
The main event saw Benson Henderson win a close decision against three-time defending lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. I have watched the fight twice, both times having it three rounds to two for Henderson. The champ disagrees.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Ben, he did a great job but I thought I won the fight,” says Edgar. “I thought I did enough to win those rounds.”
Judges scored it 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47 in favour in Henderson.
Significant moments in the fight included a hard up-kick in the second that dazed Edgar and a very deep guillotine in the fourth that the champ craftily escaped.
Edgar was able to catch many of Henderson’s low kicks, but they were still doing damage. After five rounds, Edgar looked like he had been in a brawl while Henderson looked relatively fresh. UFC President Dana White is among those who believe Edgar won the fight.
White did not seem interested in an immediate rematch with Edgar, likely due to the marketability of a potential Anthony Pettis rematch with Henderson. Pettis landed perhaps the most spectacular kick in the sport’s history in their first fight for the WEC lightweight title.
“He’s probably going to get it,” White says about Pettis being the next title contender.
Anthony Pettis also won knockout of the night with a high kick on Joe Lauzon early in the first round.
The co-main event saw Ryan Bader out-wrestle crowd favourite Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for a unanimous decision. Rampage missed weight by five pounds and says he was injured a couple weeks before the fight.
Never one to quit, Rampage opted to go against the doctors and put a show on for the Japanese fans.
“I was really happy with all the cheers when I came out to the Pride music but I was very disappointed at the boos when I was on my back getting my butt kicked,” Rampage explains. “I felt really ashamed. Next time I want to have cheers throughout the fight but I was really happy to be fighting back in Japan again.”
Mark Hunt landed a string of hard uppercuts to finish Cheick Kongo at 2:11 of round one. Hunt is showing the MMA world he is still a deadly force on the feet, winning his third consecutive UFC fight. Hunt is a former Pride veteran and former K1 Grand Prix champion.
Jake Shields rebounded from two consecutive defeats to beat Yoshihiro Akiyama by unanimous decision. The fight was closer than the scorecard suggests and Akiyama looked very strong at 170 pounds. He also landed a beautiful judo throw on Shields that had the crowd buzzing.
Other main card fights saw Tim Boetch knockout Yushin Okami in one of the great comebacks in UFC history. Okami controlled the striking and grappling for the first two rounds but Boetch caught him early in the third.
Hatsu Hioki defeated Bart Palazewski via unanimous decision, and Takanori Gomi finished Eiji Mitsuoka with punches in round two.
Check out my predictions or get in touch with me on twitter @MattMarcone. Listen to mountaineers sports on INDI 101.5 FM on Mondays at 6pm for the MMA recap
The UFC returns to Japan this weekend for the first time since Dec ‘00 with an action packed card! Here’s the breakdown of the main card:
Main Card (On Pay Per View):
Anthony Pettis (12-2) vs Joe Lauzon (20-6)
“Showtime” Pettis has only one loss in his last 6 fights – a decision loss to Clay Guida. Since that loss he won a split decision against the always touch Jeremy Stephens, and will look to build on that win with an impressive showing against Lauzon. Pettis has an excellent standup game and will want to establish himself as the superior striker. Lauzon has won 3 of his last 4, and there’s no secret he’ll want to get this to the ground as quickly as he can. Lauzon’s won post fight bonuses in his last 5 fights – and 6 of his last 7 fights overall. Pettis’ should have the ground skills to hang with Lauzon, but I expect these fighters to definitely start the PPV with a bang!
Pettis via TKO, Rd2
Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) vs Bart Palaszewski (34-13)
Hioki is on a 5 fight win streak and has won 10 of his last 11. After grinding out a decision win against George Roop in his UFC debut, Hioki will be looking to take the fight to ground, where 12 of his wins have come by submission. With wins in 4 of his last 5 fights, including a 1st round KO win over Tyson Griffin, Palaszewski will be looking to dominate on the feet early and have another impressive performance to continue his climb up the ranks.
Palaszewski via 1st Rd TKO
Yushin Okami (27-6) vs Tim Boetsch (14-4)
Okami will look to rebound from his loss to Anderson Silva. “Thunder” Okami won’t have the typical strength advantage that he’s accustomed to, so he’ll have to be a little more technical to get Boetsch to the ground to deliver his GnP tactics. On a 2 fight win streak since dropping to the middleweight division, Boetsch will look to use his wrestling to stifle Okami’s takedown attempts. Look for Boetsch to use his striking to get the advantage over Okami.
Boetsch via Decision
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) vs Jake Shields (26-6-1)
This is a battle of 2 fighters who desperately need a win. Sexiyama sports an impressive 13-4 record, however he’s lost 3 in a row and a 4th may spell the end of his UFC stint. He has a balanced attack and poses a threat both on the feet and on the ground. Before his recent skid began with a loss to Chris Leben, Akiyama was unbeaten since 2005 – a span of 14 fights (incl 2 no contests). Shields himself is on a 2 fight skid after winning 15 in a row that saw him climb to the top of the Strikeforce ladder. He’ll need to get this fight to the ground where he’s at his best and play to his strengths. Shields will need to pull out an impressive win if he hopes to keep job, never mind any relevance in the welterweight division.
Shields via Decision
Mark Hunt (7-7) vs Cheick Kongo (17-6-2)
After losing 6 fights in a row that saw him face some top tiered competition (incl Fedor, Overeem, Barnett, and Mousasi), Hunt has reeled off back to back wins and will be looking to prove he’s not just a one dimensional fighter against another power puncher in Kongo. Looking to extend his own 2 fight win streak, Kongo will want to display his evolution of skills and show that he is the more versitle fighter and the one that’s more deserving of the win. Although it would make for a hugely exciting fight, Kongo should look to avoid an exchange of firepower if he hopes to establish himself amongst the upper echelon of the heavyweight division, or risk remaining amongst the card fillers of UFC.
Kongo via TKO (GnP) Rd2
Quinton Jackson (32-9) vs Ryan Bader (13-2)
Rampage has seen a tremendous amount of success in Japan in the past, sporting a 14-5 record in the land of the rising sun. He’ll be looking to use his experience to his advantage to overcome Bader arsenal of weapons, which match if not exceed Rampage in power punching, wrestling, and overall strength. Rampage needs to show that he’s evolved compete with this new breed of fighters or face the possibility of being relegated to a role of gate keeper. Bader will want to regain the momentum that saw him rise up the light heavyweight ranks before suffering his first defeat at the hands of current champ Jon Jones. He’ll need to use his footwork to avoid Rampage’s attack and show that the time is now for “Darth” Bader to establish himself as one of the top fighters in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
Bader via Decision
Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) vs Benson Henderson (15-2)
Edgar has had “The Answer” for every opponent to date, including the man responsible for the lone defeat on his record, Gray Maynard. His “never say quit” mentality and the heart of a true warrior make him dangerous no matter how much trouble you think you have him in. His gas tank seems to never run dry, so he can keep up a relentless pace that’s almost impossible for most to keep up with….unless your name is Benson Henderson. Henderson is a big 155’er, has cardio for days, and is probably the most well rounded fighter and toughest challenge that Edgar has ever faced. He’s won 3 in a row since dropping the WEC belt to Anthony Pettis, and the former champ is looking to establish himself as THE top lightweight in world. I’m a huge Edgar fan, but I have to say Henderson will be too much and may have the question that Edgar can’t answer.
Henderson via Decision
JP (MMAFreak) Castillo