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Frankie Edgar to defend UFC lightweight title against Ben Henderson in Japan

After spending 2011 fighting Gray Maynard, UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar will challenge a new foe to start 2012 by the name of Ben Henderson, fresh off an outstanding performance in a lightweight eliminator fight against Clay Guida at UFC on FOX 1. The bout is set to go down in February when the UFC returns to Japan for the first time since 2000.

UFC president Dana White confirmed the bout during last night’s post-fight press conference.

Losing the WEC lightweight title at the final WEC last December to Anthony Pettis put Henderson’s immediate UFC title aspirations on hold, but with a three fight UFC winning streak under his belt, “Smooth” is exactly where he wants to be. Henderson picked up convincing decision victories over Mark Bocek and the highly touted Jim Miller to earn a #1 contender’s fight against the ultra-popular Guida. The former WEC champ proved once again that he’s as good as anyone in the world at 155 by out-working “The Carpenter” en route to another decision win. The bout, which was not televised on FOX, earned Fight of the Night honors.

While Henderson fought hard to earn a title shot in 2011, Edgar fought hard to keep the title. Facing Maynard, the only man to defeat him in his professional career, twice this year, Edgar was nearly finished in the first round of both contests but somehow survived both times. In January, Edgar fought back from a 10-8 first round to earn a draw and in October, he fought back to finish Maynard in the fourth round to retain the title. Both bouts are on the shortlist for fight of the year.

UFC 144 is scheduled for February 24 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.