The Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan is the place to be this Saturday night (or Sunday morning, if you’re actually in Japan) as UFC 144: Edgar vs Henderson goes down. Featuring a seven-fight main card, the PPV portion of this card is stacked with exciting, important, and downright awesome fights that can make even the most reserved of fight fans jump out of their seats. Featuring a lightweight title bout between Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and Benson “Smooth” Henderson, and the homecomings of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Yushin “Thunder” Okami, and Hatsu Hioki, the live Japanese crowd, as well as the crowds at home, are going to be treated to a great night of fights.
Here’s my breakdown of the main card, airing live on PPV at 10:00 PM EST tomorrow night.
The final WEC lightweight champ, Pettis continues his campaign for the UFC title-shot that was eluded him for so long. The man behind the infamous “Showtime Kick”, a move destined to live on through highlight reels forever, Pettis looks to build off of his UFC 136 victory over Jeremy Stephens. A kickboxer with a fantastic submission game, Pettis is looking to make a big statement in this fight, en route to what he hopes will be the title shot he was promised long ago, before the division was stalled.
“J-Lau” also looks for a title shot, something that has eluded him since his UFC debut in 2006. After making short work of would-be contender Melvin Guillard in his last bout, the BJJ purple belt and seven time UFC bonus recipient looks for his third straight win, and his seventh straight bonus. With seventeen of his victories coming by submission, it goes without saying that Lauzon can submit just about anybody.
Pettis is clearly the favorite in this fight. With exceptional grappling, unorthodox and precise striking, and a well-rounded game overall, Pettis has the tools to take this fight. Lauzon, however, looks to spoil the party as always and undeniably has the tools to do so. While he has a purple belt in BJJ, he has submitted black belts. He has also outstruck considerably better strikers. I am really tempted to pick Lauzon in this fight, and with him being an underdog (at +195), I am more than a little tempted to throw some money down on him. That said, he’ll likely have to push the pace and finish Pettis quick if he intends on walking away with the win. If you’re looking for a the logical outcome, Pettis finishes an exhausted Lauzon in the second round, likely with strikes.
Winner – Anthony Pettis defeats Joe Lauzon via TKO Round 2
Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) vs Bart Palaszewski (36-14)
Shooto and Sengoku veteran Hioki returns home tomorrow and looks to continue his campaign for a title shot. Widely regarded as the #2 featherweight in the world, the well-rounded fighter is riding the strength of a five-fight winning streak. With notable victories over Marlon Sandro, Mark Hominick, and George Roop, his next victory in the Octagon could very well grant him a fight with Jose Aldo. With ten submissions and nine decisions to his credit, it’s clear where Hioki’s strength lies, but he’s no slouch on the feet, and he’s always improving.
“Bartimus” looks to build off of his violent knockout of Tyson Griffin back at UFC 137. While having trouble building consistent winning streaks over the course of his career, Bart has come into his own in since his days in WEC, and looks to earn a shot at Aldo as well. With victories over Pettis, Karen Darabedyan, and the aforementioned Griffin, the Team Curran fighter is more than capable of holding his own in the cage. With 28 of his 36 victories coming within the distance, he’s certainly not afraid to leave it all in the cage while in attempting to finish his opponents.
Palaszewski’s best chance in this fight is to keep Hioki away from him and use his effective striking to beat up the Japanese standout. However, Hioki has a hell of a chin, and if he can get inside, he can take this fight to the ground. When on the ground, Hioki will not have to worry about much, and will likely mix ground and pound and submission attempts throughout every moment spent on the mat. I do expect him to do so, and I think at the end of this fight, “Bartimus” will once again be a victim of the inconsistencies that have plagued him throughout his career.
Winner – Hatsu Hioki defeats Bart Palaszewski via Unanimous Decision
Yushin Okami (26-6) vs Tim Boetsch (14-4)
Making his first appearance in the cage after his loss to champion Anderson Silva, Okami finally comes home to Japan. The large middleweight is 10-3 in his UFC career, with losses coming to a former champion, the current champion, and the uncrowned champion on the division. Known for his grinding style, Okami also has heavy hands and a solid chin, and he’s not afraid to take the fight to anyone. Looking to climb his way back up the division, Okami will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement and entertain his fellow countrymen.
Fighting out of AMC Pankration, Boetsch looks to remain undefeated as a middleweight after making short work of both Kendall Grove and Nick Ring. “The Barbarian” looks to impose his will once again on Okami. The former light heavyweight fighter relies on his strength, wrestling, and powerful hands to get him the victory. Having dropped down for the 205 pound division due to his inability to impose his will against the larger fighters, Boetsch has had a significant size advantage in his last two bouts, and has publicly stated that his size and strength are his keys to victory in this fight.
Unfortunately for Boetsch, Okami is a pretty large middleweight. With a great clinch, ridiculous top control, and the ability to dictate where a fight goes, Okami is more than capable of securing the victory here. While Boetsch is a big, strong dude, Okami is exactly the fighter that Boetsch dropped to middleweight to avoid and I believe Okami will stifle any offense by the American, take him down, and do enough to keep it there for fifteen minutes.
Winner – Yushin Okami defeats Tim Boetsch via Unanimous Decision
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) vs Jake Shields (26-6-1)
Making his welterweight debut, “Sexyama” faces a tough challenge. The Korean-Japanese fighter likely needs a win to stay in the UFC. With victories over Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, and although controversially, Alan Belcher, the Judo black belt brings an effective ground game, as well as some crisp striking, into the Saitama Super Arena.
Shields, a man long considered to be one of the best fighters in the world, returns to the octagon as a man on a mission. Suffering two consecutive losses to Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger, and after considering a move back to middleweight, he is refocused and looking to get back into title contention. The Cesar Gracie trained fighter brings a solid grappling acumen and noticeably improved striking into this fight and will look to make Akiyama’s foray into a lower weight class one he will regret.
While Akiyama has grappling chops, and is unquestionably the better striker, but Shields is on an entirely different level. His wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and difficult to deal with grinding style can cause problems for just about anybody, and Akiyama is no Dan Henderson. I expect Shields to take control from the very start and dominate the entire fight. I would say Shields takes a decision, but I think Akiyama gasses bad as the fight wears on, and gives up a submission late in the bout.
Winner – Jake Shields defeats Yoshihiro Akiyama via Submission Round 3
Mark Hunt (7-7) vs Cheick Kongo (17-6-2)
Having fought most of his fourteen career fights in PRIDE, it’s no surprise that Hunt is popular in Japan. The accomplished striker surprised many, myself included, by being successful in the UFC heavyweight division. With a rocky start in the Octagon, succumbing to a submission by Sean McCorkle, Hunt has managed to improve his game, handing Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell losses in their most recent appearances. Having fought some of the best heavyweights in the world, Hunt is not afraid to stand and bang and with an opponent like Kongo, this is a fight Hunt is ready for.
The Frenchman, Kongo, is slowly making his way back up the ladder in the heavyweight division. After back to back losses to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir, Kongo has gone 3-0-1 in his last four. Along the way he made a miraculous comeback to knockout Pat Barry, and made short work of Matt Mitrione, showing that his wrestling and striking can guide him to victory. With most of his victories coming by way of knockout, Kongo hits hard, and nearly finished Velasquez several times in their fight.
While Hunt has looked much better in his last few fights, I feel this step up in competition may be a little too much for him. I like Hunt, and I am pulling for him to take the victory here, but the larger Kongo has more ways to win. Kongo will likely use his reach to keep Hunt at bay, and if he feels the need to take the fight to the ground, he will, and will have success doing so. While Kongo’s chin is not necessarily the best, and Hunt hits very hard, Kongo should be able to survive any onslaught, and likely get the ground and pound stoppage. Seriously though, I hope Hunt wins to keep things in the division more interesting.
Winner – Cheick Kongo defeats Mark Hunt via TKO Round 3
Quinton Jackson (32-9) vs Ryan Bader (13-2)
He may not be Japanese, but “Rampage” is coming home. The heavy-handed striker looks to rebound from his loss to champion Jon Jones, but this fight means much more than just a win to Jackson. He has stated publically how badly he wanted to fight in Japan, how happy he is to be on this card, and how little a win means to him here, he’s just happy to fight in the land of the rising sun. 7-3 in his UFC campaign, “Rampage” has only lost to the the best of the best in the division. While he has made it to a decision in four of his last five fights, “Rampage” is always capable of knocking anybody out, and he’ll be looking for Bader’s chin in this fight.
Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Bader looks to build off his knockout win over Jason Brilz at UFC 139. After suffering back to back losses to Jon Jones and most surprisingly, Tito Ortiz, many questioned where Bader stood in this division. A victory over Jackson would most certainly catapult “Darth” Bader back towards the top of the division, and towards a rematch with the man who handed him his first loss. A strong wrestler who can powerful fists, Bader relishes the role of the underdog and looks to play spoiler for Quinton’s so-called homecoming.
Whether it was a fluke or not, Bader got rocked bad by Ortiz. Let’s be honest, if “Rampage” finds that chin, it’s going to be a short night for Bader. While Bader is a good wrestler, he’s not as good at using his wrestling in MMA as someone like Rashad Evans is, and even Jon Jones had trouble taking Jackson down early in their fight. While Bader always stands a chance, I don’t see him coming out of Japan as the victor. I expect this fight to either have a similar outcome as Jackson’s fight with Matt Hamill or to end violently with Bader on the floor.
Winner – Quinton Jackson defeats Ryan Bader via Knockout Round 1
Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) vs Benson Henderson (15-2)
A real life “Rocky”, Edgar is the unlikely king of the lightweight division. After defeating B.J. Penn twice in a row, surviving a beatdown at the hands of Gray Maynard and going to a draw with the powerful wrestler, and then surviving the same beatdown in their third fight en route to knocking out Maynard, Frankie is a man you can never count out. A significantly skilled boxer with strong wrestling, some of criticized Edgar for his hummingbird like fighting style, but he has definitely made the best of it, and looks to continue his reign over the 155 pound division.
A former WEC lightweight champ, Henderson looks for his fourth straight UFC win, and the coveted lightweight championship, when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night. The large lightweight, known for his durability, heart, conditioning, and “give ‘em hell” fighting style, in on a quest to impose his will on the smaller Edgar. After defeating top lightweights Jim Miller and Clay Guida with relative ease, there are few who can stand across the cage from “Smooth” and come away with the victory. The crafty fighter has a hell of a Guillotine Choke, and I would not be surprised if he looks for an opening in this fight to use it.
I’m a big fan of “Bendo”. His first fight with Donald Cerrone showed me a lot about his heart and abilities, and he has done nothing but improve since then. The larger, stronger man in this fight, he’s fully capable of going 25 minutes with anybody and laying a beating on them. Having said that, I learned my lesson picking against Frankie. I picked Penn in both fights, then Maynard in both fights, and look what happened. When this fight was announced, I predicted Henderson to run through Edgar and take that belt, but looking at this fight closely, comparing the two fighters and their contrasting styles, I think Edgar remains on top of the lightweight division. Edgar has the wrestling chops to take people down, and avoid being taken down as he demonstrated against Maynard. He can take a beating from powerful strikers, recover, and comes back to win the fight, as we have also seen, so I just don’t see him being submitted. While I was big on Henderson early, I think Edgar perhaps gets a late stoppage win over him, but to be safe, I’m going to take Edgar by decision.
Winner – Frankie Edgar defeats Benson Henderson via Unanimous Decision
There you have it. These fights look to be exciting and relevant to their divisions, and that’s how I see things going down. Don’t forget to rock the preliminary card airing on Facebook and then on FX. Also, make sure you get your best Lenne Hardt impressions ready but don’t wake up your neighbors in the process. Enjoy the fights, and PRIDE NEVER DIE!