Henderson is Big in Japan (UFC 144 Review)

The UFC made their return to Japan on one of the longest Pay-per-View fight cards ever with 7 fights on the main card. The UFC decided to make a big impact in their first trip to Japan since 2000 as they looked to break in to one of the biggest fight markets in the world. Japan has always been one of the centres for the MMA world with some of the biggest promotions in the world. Before the UFC became the premiere promotion in MMA there were a number of promotions competing to be the best. A key to winning this fight was to win over the Asian market and that is what Pride did in their heyday. Pride was the king in the Asian countries hosting fights all over Asia and creating some of the biggest stars in the MMA. As the MMA wars continued more and more championships held fights in Asia including K-1 and more recently Dream. The only promotion that had not made a foothold in the region was the UFC who had last been to the area in December 2000. AS the UFC continues to expand they have been able to breakthrough in many states, except New York, they have been able to take over Canada in the three biggest cities, they have taken over much of Europe, and they have been back to the birthplace of modern MMA in Brazil. They had never been back to Asia though until UFC 144 as the UFC made their first trip back since the 2000 event. They would try to put on a good show too as they featured some of the biggest names in Japan and a lightweight championship bout. The lightweight bout would feature two great fighters as Frankie Edgar would defend his title for the fourth time against former WEC championship Benson Henderson. Edgar would finally be able to fight a new opponent after facing BJ Penn twice in 2010, once to win the title and one to defend it, and Gray Maynard twice, in 2011. Meanwhile Henderson was looking to make an impact in the UFC after entering the UFC when the WEC was merged together. Both fighters are similar as they both have endless stamina and are very balanced fighters that can stand and bang or wrestle. The fight started out with both fighters coming out strong and fast as Henderson seemed to be the more aggressive but Edgar seemed to be able to land more in round 1. It was a hard round to score as neither fighter dominated the round with both getting their opportunities to score points. In the second round Edgar finally began taking over the fight as he took down Henderson and began to score points on top. Then Henderson changed his fortunes as Edgar postured up and Henderson landed a big upkick that sent Edgar spinning back. With the champion in trouble Henderson tried to finish the fight but the round ended before he could. The third round saw the champion recover from the big kick and begin to land some key combinations but the round was a very even one again with Henderson able to earn a takedown but he could not do much with the position. The fourth round saw Henderson begin to take over as he started to hurt the champion with some great kicks to the torso. In the final round Henderson continued to dominate the fight as he landed a big knee that put the champion down. On the ground Henderson was able to lock in a tight guillotine but again ran out of time to finish the fight. With the fight over Henderson and Edgar would need to wait for the scorecards to see who the judges thought won the fight. This was not to the advantage of Henderson as the champion generally gets the benefit of the doubt and this had many people thinking that there would be no new champion. It was the exact opposite though as the scores came in giving Henderson the unanimous decision-making him the new UFC Lightweight Champion. With the fight being so close there will likely be a rematch meaning that the Lightweight title will see another year of the same fight. If the rematch cannot happen Anthony Pettis has taken the #1 challenger spot after winning earlier in the night and will be waiting in the wings for his chance at the title.

Along with this title fight the UFC featured a number of Japanese fighters to showcase the great talent from Japan. The Japanese fighters all put on great fights but they were not very successful as they went 4-5 throughout the fight card. Two big Japanese fighters were the biggest disappointments as Yoshihiro Akiyama and Yushin Okami both could not pull off a win in front of their home crowd. First Okami took on Tim Boetsch and was dominating the fight taking Boetsch on the ground for two rounds. In the third that all changed when Boetsch was able to catch Okami with a big punch and finish off the fight with a flurry of uppercuts that put Okami out upsetting the home town favorite. The Japanese fans had another chance to be happy though as they cheered on Yoshihiro Akiyama as he took on Jake Shields. After a close fight Shields was able to pull off the unanimous decision victory again upsetting the home crowd. The last chance for the Japanese was not a Japanese fighter but was a home favorite as Rampage Jackson returned to fight in Japan for the first time since 2006. Rampage had been a superstar in Japan after being one of the top fighters in Pride for years. Rampage would fight in front of what was essentially a home town crowd against Ryan Bader in a big Light heavyweight fight that could move the winner high up the ladder. Rampage could not pull it off in front of his fans though as he lost a unanimous decision to the young up and coming Bader. Overall the Japanese fans did not have the best time cheering for their home favorites as the home town fighters did not perform up to the expectations. The fans did however get a great night of fights and there is a good chance of the UFC returning the Japan again in the near future.

After the fights the bonuses were handed out for the best performances of the night as every fighter involved received $65,000 for their efforts. The “Submission of the Night” went to Vaughan Lee who had the only submission on the night but did it in spectacular fashion beating Norifumi Yamamoto with an armbar in round 1. The “Knockout of the Night” went to Anthony Pettis who KO’d Joe Lauzon in round 1 and took over the #1 contender spot in the lightweight division. The “Fight of the Night” went to the main event as Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson’s lightweight title fight earned them the bonus making new champion Henderson’s night even better.

 

Fight Results

 

Main Event:

Benson “Smooth” Henderson def. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar [Lightweight Title]

(Unanimous Decision)

 

Main Card:

Ryan “Darth” Bader def. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

(Unanimous Decision)

 

Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt def. Cheick Kongo

(TKO; Rd. 1)

 

Jake Shields def. Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama

(Unanimous Decision)

 

Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch def. Yushin “Thunder” Okami

(TKO; Rd. 3)

 

Hatsu Hioki def. “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski

(Unanimous Decision)

 

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis def. Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon

(KO; Rd. 1)

 

Undercard:

“The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi def. Eiji Mitsuoka

(TKO; Rd. 2)

 

Vaughan Lee def. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto

(Submission; Armbar, Rd. 1)

 

Riki Fukuda def. Steve “Robot” Cantwell

(Unanimous Decision)

 

Chris “Kamikaze” Cariaso def. Takeya Mizugaki

(Unanimous Deicision)

 

Issei Tamura def. Tiequan “The Wolf” Zhang

(KO; Rd. 2)

 

Upcoming Events:

 

UFC on FX: Alves vs. Kampann (Friday March 2nd; 9:00 pm)

– Live Free on Sportsnet/FX

– Sydney, Australia (Allphones Arena)

– Main Event: Thiago “Pitbull” Alves vs. Martin “The Hitman” Kampann

– Notable: Joseph Benavidez vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani [Flyweight Semi-Finals]

– Notable: Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson vs. Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall [Flyweight Semi-Finals]

 

UFC on Fuel TV: Nogueira vs. Gustafsson (Saturday April 14th; 10:00 pm)

– Free Live on Sportsnet/Fuel TV

– Stockholm, Sweden (Ercsson Globe Arena)

– Main Event: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson

– Notable: Brian “All-American” Stann vs. Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara

 

UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans (Saturday April 21st; 10:00 pm)

– Atlanta, Georgia (Philips Arena)

– Maine Event: Jon “Bones” Jones vs. “Suga” Rashad Evans [Light Heavyweight Title]

– Notable: Rory “Ares” MacDonald vs. “Beautiful” Che Mills

– Notable: Brendan “Hybrid” Schaub vs. Ben Rothwell

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