Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) could have used a little Lenne Hardt this weekend in Saitama, Japan, but ring announcer Bruce Buffer will do just fine.
For the first time since UFC 29, when Pat Miletich and Tito Ortiz defended their respective titles, the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion will return to Japan this weekend (Sat., Feb. 25, 2012) with one impressive fight card.
UFC 144, which will take place at the Saitama Super Arena, will featured Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, defending his 155-pound title for the fourth time in the main event against former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Ben Henderson.
Another lightweight match up slated for the pay-per-view (PPV) main card -- Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis -- will square off in a bout that may determine the next man to challenge for the belt. Plus, Pride FC legends Quinton Jackson, Takanori Gomi and Mark Hunt, among others, will return to the land that made them famous and the crowds that made them heroes.
And that's not even mentioning the "Prelims" card, which will be shown in its entirety on Facebook/FX. We took a deep dive into the first few UFC 144 "Prelims" bouts yesterday right here.
Now join us after the jump for breakdowns of the top two fights on FX:
155 lbs.: Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka
Few fighters were more feared than Takanori Gomi (32-8) in his heyday. From the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2005, "The Fireball Kid" was arguably the most dominant champion anywhere in mixed martial arts (MMA). He won 10 straight with eight finishes, including knockouts of welterweight great Hayato Sakurai and former UFC champion Jens Pulver. Unfortunately, things just haven’t been the same since his submission loss to Marcus Aurelio -- Gomi has found himself submitted in three of his lst four bouts with only a hellacious knockout of Tyson Griffin to remind fans of the good old days.
Gomi absolutely needs a win Saturday to remain relevant. And while Mitsuoka doesn’t have the name value of original opponent George Sotiropoulos, Gomi cannot look past him.
A submission specialist with wins over the likes of Gleison Tibau, Brian Cobb and Gomi-conqueror Sergei Golyaev, Eijii Mitsuoka (18-7-2) replaces Sotiropoulos on short notice on the heels of two straight victories. Most recently, he decisioned highly-touted Brazilian striker Bruno Carvalho under the DREAM banner, his second fight after a year-long sabbatical.
Should he upset the former Pride FC superstar, his stock would undoubtedly shoot through the roof.
I’m man enough to admit that I was horrendously wrong about Gomi’s fight with Diaz and accept that we will probably never again see the inhuman monster that ruled PRIDE with an iron fist again. Even this Gomi, though, should be enough to beat Mitsuoka. The latter has the sort of grappling abilities that have proven Gomi’s downfall in the past, but he doesn’t have the wrestling necessary to bring them to bear against "The Fireball Kid." Further, unlike Clay Guida or Kenny Florian, he doesn’t set up his shots with a solid striking arsenal or wacky head movement, making it even more likely that Gomi shrugs off his inevitable takedown efforts.
Eiji is incredibly tough, so I think he’ll make it to a decision, but he just doesn’t have the wrestling chops to take advantage of Gomi’s poor submission defense, and he’ll find himself battered left and right across the Octagon for 15 painful minutes.
Prediction: Gomi via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee
Back before Jose Aldo turned the lower weight classes into his personal feeding grounds, there were exactly two names that defined them: Urijah Faber and "KID" Yamamoto (18-5). After an early cut stoppage loss to Stephen Palling, Yamamoto took the lightweight and featherweight divisions by storm, winning 14 straight fights despite often fighting well above his natural weight. An ill-advised trip to K-1 and an elbow injury suffered in training for a crack at Olympic wrestling later, though, and KID finds himself struggling to remain a factor in the modern MMA scene, having lost four of his last five.
Though he entered the UFC as one of the most celebrated signings in recent memory, he is very likely fighting for his job against his British foe.
Vaughan Lee (11-7-1), he had tried out for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and impressed while doing so, looked on the verge of making an instant jump into the bantamweight division’s upper echelon against Chris Cariaso, dominating the veteran with grappling in the first round. Once Cariaso got his own takedown game going, however, Lee found himself controlled for the bout’s remainder and lost the resultant split decision. The well-rounded Lee has made a habit of ending things quickly and decisively, with nine first-round finishes to his name, and should he become the first man in almost a decade to stop Yamamoto, could find himself one of the new faces of British MMA.
I’m also willing to admit that this isn’t the KID Yamamoto who was one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters alive. I don’t know what’s happened to his wrestling, which used to be practically Olympic-caliber, or whether he can deal with people as fast as him.
But, once again, there’s enough KID left here.
Vaughan has feasted lately on inferior competition, ending overmatched fighters’ nights inside the first round. He’s a pretty good striker with a solid ground game, but Yamamoto still has a right hand that can knockout anyone below 170 pounds. And while Vaughan might have some success taking KID down early, that right hand will find him sooner or later.
KID’s is a story of immense talent brought down by poor decision-making (whose bright idea was it to have him fight Mike Zambidis, one of the hardest punchers in K-1 MAX history who also outweighs KID by 20 pounds?) and ill fortune. I’m sad we’ll never see the monstrous KID of yore again, but we’ll catch a little glimpse of him Saturday, just enough to keep optimistic fools like me hopeful.
Prediction: Yamamoto via second-round knockout
Get your Hokuto Shinken sharpened up, park your EVAs in the appropriate spot, and prepare to get Spirited Away to a solid night of fighting.
See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 144, beginning with the "Prelims" bout on Facebook scheduled for around 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming weekend.