It took more than a decade, but last night (Feb. 25, 2012) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) finally returned to Japan to stage a major mixed martial arts (MMA) event.
And it was well worth the wait.
With a record-breaking seven bouts featured on the UFC 144 pay-per-view (PPV) main card from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, including the main event between UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson, it was designed to be an exciting night.
Was it ever.
The 14 fighters went ahead and delivered the goods, which is never a guarantee in a sport where anything can and often does happen. It was only fitting that "The Answer" and "Smooth" finished what Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis started to kickoff the PPV broadcast.
As expected, when Edgar and Henderson collided their combined result created a dizzying concoction. Whether it was heads bobbing, hair flying, legs whipping, punches whizzing or bodies tumbling, the dynamic pair went bananas for 25 full minutes. Edgar was shifty and precise with his strikes, while Henderson was calm and punishing with his.
Henderson, the much larger fighter, clearly did more damage when he connected, particularly with a heel to the face in the second round that would have likely knocked out everyone else on the lightweight roster not named Frankie Edgar. True to form, however, Edgar absorbed the hellacious heel, barely, and clung on to continue fighting for three more rounds.
It's safe to say that Henderson delivered more damage, but it appeared that Edgar was, unsurprisingly, the much busier fighter. However, he never hurt Henderson, who didn't even look like he was in a fight when all was said and done, while Edgar's face appeared to be on the wrong end of a meat tenderizer.
In the end, the judges awarded the decision to Henderson unanimously in a very close fight, ending Edgar's epic 155-pound title run at least for the near future. He was prematurely asked if he would consider dipping down to Featherweight for a fight against division champion Jose Aldo, to which "The Answer" replied, rightfully, reluctantly.
Make no mistake, that would be an incredible fight; however, his performance against Henderson was admirable and, in the opinion of some, winning. He's proven time and again that he can not only compete with bigger men, but beat them more often than not.
This time Henderson just had his number. And there is nothing wrong with that because he, too, is one very impressive fighter. Hell, the entire division is loaded with them, which means that Henderson is going to have his work cut out for him to retain that shiny new belt.
And I can't wait to watch him ferociously defend it.
Whether he was knocking out dudes, or getting knockout himself, Quinton Jackson made a name for himself in Japan under the Pride FC banner for putting on exciting fights win, lose or draw. Sure, his appearance -- heavy chain, howl and everything else black gaijin -- helped sell his shtick, but the whole package was the appeal.
Power-bomb slams included.
"Rampage" lobbied hard to be on this card, he didn't care who it was against or what was at stake, he just wanted to return to the "Land of the Rising Sun" and bask in its curious glow perhaps one final time in his professional fight career. He got his wish, but unlike the glory days, he wasn't going to get served a can to voraciously devour.
On the contrary, one-time 205-pound super prospect -- Ryan Bader, hungrier than ever after suffering back-to-back losses -- was on the menu. And he wasn't about to go down without putting up a fight. Bader came out with his pistons pumping, hoping to smash the sluggish-looking Jackson (by comparison) and punish him for coming into their fight six pounds too heavy.
Bader was clearly faster and busier, while Jackson -- in typical fashion -- stalked his opponent and looked to land a one-hit quitter that would enthrall the adoring crowd. It never came, but what -- after what appeared to be a decade-long absence -- was a ridiculous power bomb the likes of which we have not seen since he nearly killed Ricardo Arona way back in 2004.
Jackson scooped up Bader alongside the cage midway through the bout, torqued him above above his head and then deposited him face first onto the canvas. It looked terrible -- Bader's neck, shoulder and arm all bent in ways that were grotesquely unnatural. In fact, he admitted that the toss had him momentarily "out," but he managed to recover and continue his assault.
In hindsight, the slam was likely Jackson's only chance of winning the fight -- Bader was just hungrier, and perhaps healthier, routing "Rampage" en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision victory. One that will likely serve as the most important of his MMA career to date because not only did he defeat a legend, but he did it in the place in which that legend was born.
And perhaps was put to rest.
There was always a sneaking suspicion that Cheick Kongo wasn't really a true kickboxer. That's not taking anything away from the Parisian, he's a solid MMA fighter who has defeated several notable opponents. He appeared to sooth those doubts when he stopped a kinda K-1 kickboxer, Pat Barry, in his most recent outing.
But, the true litmus test would be against a decorated former K-1 grand prix champion like Mark Hunt.
What the under-sized New Zealander lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in power and sheer resilience. He's had a difficult transition to MMA, but most of the guys sans a lunatic named Melvin Manhoef knew that their best -- and perhaps only -- way to safely navigate around the portly power puncher was to take him to the ground.
Kongo apparently didn't get the memo.
Hunt did what he always does, standing in the center of the cage and daring his opponent to exchange. Kongo did just that and paid dearly for his poor decision. Hunt clipped him with a nice right hand. It was at this point that his experience showed -- he took his time, picked his punches and eventually had Kongo crashing to the canvas.
Referee Herb Dean stepped in shortly thereafter, and it's hard to blame him -- Hunt has dynamite packed into his paws. Kongo momentarily disputed the stoppage, and it's hard to blame him, too, after the Barry comeback, but things certainly would have gone from bad to worse if it was able to continue much longer.
Hunt received a heartfelt reaction from the Japanese fans in attendance. He was always a crowd pleaser back in the day and he didn't disappoint them last night, either. At 37 years old, Hunt has seemingly found the MMA Fountain of Youth, winning three consecutive bouts inside the Octagon.
That's no small feat at any age. And it couldn't be happening to a more deserving veteran of the sport.
Oh, how the mighty could have fallen.
Heading into his fight against UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre less than one year ago, Jake Shields -- the high-profile, talented Strikeforce import that would finally give "Rush" a run for his money -- was riding an incredible 15-fight win streak.
Currently in the midst of a back-to-back losing skid, he desperately (and suddenly) needed a win against Yoshihiro Akiyama, who was making his 170-pound debut. With his back against the wall, Shields pulled it off, winning a hard-fought unanimous decision over the insanely popular Japanese icon.
It wasn't pretty, but then again, any fight that Shields can't get immediately to the ground is going to look weird. Nonetheless, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist somehow got the job done on the feet when it mattered most. Akiyama, a judo player, scored a handful of very impressive trips, but aside from them, he didn't really do anything.
With three straight losses, and the prospect of tacking on a fourth, he was seemingly under more pressure to win than Shields. But, he didn't. And Akiyama didn't even remotely threaten a very rudimentary stand up fighter in a bout that remained exactly where he needed it to remain to ensure his best chances of winning, which was upright.
It was a puzzling performance and just an overall odd fight. Whatever.
Tim Boetsch was undefeated (2-0) since dropping from Light Heavyweight to Middleweight. It appeared that perfect streak was about to come to a painful end thanks to an absolute thrashing at the hands of Yushin Okami for 10 full minutes.
"Thunder" -- just one fight removed from unsuccessfully contending for Anderson Silva's 185-pound belt -- was cracking clean shots at will in the early going. It appeared that Boetsch was a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, which only got worse in round two when Okami secured full mount, attempting submissions and raining down punches in bunches.
Boetsch somehow survived.
So when it came time for the third and final round, he and his corner knew that it was go big or go home. "The Barbarian" went big, did he ever, and he went home a come-from-behind winner. He tagged Okami in the early going and then just swarmed him like bees on honey.
At one point, he pinned Okami's face up against the cage and drilled him with uppercuts until he could no longer stand. Amazingly, Okami collapsed to the floor and Boetsch went even more berserk. Fortunately, the referee was nearby to pry him off, but you could tell that even though he had been through hell, Boetsch would have kept going until he was out cold or dead.
He was neither, which is more than Okami can say right about now. Then again, it was a rally for the record books -- Okami looked great up until the final moments.
What a fight!
At first glance, Japanese fans may have thought that the familiar Joachim Hansen was paired opposite Hatsu Hioki, but after the whooping that he received in the first round, it's likely that they soon realized they were only watching the Norwegian's featherweight doppelganger, Bart Palaszewski.
Hioki, the number two-ranked 145-pound fighter in the Consensus MMA Rankings, came out on fire, hammering "Bartimus" with clean punches and then dominating him on the ground with tight control and dangerous submission attempts. To his credit, Palaszewski survived this initial onslaught, turned in a better performance in the second, but then got tooled on the floor once again in the final frame.
Palaszewski never really had a shining moment due in large part to Hioki's smothering, technical attack. He was in way over his head against a fighter, who despite a dubious split decision win over George Roop in his UFC debut, will most likely next challenge UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo for his world title.
Either that, or throw him in against Dustin Poirer in a number one contender eliminator match. Now that's a fight.
Shin, meet Chin.
"Showtime" -- a former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion -- came out in a southpaw stance and actually unleashed a head kick early that "J-Lau" easily blocked. It was the second attempt shortly thereafter that made it through. And it's safe to say that Lauzon didn't know what hit him -- he collapsed into a heap of mindless flesh almost instantly.
Pettis, naturally, dove in for the kill and added several needless head bouncers before the referee stepped in and saved Lauzon from long-term mental injury. That's now two straight wins for Pettis since his decision loss to Clay Guida in his Octagon debut back in June 2011.
He roared in his post-fight victory speech that he is the best 155-pound fighter in the world and requested a title shot, the one that alluded him when the WEC was merged into the UFC in late 2010.
It's certainly hard to argue otherwise after that sensational finish and his recent body of impressive; however, the winner of the upcoming fight between Jim Miller vs. Nate Diaz might have something to say about it.
That's enough from us. Now it's your turn to discuss UFC 144: "Edgar vs. Henderson" in the comments section below.
Do you agree with the Edgar-Henderson decision? Should "Rampage" retire? Where does Bader go from here? Does watching another Shields fight excite you? Who should Pettis fight next? How much longer can Hunt continue his career renaissance?
Let's hear it, Maniacs.
Be sure to also check out our complete UFC 144 blow-by-blow coverage of the entire "Edgar vs. Henderson" event right here. Our complete UFC 144 results recap of the Facebook/FX "Prelims" action can be found right here.