Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) entered the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on Sat., Feb. 25, 2012 and left with a new list of winners and losers, as UFC 144 separated the cream from the crop.
The main event featured a monumental 155-pound championship showdown between Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and number one contender Ben Henderson, and the crowning of a new king.
The co-main event saw two tough light heavyweights square off as Quinton Jackson (who missed weight by a significant margin) returned to Japan for the first time since he left PRIDE to square off against highly skilled wrestler Ryan Bader.
The fight saw one top contender rise up the ladder, while another proved that he may have left his glory days behind him.
After the jump we'll sort out the biggest of winners and lowliest of losers from UFC 144: "Edgar vs. Henderson."
Ben Henderson -- The big winner of the event was obvious. "Smooth" put on an exhibition of athleticism, crisp striking and very solid takedown defense. The fight was close, but Henderson was just a little better than Edgar in every single regard. He deserved to win the fight. He deserves to be the champion. We may see this guy wearing the belt for a long time to come (if he stays at 155 pounds, that is). Beating up Edgar is something to brag about, but you won't hear the humble Henderson doing anything of the sort.
Anthony Pettis -- Wow. "Showtime" started off the pay-per-view event off with a bang when he floored Joe Lauzon with a head kick KO that had the fans in Saitama cheering in approval. This kid is for real. Apparently, he doesn't need to run off cage walls to score big kicks to the head. That being said, I wouldn't mind seeing him do it again. Huge win for Pettis, who instantly put himself "in the mix."
Hatsu Hioki -- When the UFC signed Hioki last year, a lot of fans (including myself) were very excited, based on the merits of his highlight reel, reign of terror that he conducted in Japan. Many predicted he'd be the man to either unseat Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo or at least give him the closest fight he'd ever seen. After a lackluster performance versus George Roop at UFC 137 on Oct. 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, many questioned his status as the number two 145-pounder in the world. Tonight, he showed flashes of his past dominance by completing crushing Bart Palaszewski for three brutal rounds. He couldn't finish him, but I believe that is more of a testament to Palaszewski's toughness than it is of Hioki's inability to stop an opponent.
Ryan Bader -- After losing two very embarrasing fights in a row, Bader has come back strong and won two big fights in a row. "Rampage" is easily the biggest name who has become a notch on his belt. Beating him in Japan is an even bigger feather in his cap. The victory puts him back where he was before he was annihilated by Jon Jones at UFC 126 on Feb. 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hopefully, he can maintain the momentum this time.
Mark Hunt -- The former PRIDE legend proved at UFC 144 that you just cannot take him for granted. Many have tried to bury him, but he continues to knock the dirt off his coffin and he keeps putting on big fights. He has massive punching power, and if you make a mistake, he's going to end your night. Kongo made some big mistakes in how he approached Hunt and this fight, in general. But you have to credit the "Super Samoan" for handling his business.
Tim Boetsch -- After basically taking a beating for two rounds, Boetsch had no choice but to come out and go for the finish in the final frame. That's exactly what he did, as he came flying forward and buried Yushin Okami under a barrage of big punches. The only real question is: What took him so long? It ended up being one of the better comebacks we've ever seen in the Octagon. Nicely done.
Jake Shields -- It wasn't pretty, but he got it done. For almost three full rounds, Akiyama stuffed every takedown attempt with ease, but Shields never quit. He kept coming forward, throwing strikes (albeit, none of them damaging) and finally got the fight to his world in the third round. I'm not real interested in seeing him fight for a title anytime soon, but I have to tip my cap to him for his toughness.
Quinton Jackson -- I've always loved "Rampage." I love the howling. I love the powerbombs. I even love the inappropriateness. He's like a cartoon in real life and he was always fun. He was also one of the best and most dynamic fighters of his time. Sadly, that time is over. against Ryan Bader, Jackson couldn't defend the take down, couldn't keep up with him, in general, and just flat-out looked like a fighter from yesterday fighting a more current version of a mixed martial artist. It saddens me greatly to say it, but I think "Rampage" needs to call it a day.
Joe Lauzon -- He got caught. It happens to the best of them. In his last fight, Lauzon looked great against Melvin Guillard, a superior striker, who got caught in Lauzon's web of a ground game. The problem at UFC 144 is that Lauzon's opponent, Pettis, has a very good ground game himself. Lauzon looked tentative from the get-go and the finish showed why that may have been the case. Lauzon is still relatively young and will have a chance to improve on this loss. It just hurts because it takes him down a couple of pegs. The lightweight division is too tough these days to lose a fight that way and still be knocking on the door of title contention.
Frankie Edgar -- I don't like putting him on this list. Simply put, he fought like a warrior and has nothing to be ashamed of. But you can't look the past the fact that he was handily unseated. This was one of those "back to the drawing board" losses. If he wants to get his belt back from Henderson, he's going to have to work on a lot of things. Either that, or finally listen to the critics who have been saying he should be a featherweight for years now.
Yushin Okami -- After the first two rounds, "Thunder" essentially had his fight with Tim Boetsch won. All he had to do was fight smart, stay on the outside and avoid damage. Okami seemed to underestimate Boetsch and perhaps got a little cocky. He paid a dear price for it and ended up in a puddle of embarrassment in front of his friends and family.
Cheick Kongo -- I'm not a professional fighter. I'm also not a trainer or coach. I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn last night, but I know this: If you have an eight-inch reach advantage against a heavy-handed opponent who makes a living off getting inside and throwing punches, you should use said advantage. Instead of throwing kicks and keeping him at bay, Kongo played Mark Hunt's game and allowed him to get inside, land big strikes and put him down in record time. Poor showing for Kongo.
Yoshihiro Akiyama -- His move from middleweight to welterweight was supposed to rejuvenate his career. It still might, but I personally didn't see anything that made me think the move was a big success. The problem is that he has to find somewhere that he fits in. Middleweight wasn't a great look for him. If he's gonna stay at 170-pounds, he'll need to step his game up big time.
That's my list, but I'm curious to hear what yours looks like. Leave us a comment (or 144) detailing your big winners and lowly losers.
Do it now!
For complete UFC 144: "Edgar vs. Henderson" results, including blow-by-blow details of all the action, click here and here.