MMA Review: #368: UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson

-This was the UFC’s first trip to Japan since the final SEG show back in 2000, and they really stacked the card out – not only with all the Japanese stars like Gomi, Kid, Okami, Hioki, Akiyama, etc, but also putting on the Lightweight Title fight between Edgar and Henderson, Rampage vs. Bader, Pettis vs. Lauzon, etc. On paper this was one of the strongest shows the UFC had ever put on, period.

UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson

Saitama, Japan

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Featherweight Fight: Issei Tamura vs Tiequan Zhang

Zhang was originally set to face Leonard Garcia here, but when Garcia got injured, Kid Yamamoto’s training partner Tamura stepped in to replace him. I don’t really rate Zhang highly at all but I ended up picking him to win here as I figured the UFC would try to protect him as he’s their lone Chinese fighter, and really I’d not heard of Tamura and his record didn’t look spectacular.

Round One and they circle before Tamura tags Zhang with some heavy blows. Zhang fires back with a right hand of his own that wobbles Tamura, but then HE comes right back with a pair of rights that send Zhang down! Whoa. Zhang manages to tie him up in the guard, but Tamura rains down some left hands to the temple from there anyway. Zhang manages to slow him down a bit, but Tamura passes into half-guard and drops some more elbows and punches. Tamura just keeps landing short hammer fists regardless of how much Zhang ties him up. Ref Herb Dean decides to call a surprising stand-up, and they exchange punches with Tamura connecting with a pair of counters again. Takedown attempt from Tamura but Zhang drops back for his trademark guillotine attempt. I say “attempt” because he tends to try it with little success from what I’ve seen. Sure enough Tamura lands in side mount and easily pops his head free. Zhang does reclaim full guard though. Couple more short hammer fists from Tamura, but Zhang tries an arm triangle from the bottom. Tamura avoids though and continues to work from the top until the round ends. 10-9 Tamura.

Round Two and Zhang pushes forward and throws some leg kicks…but Tamura comes over the top with a HUGE COUNTER RIGHT HAND and KILLS ZHANG DEAD. Holy shit that was a vicious KO. He hit the deck in a really strange way too; basically he was unconscious as soon as the punch connected. Really nasty stuff. Good win for Tamura to debut in the UFC with and honestly if he wasn’t their lone Chinese fighter Zhang probably would’ve been cut after this – his second loss on the run and third in his last four fights – but as it is he’s being given another shot. Fun opener at any rate.

Bantamweight Fight: Takeya Mizugaki vs Chris Cariaso

See, it’s a mark of how stacked this card was that a genuine top ten fighter like Mizugaki was in the second prelim bout of the night. Here he was coming off an excellent win over Cole Escovedo, while Cariaso had previously picked up his second UFC win over Brit Vaughan Lee in November. Obvious pick was Mizugaki as he’d only lost to real elite-level fighters like Bowles and Torres since coming over to the US in 2009.

First round and Cariaso opens with a big left switch kick that just about glances off Mizugaki’s arm. He tries it again but gets the same result and this time Mizugaki lands a solid left counter. They clinch briefly but Cariaso breaks with a good combination. Another combo lands for Cariaso but Mizugaki lands with a nice counter right hand. Mizugaki is beginning to land some sharp counters here. They clinch and Cariaso looks to force the Japanese fighter into the fence, but instead Mizugaki gets a takedown and lands on top in guard. Oma plata attempt from Cariaso but Mizugaki muscles his way free and drops back into the guard with a right hand. Mizugaki isn’t doing much from the top here to be fair. After about a minute in the guard he manages to break free and drop a nice left hand, but Cariaso’s still doing a good job of neutralising him from his back. Few shots get through from Mizugaki and he ends the round on top. 10-9 Mizugaki but it wasn’t a dominant round or anything.

Second round and they trade some punches early on before Mizugaki forces Cariaso into the fence. They break off quite quickly and circle around and Cariaso lands the glancing head kick again. Mizugaki is swinging some heavy shots here but he hasn’t landed cleanly yet. Couple of decent combos land for Cariaso but Mizugaki shoots on a single leg and forces him back into the fence as Joe Rogan sings the praises of the old PRIDE style of scoring. Eh, I see his point but for me it’s wildly open to dodgy judging. With that said evidently the round-by-round system is too – so the first thing that needs fixing is the judges themselves. Anyway – Mizugaki gets another trip down into Cariaso’s guard. This time he manages to open up with some winging punches from the top, not landing cleanly but he’s more active in this round. Cariaso tries for a sweep that Rogan calls the 100%, and he gets it but Mizugaki immediately explodes to his feet. That was some quality grappling from both men. Seconds to go in the round and it’s Cariaso who forces the clinch this time and lands an elbow. Close round but I’d give it to Mizugaki again.

Third round and Cariaso connects with the left head kick. Mizugaki evidently has a strong chin as he just takes it and forces the smaller man back into the fence again. They exchange some knees inside and Cariaso manages to switch position and looks for his own takedown, but Mizugaki avoids it. Cariaso breaks off with a quick combo. Good left hand from Cariaso sets up another clinch, and as Mizugaki tries to muscle him into the fence Cariaso lands a solid knee to the gut and a sharp right hand too. They break off with about 2:30 remaining and Cariaso throws the head kick again, but this time he slips and falls to his back and Mizugaki immediately gets on top in guard. They exchange some short strikes from inside the guard and it looks like Cariaso might be thinking about going for an armbar, but he doesn’t commit and goes back to throwing some elbows instead. Mizugaki works from the top and passes into half-guard, but Cariaso does a good job of immediately reclaiming full guard. Cariaso pops up to his feet though with seconds to go, and they trade with Cariaso landing a right hand and then coming forward as the buzzer sounds. Looks like 30-27 Mizugaki to me.

Judges have it 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28….inexplicably, all for Chris Cariaso. Well, what the fuck. Mizugaki is just in disbelief post-fight and naturally the Japanese crowd boo loudly. Don’t get that one at ALL, sorry. I mean yeah, it wasn’t a runaway win for Mizugaki but there’s no way Cariaso won, and it was even more surprising given you expect very slight hometown judging bias and they were in Japan! I dunno, the judges really, REALLY suck sometimes and you do wonder what the hell they’re actually watching. This was a solid if unspectacular fight that was really marred by the shitty decision.

Middleweight Fight: Riki Fukuda vs Steve Cantwell

Fukuda had come out on the wrong side of a weird decision against Nick Ring back in February 2011, and after that I expected him to do well for himself at 185lbs in the UFC, but he’d had a car accident later that year and so this was his return to action. Former WEC champ Cantwell meanwhile had lost his previous four fights (and didn’t take nearly the amount of flack that Dan Hardy did for doing the same and being kept on by the UFC, and Hardy’s opponents were far better, haters take note!) and this seemed like the last chance saloon for him. Hard to believe his last win was the arm-breaker over Razak Al-Hassan back in 2008 (!).

Round One and Fukuda quickly catches a kick and gets a takedown to Cantwell’s guard. He immediately goes to work with some short punches to the body as Cantwell looks to tie him up. Cantwell appears to be prepping for an armbar, but Fukuda postures out of that and opens up with some good ground-and-pound, popping the crowd wildly. Surprising to hear a Japanese crowd cheering so loudly actually. Cantwell does a good job of kicking him away and exploding back up to his feet, but Fukuda immediately forces him back into the fence. Couple of knees break for Cantwell. Cantwell lands with some decent low kicks and a couple of right hands too, but Fukuda shoots for another takedown. This time Cantwell stuffs it and remains standing. Good low kick from Fukuda though. Another good sprawl allows Cantwell to avoid a takedown attempt. Pair of leg kicks and a flurry back Cantwell up, before a brief clinch is broken by an uppercut from Fukuda. Solid right hand from Fukuda backs Cantwell up again. Right to the body from Cantwell. Decent combo follows but Fukuda catches him with some good inside leg kicks. Head kick is blocked by Fukuda. Flying knee misses but he lands a clipping right hand before the buzzer. I’d go 10-9 Fukuda there I think but it was a close one.

Round Two and Fukuda opens with a pair of good leg kicks. Cantwell fires back with one of his own but eats a right hand counter from the Japanese fighter. Takedown attempt from Fukuda and he gets it, but Cantwell looks for a guillotine. It looks quite tight, but Cantwell only has half-guard and Fukuda works some punches to the body. Cantwell keeps trying, but he can’t lock it up and lets go instead, allowing them to pop back to their feet. Combo separates for Fukuda before they clinch quickly with Fukuda landing some uppercuts to answer Cantwell’s knees. More uppercuts and a hard right hand from Fukuda set up another takedown, but Cantwell avoids it. Nice right hand to the body into a left hook from Cantwell. Good left hand from Fukuda and he follows with a body kick. Nice punches back Cantwell up and he looks hurt and has to clinch as Fukuda lands with some dirty boxing. Spinning elbow misses for Cantwell and Fukuda is all over him from close range. They break off and Fukuda continues to tee off with punches, really using the uppercut. Exchange continues more evenly now but Fukuda’s still getting the better of it. Big high kick is just about blocked by Fukuda and he comes back with another combo that lands heavily. Kick catches Cantwell low though and referee Marc Goddard has to call time. Cantwell recovers and they restart with 30 seconds to go, and Cantwell surprisingly hits a takedown, and transitions to take the back for a moment before Fukuda frees himself as the round ends. Great round, but 10-9 Riki Fukuda again.

Round Three and Fukuda comes out firing and lands a hard one-two. Leg kick answers for Cantwell but Fukuda’s clearly outstriking him now. Solid leg kicks land for the Japanese fighter. Fukuda continues to back him up with nice combos before Cantwell glances with a turning head kick. Fukuda continues to land the better blows though and backs Cantwell up before dropping for a double leg. This time he dumps Cantwell onto the ground, but Cantwell goes for a gogoplata. It turns out to be an error though as Fukuda escapes and takes the back. Cantwell tries to roll, but ends up underneath side mount and has to spin over again. He manages to escape to his feet this time but he’s looking tired. Fukuda is comfortably outstriking Cantwell now, landing leg kicks and punches at will. Cantwell ends up with his back to the fence taking more punches, and Fukuda really opens up with flurries and a pair of hard body kicks too. Seconds to go and this is clearly Fukuda’s fight. Round ends as Fukuda continues to pour it on. Got to be 30-27 for Riki Fukuda barring any odd judging.

Judges make the right call this time, 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Riki Fukuda. Dude looked fantastic here, throwing some really good combos and outstriking a guy who you’d have given the advantage to standing. He barely even had to use his strong wrestling game which was surprising to me. Cantwell again looked disappointing and he’s since been cut, so whether he can rebound on the smaller circuit is the big question for him now. I think the massive break in action he had throughout 2010 did a lot of damage to his career in the long run. Fukuda though should have a bright future ahead of him. Really fun fight overall.

Bantamweight Fight: Kid Yamamoto vs Vaughan Lee

After a pair of disappointing first two fights in the UFC – losses to two natural Flyweights in Demetrious Johnson and Darren Uyenoyama – this was Kid’s third attempt at picking up an Octagon win, and on paper it seemed like Zuffa had thrown him a bone in the form of the British grappler Lee, who – no offense to him – seemed like the sort of fighter Kid would’ve eaten alive back in his prime and could probably still handle with little difficulty here.

Fight begins and Kid circles on the outside as Lee pushes forward but doesn’t really throw anything. Looks like he’s probably setting up for the takedown. Big right hand from Kid as he lunges forward. Lee looks to close him down and he manages to land with a left hand. Lee comes in swinging, but Kid shrugs off a clinch and hits him with a body kick. The Brit continues to push forward, but eats a right hook. He comes back with a pair of right hands of his own and they appear to catch Yamamoto off balance, forcing him to go for the takedown. Lee blocks and forces him into the cage, but a knee breaks for Kid. Big right hand from Kid drops Lee and he pops up and takes another hard shot. Kid OPENS UP with a wild flurry that has Lee covering up, and he follows with a pair of knees and some more big punches. Lee does a great job of defending though and he doesn’t look all that hurt. Big right hand from Kid but Lee comes in swinging and stuns him with a flying knee! Yamamoto has to clinch and force Lee back into the cage, but they break off quickly and Lee pushes forward and both men throw some heavy punches that don’t land cleanly. Big uppercut from Kid but Lee fires back with a right hook. Kid throws some wild hooks, but Lee clinches and NAILS him with a heavy combo that has the Japanese star on wobbly legs! Lee charges in, but Kid tackles him to the ground…only for Lee to go right into a triangle choke! It looks sunk and Lee pulls down on the head, then switches to the armbar instead….and KID TAPS OUT!~!

Holy shit, what an upset. Post-fight Kid looks in SHOCK and quite rightfully so – even past his prime I never expected him to get tapped out by Vaughan Lee. Massive, MASSIVE win for the Brit and he’s probably going to have a long career with the UFC based on this alone. Absolutely fantastic fight from start to finish with one of the wildest upset finishes I can remember in a long time. Obviously it’s such a pity that we only got Kid in the UFC at the tail end of his career – realistically I think he’s done as a top level fighter at this stage – but if this was his last fight then even in a loss it was a hell of a way to go as it was such an entertaining fight.

Lightweight Fight: Takanori Gomi vs Eiji Mitsuoka

Originally Gomi was set to fight George Sotiropoulos here in what would’ve been a fantastic clash of styles, but instead the former PRIDE champ ended up faced against a fellow Japanese fighter – Sengoku veteran Mitsuoka, whose biggest win had come over Joachim Hansen in Shooto back in 2007. Being a big-time Gomi fan I was really hoping he’d come in on form and pick up his second UFC win in the arena where he’d had so much success in PRIDE.

Round One and both men come out in a really low stance and trade with some jabs. Both men land some solid punches early on but Mitsuoka appears to be getting the better of it slightly. Low single leg from Mitsuoka sets up a clinch, but Gomi breaks with some knees to the body. Nice right hook connects for Mitsuoka and backs Gomi up a little. Takedown attempt is easily shrugged off by Gomi. Gomi is so blatantly looking to set up a wild hook it’s hilarious in a way. He misses with one though and Mitsuoka clips him with a strong uppercut. Gomi fires back with a body kick. Mitsuoka is beginning to counter really well now. Good body kick from Gomi. He keeps throwing out the jabs, but Mitsuoka counters with a big right hand that drops him to his knees! Gomi is in trouble and Mitsuoka quickly capitalises by taking the back! Both hooks in for Mitsuoka and he looks for an inverted triangle from the back. It looks sunk and Gomi looks like he might tap….but the buzzer sounds to end the round. Damn, that was a close one. 10-9 Mitsuoka and Gomi was lucky to get out of the round really.

Round Two and Mitsuoka comes forward and continues to land counters to Gomi’s wilder punches. He makes the mistake of openly trading though, allowing Gomi to connect with a handful of his trademark power hooks. Series of left hands have Mitsuoka on the run, and Gomi closes in with some big punches. Mitsuoka looks in trouble and tries for the takedown, but Gomi stuffs it and nails him with some hard knees and uppercuts inside the clinch! Big flurry has Mitsuoka in big trouble and Gomi continues to tee off on him. Mitsuoka looks for the single leg again, but Gomi sprawls to defend it and lands some punches from underneath for good measure. Gomi spins out and takes the back, where he continues to land solid punches, and Mitsuoka is just about done now. Big punches land to the head and referee Leon Roberts steps in to call the fight, and the crowd go INSANE.

That was ANOTHER great fight on this card with a massive comeback from Gomi to win in the second after a pretty dire first round for him. Basically once Mitsuoka made the error of trading and got caught with some of Gomi’s trademark power punches it was all over for him, as he just couldn’t deal with the sheer force and Gomi is one of the best finishers in the 155lbs division. Sure, he still showed the usual holes in his game – a penchant for taking counters due to his winging style and an over-reliance on his chin – but it was great to see him pick up another win regardless! Hopefully this sets up a bit of a renaissance for him in the UFC, too. Doubtful, but you never know!

Lightweight Fight: Anthony Pettis vs Joe Lauzon

This was quite a big fight for the Lightweight division, as Lauzon had picked up his biggest win in years (arguably ever, but I’d probably still put his win over Pulver in 2006 over it…) over Melvin Guillard – who was a guy a lot of people thought would be in title contention in 2012 – at UFC 136, while Pettis had rebounded from his disappointing UFC debut to beat Jeremy Stephens on the same show. General consensus suggested that the winner of this one could find themselves in a #1 Contender’s match later in the year.

First round begins and Lauzon looks surprisingly tentative by his standards. Big left high kick is blocked by him early on. Leg kick lands for Pettis as Lauzon pushes forward. Flurry largely misses for J-Lau. Combo from Pettis is blocked by Lauzon who continues to stalk forward. Big right hand misses for Lauzon and Pettis connects with a side kick to the lower body. BIG LEFT HEAD KICK lands out of nowhere for Pettis and folds Lauzon up and some punches finish things off. Good lord.

Replay shows Pettis didn’t even set up the kick and it just landed ala PRIDE-era Mirko Cro Cop style. Spectacular win for Pettis and just what he needed after a bit of a slow start to his UFC career. I figured he’d be granted a title shot after this but due to reasons we’ll discuss later he hasn’t even fought since, which is very frustrating. Hell of a knockout though!

Featherweight Fight: Hatsu Hioki vs Bart Palaszewski

After a less-than-impressive UFC debut win over George Roop, the word was that Hioki had turned down a title shot so he could get another fight to acclimatise himself to the Octagon, and so he was matched with WEC veteran Palaszewski in his home country. Bartimus was coming off a good win himself over Tyson Griffin and was looking to stop Hioki’s momentum, but I figured Hioki would be good enough to outgrapple Bart and take his spot as the #1 Contender to Jose Aldo’s title at 145lbs.

Round One and Hioki throws out some jabs and connects right away, dropping Bart for a moment. Palaszewski gets right back up, but Hioki follows in with a hard kick to the body. More stiff jabs from Hioki as Bart counters with a leg kick. Front kick glances off the face of Palaszewski twice. Hioki is just eating Palaszewski up with his jab here. Single leg from Hioki and he forces Bart into the fence and gets the takedown to guard. Bart looks for a guillotine, but Hioki easily works his head free and passes into half-guard. Beautiful pass into side mount follows and he lands some elbows, popping the crowd big time. Good short punches from Hioki as he looks for the mounted crucifix. Bart scrambles, but gives his back and Hioki hops on and looks for a possible armbar. It looks locked up, but Palaszewski somehow manages to survive despite the arm looking fully extended. Hioki switches to an oma plata, but he can’t get it and ends up back on top as Bart has to scramble. Hioki lands some good punches from the top again, working Bart over, and he continues to land until the round ends. Total domination from Hioki. Not quite enough damage for a 10-8 but a clear 10-9 and with half-point rounds it’d be 10-8.5 for sure.

Round Two and they come out striking, with both men landing a couple of jabs and leg kicks. Combo from Hioki but Palaszewski connects with a counter right hook nicely. Nice combo ending in a leg kick from Palaszewski. Big head kick glances for Hioki. Palaszewski is looking much more confident in this round though and he glances with a high kick of his own. Good jab to the body from Bart. Stiff jab from Hioki snaps his head back. Hard leg kick lands for Bart though. Bart is throwing some really good combinations here ending in leg kicks. One-two connects for Bart and he manages to avoid a pair of high kicks. Another leg kick from Bart and I have no idea why Hioki hasn’t looked for the takedown in this round yet. Another good combo from Bart. Kick from Hioki lands low and Herb Dean calls time, but it evidently didn’t land heavily as Bart says he’s fine right away. Beautiful inside leg kick from Bart but apparently it landed low and Herb calls time again. Hioki says he’s fine this time and they restart again with less than a minute remaining. Right hand to the body from Bart and he follows with a leg kick. They exchange some low kicks and with seconds to go Hioki shoots and manages to take the back. Why he didn’t do that earlier I don’t know because he just threw that round away. 10-9 Palaszewski.

Round Three and Bart comes out firing shots, but Hioki ducks under and looks for the takedown. Palaszewski blocks into the clinch and lands a good knee to the body, but a trip from Hioki plants him on his back in guard. Hioki immediately passes into half-guard but it’s a weak half-guard and Hioki looks like he’s going to pass with ease. Flurry of short punches from Hioki and sure enough he’s in side mount. He looks for the full mount, but ends up back in half-guard instead. Hioki works to pass again as Bart looks like he’s going for a possible guillotine, but it’s to no avail and Hioki gets to side mount again. Mounted crucifix for Hioki for a second and he drops a couple of solid elbows. Palaszewski tries to spin free, but gives his back in the process and Hioki works and gets both hooks in. Two minutes to go and Hioki looks for the rear naked choke, but Bart shows good defense and manages to avoid it. Hioki lands a couple of good punches and elbows from back control and looks to set up the rear naked again, then decides to switch to a neck crank instead ala Shinya Aoki, but Bartimus manages to survive the round. Clear 10-9 round for Hioki and he’s got to take this decision.

Judges score it 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28 for Hatsu Hioki. Well, he looked outstanding in the first and third rounds of this fight, just completely owning Palaszewski on the ground, so why he chose to stand with Bart in the second and pretty much lose the round I don’t know. After this he again turned down a title shot and this time it’s come back to cost him as he ended up losing to Ricardo Lamas in a slow fight and is probably out of title contention for the time being. This was a good showcase fight for his slick grappling though and as Bart was always game it was a fun fight overall.

Middleweight Fight: Yushin Okami vs Tim Boetsch

After dropping to 185lbs in 2011 and reeling off two straight wins, looking better each time, it was clear that Boetsch needed a step up in competition and he was definitely given it here in the form of perennial contender and former title challenger Okami. This was Okami’s first fight back after the KO loss to Anderson Silva and while you always wonder how a fighter will react to such a devastating loss, I thought he’d be able to bounce back nicely by taking a decision over Boetsch, basically just because Boetsch historically had always struggled with strong grapplers.

Round One and Boetsch throws some early strikes as Okami looks quite tentative. Good straight left lands for him though and to be fair Boetsch doesn’t land anything major early on. Nice right hand connects for Okami. Left hand follows and a right jab wobbles Boetsch, catching him off balance. High kick is blocked by Boetsch but he eats another stiff jab. Looks like Boetsch is badly cut already. He tries to fire back with strikes but Okami dodges out of the way. Single leg attempt from Boetsch is easily shrugged off by the Japanese fighter. Big jab from Okami and he follows with another one into a hard left hook. Boetsch is taking some nasty shots here. He misses some wild swings and then Okami glances with a heavy right high kick. Okami looks awesome here. Good leg kick lands for Boetsch. He uses some head movement to avoid the jab, but Okami throws a left head kick that connects. Stiff left from Okami. Boetsch throws some big shots of his own but Okami dodges out of range. Good right does land for the Barbarian though. Seconds to go and Boetsch walks into a hard knee to the midsection. Round ends on the feet and goes easily to Yushin Okami. He just owned Boetsch standing in that round.

Round Two and Boetsch fires some punches, but Okami avoids and lands some more straight punches before cracking Boetsch again with the knee to the body. Head kick glances for Boetsch before Okami clinches and forces him into the fence. They muscle for position as Okami looks to be going for a bodylock, and while Boetsch blocks an outside trip, Okami switches to a double leg and gets him down. Guillotine attempt from Boetsch but Okami has an arm in and gets into half-guard too, and he looks fine to me. Sure enough he works his head free and looks to pass into full mount. Good shots from Okami to the body, and he slides into full mount. Straight armbar attempt from the mount and Boetsch is in trouble, but he manages to avoid it. Okami just goes for the simple ground-and-pound and then teases an arm triangle before ending the round with more punches. Another round in the books for Okami, and I’ve got him 20-18 up quite comfortably.

Round Three and Boetsch wades forward early but walks into a jab. Another jab lands but this time Boetsch grabs him and lands a knee to the body and a short uppercut from close range. Right hook breaks for Boetsch and he keeps coming forward and wobbles Okami with a left hand and a glancing high kick! Okami gets into retreat mode, but Boetsch wades in again with a right hand and another left hook! Boetsch grabs him again and lands more uppercuts and somehow OKAMI IS IN TROUBLE! Okami breaks off but Boetsch comes back in with a head kick and ANOTHER BRUTAL UPPERCUT and two more put OKAMI DOWN AND OUT!~! Cue a FUCKING HEART ATTACK FOR JOE ROGAN as he screams about it being possibly the best comeback in UFC history. Definitely up there, that’s for sure. Wild to hear the crowd stunned into silence too rather than popping like mad.

Well, what can you say about this? Boetsch was being OWNED in the first two rounds, both standing and on the ground, but I guess he just decided to go for broke in the third and it totally worked. See, I’ve argued for that sort of thing for years – if you’re in the hole and have no chance of winning a decision why not just throw caution to the wind and go for it? Sure, you risk getting finished but then you’re likely to lose anyway if you survive the distance .Boetsch proved why sometimes it’s worth a risk. And fuck, what is life without risks? Mr Barbarian, I SALUTE YOU. Insane finish.

Welterweight Fight: Jake Shields vs Yoshihiro Akiyama

After three straight losses – admittedly to tough opposition in the form of Chris Leben, Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort – Akiyama decided to switch things up for this fight and dropped to 170lbs for the first time in his career. Shields had been on a bit of a slide of his own – losing his title fight to GSP before being viciously knocked out at the hands of Jake Ellenberger – and so both men were really desperate for a win. My pick was Akiyama as I figured Shields wouldn’t be able to take him down and Akiyama’s stand-up had always looked better than Shields’.

Fight begins and Shields throws a couple of leg kicks and some stiff punches before Akiyama clinches and then breaks with a solid left hand. Takedown attempt from Shields and he backs Akiyama up into the cage, but struggles to get him down as Akiyama shows some tremendous balance to stay up on his feet. Big pop from the crowd as Akiyama turns the clinch around and forces Shields into the fence. They break off and Akiyama basically just ignores Shields’ strikes to land a jab and a left hand. Good pair of body kicks from Shields but Akiyama pushes forward with a hard right uppercut. Takedown attempt from Shields and he gets Akiyama down for a split-second and lands a punch as he pops back up off balance, but Akiyama stays on his feet as Shields looks for a takedown from the clinch. Shields goes to a rear waistlock but Akiyama spins free in a nice move. Ref Marc Goddard calls time to replace his mouthpiece, and then restart and trade strikes with neither man really gaining an advantage. BEAUTIFUL trip takedown from Akiyama and he almost gets the back, but Shields escapes to his feet. That takedown was ridiculous. Seconds to go and Shields ends the round with some jabs. Close round; I’d score it to Akiyama by a hair but I could see it going the other way I guess too.

Into the 2nd and Akiyama blocks the left head kick and lands a right hand. Shields takedown attempt is stuffed and Akiyama lands with the right again. Trip attempt doesn’t work this time and so Akiyama throws a spinning back kick that doesn’t land cleanly. Shields pushes forward, but Akiyama shrugs off a clinch and glances with a spinning backfist. Takedown attempt is blocked again by Akiyama. Good one-two from Shields but it doesn’t seem to have much effect. Right hand glances for Akiyama and he shows an excellent sprawl to avoid a takedown. Striking exchange is surprisingly even here as Shields is landing punches and body kicks albeit not doing too much damage. Another single leg is stuffed by Akiyama and they continue to exchange shots. Shields is actually getting the better of the exchanges now which is pretty wild. Stiff jab connects for Akiyama though. They clinch and Akiyama shrugs Shields off again and lands with a VICIOUS leg kick. Good right hand connects for Akiyama as he pushes forward. Couple of glancing leg kicks from Shields. Akiyama shrugs off another clinch attempt and then he hits a SICK JUDO THROW and dumps Shields down. Shields pops right back up and shoots on a double leg, but Akiyama stuffs it again. Shields transitions into a rear waistlock again, but he can’t get Akiyama down and the round ends with them spinning around. Erm, I’m going 10-10 for that round as Shields outstruck Akiyama for the most part (!) but Akiyama’s shots seemed to have more effect and he also hit the sick takedown while Shields had all of his takedowns shrugged off.

Third and final round and Shields continues to push forward with his strikes, but Akiyama lands a solid counter left hand. Left body kick connects for Shields again. Good leg kick follows. Jab snaps Akiyama’s head back and another leg kick lands for Shields. Akiyama really needs to turn this up now. Couple of punches connect for him but Shields seems fine. Shields clinches but takes a right and an uppercut that breaks off. Takedown attempt from Shields and he gets deep on a double leg and forces Akiyama back, but he still can’t get the judoka off his feet. They trade some shots to the body from the clinch before Akiyama breaks with a left. Striking exchange continues and Shields lands some more low kicks. Hard to believe Jake Shields is winning this fight standing. Takedown attempt from Shields and he gets Akiyama down finally! Akiyama pops right back up though, but Shields stays on him with some knees. Ref calls a clean break with a minute to go and Shields lands the left body kick again. Big shot misses for Akiyama and Shields capitalises with a takedown and gets the back! Akiyama pops up and grabs the fence in an attempt to escape, but of course the ref ignores that. Shields does too apparently and he drags Akiyama down with both hooks in, looking for the choke, but he can’t get it before the round ends. 10-9 round for Shields so I’d personally have it as a draw, 29-29, but I could see Shields taking it too.

Judges all have it 29-28 for Jake Shields, showing that there is definitely no home country bias here. Not the best fight – in fact it was the worst one on this card so far although that isn’t saying much as the rest of the fights were pretty great – but it wasn’t a truly shitty fight by any means. It was, however, quite shocking to see Jake Shields win a fight largely on his stand-up and I honestly think Akiyama is done as a top-level or thereabouts fighter and it’s time to book him with lesser guys as a sort-of charismatic fun fighter like they do with Dan Hardy these days. In fact, Akiyama vs. Hardy could well be a lot of fun. Solid win for Shields I guess even if he didn’t look great or anything.

Heavyweight Fight: Mark Hunt vs Cheick Kongo

If you’d said to me after his pitiful UFC debut against Sean McCorkle that Mark Hunt would be looking for his third straight win inside the Octagon at the beginning of 2012 I’d have laughed at you, but sure enough that’s what he was going for here, after a good win over Chris Tuchscherer was followed up by a bizarre win over Ben Rothwell at high altitude where both men looked close to having serious heart attacks. Hunt is always cool though so no complaints from me. I figured he’d be in trouble here against Kongo though – not due to Kongo’s striking as I’d say Hunt’s definitely better there, but the Frenchman’s takedown game is massively improved these days and I figured he’d be able to muscle Hunt to the ground and work him over there for most likely a ground-and-pound based decision.

Round One and Hunt lands with a heavy leg kick, but slips to his back off it and Kongo rushes him with punches that have the big New Zealander on the retreat. They clinch up and Hunt manages to avoid Kongo taking him down, forcing the Frenchman into the cage instead. They break off and a lunging left hook misses for Hunt. Right hand glances over the top for Hunt as Kongo throws out some long punches and a leg kick. Left hook from Hunt puts Kongo on his back foot. Leg kick from Kongo fires back but he misses a right and Hunt cracks him with a left that puts him down for a second. The Frenchman gets back up but he might be in trouble here. Hunt pushes forward and cracks him with a right hand that puts him on the run, and a series of follow-up rights put the Frenchman down and force Herb Dean to step in! Wow.

Story of this fight was basically that Kongo had way too much faith in his striking abilities – I mean yeah, he’s a good striker against guys like Matt Mitrione and even the likes of Pat Barry, but very few people in MMA can fuck around with a former K-1 Grand Prix champion standing and unfortunately for Cheick he isn’t one of them. Hunt did what he had to do here and he did it in STYLE. How far he can actually go in this division I don’t know – I think someone like Werdum or Bigfoot would just take him down and submit him – but he sure is fun to watch.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Ryan Bader vs Rampage Jackson

The word was that Rampage turned down a chance to fight on Fox so that Zuffa could put him on the Japan card instead and let him fight in front of his old PRIDE fans, so I honestly expected him to be super-motivated coming into this one – a seemingly stylistically good fight against Bader, who fights very much like a slightly better Matt Hamill who Rampage had dealt with easily a year prior – but instead he came into the weigh-ins looking horribly out of shape and five pounds overweight at 211lbs too. With that in mind (I’ve been questioning Rampage’s commitment to MMA since he “retired” to film the A-Team in 2010) I ended up taking Bader to win in somewhat of a big upset, and also made a bold prediction that Rampage would retire post-fight.

Staredown is INSANE; up there with Rampage’s best ones from both his PRIDE and UFC days. I never had Bader down as an especially intimidating guy but holy shit does he look terrifying here.

First round and Rampage comes out quickly and looks to walk Bader down as the TUF winner circles on the outside with a couple of leg kicks. Less than 30 seconds gone and Rampage tries taunting Bader to come and trade with him. Quick clinch and Bader grabs a front headlock and switches to look for a bodylock, but Rampage defends and stays up on his feet. Nice short left from Bader inside and he keeps trying for the takedown, but Rampage blocks with some knees. They break off and Bader stays on the move, glancing with a superman punch and a left hook. Good right hand lands for Bader over the top and he follows with a leg kick. Superman punch misses for Bader but his movement is looking far better than Rampage’s here. Big right hand over the top lands for Bader and he follows with a takedown attempt, but again Rampage does a good job of preventing it. They break off and Bader connects with an inside leg kick and a glancing left hand. Rampage is standing right in front of him. Takedown attempt again from Bader but it looks a bit telegraphed and Rampage defends it again. Bader manages to force him into the cage, but Rampage sprawls out and avoids. Half takedown attempt from Rampage is avoided and Bader grabs him with a front facelock and lands a knee. Rampage drops a hand to prevent another, and then slips away from a possible single leg. Takedown attempt is avoided by Bader now but he eats a glancing left hand right before the round ends. Good round for Bader overall, 10-9, and between rounds Quinton looks like he’s breathing heavily. Not a good sign.

Second round and Bader comes out with a glancing left hook. Right hand misses for Bader and he almost walks right into a huge left hand counter. Couple more shots glance for Bader before Rampage clinches and muscles him into the cage. Knee attempt from Bader is caught and Rampage DUMPS HIM WITH A HUGE BODYSLAM!~! Crowd pop massive for that one but Bader pops right back up only to eat a knee. He gets out of range quickly and doesn’t look truly hurt but that was a significant moment. Body kick connects from Rampage and Bader has to retreat. Big left from Rampage but he gets too close and Bader tackles him to the ground and lands in half-guard. Decent shots land for Bader from the half-guard as Quinton looks a little stuck here. Good elbows from Bader and Rampage is clearly tired, taking some deep breaths. He slowly moves back to the cage though and looks to work back to his feet, but then Bader holds him down and Rampage gets to full guard. Rampage gives his back and looks to use it to stand, but takes some knees from Bader who has a rear waistlock. Rampage gets right up, but Bader returns the favour with a BIG GERMAN SUPLEX that puts Quinton down, and he lands some hard right hands from back control, although with no hooks in. Rampage tries to get up but Bader pulls him back down onto his back and he goes to full guard. Rampage lands some elbows from the bottom but Bader stays on top and lands some more punches to end the round. Well, outside of the slam that was a dominant round for Bader, 10-9. Replay shows he posted himself on his right arm to defend the slam which was wildly risky, but evidently he didn’t hurt himself as he was throwing the right hand throughout the round.

Third round and Rampage pushes forward with the jab, but Bader closes distance and clinches, forcing him back into the cage. Rampage manages to break free but he eats a left on the way out. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Rampage but he’s definitely looking tired. Bader still looks fresh moving around on the outside too. Awesome charging takedown from Bader plants Rampage on his back and this time the TUF winner has side mount. Knees to the body from Bader and he’s in firm control now. Rampage manages to manoeuvre back to full guard, but Bader continues to work him over with short punches to the head and body. Rampage attempts to explode to his feet, but Bader stays on him with a bodylock and as Rampage stands Bader yanks him right back down. Rampage tries again to get up, but Bader looks too strong and fresh and he forces Quinton onto his back in guard again. Crowd are booing but Bader is being active here with his ground-and-pound, and he passes into half-guard too. Good short elbows from Bader and then he looks for a Matt Hughes-style far-side kimura, but he can’t get it largely due to the position of Rampage against the fence preventing him from stepping over the head. He gives up on it and goes back to landing short elbows, and with seconds to go he tries a guillotine before the buzzer sounds. Clear 10-9 round for Bader and he has to win 30-27. Post-fight Rampage is left laying on his back exhausted, which is pretty much the story of the fight.

Judges score it 30-27 all round for Ryan ‘Darth’ Bader. Biggest win of his career by far, including the Lil’ Nog fight as this was more dominant of a win and he didn’t gas out in the slightest this time which was definitely a positive for him. Basically he stayed on the move, didn’t let Rampage land any of his power punches and eventually used his wrestling to wear Quinton out. Once Rampage was on his back, for the most part he had no answer for Bader at all. Rampage claimed to have a serious knee injury coming in which would explain his weight issues, but I mean, if we’re honest even taking that into account, he hasn’t looked truly impressive since 2009 – before his ludicrous faux-retirement – and his attitude has become seriously grating recently too with all his UFC-bashing, particularly the claim that they only matched him with Bader because they knew Bader would “lay on him”, which is bullshit to say the least. I loved Rampage in his PRIDE days and in his early UFC run too, but I don’t think his heart is in fighting anymore and for me he may as well get out now while he’s still healthy, as if he thinks he’ll get UFC-level money outside of the Zuffa umbrella he’s insane. As a Bader fan this was a great fight to watch but I think Rampage fans or people who like stand-and-bang type fights would’ve hated it.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Frankie Edgar vs Benson Henderson

Former WEC champion Henderson had set up this title shot by beating top contenders Jim Miller and Clay Guida in dominant performances, and his rise up the rankings to me was one of the more surprising parts of 2011 as I never thought he’d become a title challenger that quickly. I guess I (and a lot of others too) totally underestimated how good the WEC 155lbers were. For Edgar meanwhile, this was incredibly his first non-Penn or Maynard opponent since December 2009! He’d finally got the monkey of Gray off his back in October 2011 of course, knocking him out in the fourth round of another crazy fight between the two. Despite the styles in my eyes slightly favouring the larger Henderson, after seeing him come back those two times against Maynard I just couldn’t pick against the champ in good conscience here.

Round One and they circle around and throw out some feeler strikes. Low kick by Bendo is caught and Edgar forces him back….but he actually tries the Owen Hart enziguiri and Edgar just about gets out of the way! Holy shit that was cool. Edgar is moving around on the outside as he always does but he hasn’t landed yet. Pair of body kicks glance for Bendo. Takedown from Edgar but Bendo bounces right back up. Leg kick from Bendo but Edgar catches the leg again. No enziguiri this time though. Superman punch into a low kick from Bendo but it catches Edgar low and the ref calls time for a second before restarting. Combo from Frankie backs the challenger up a little. Low kick is caught by Edgar again and this time he hits Bendo with a straight left and then follows with a leg kick of his own. Left from Edgar and he almost gets a single leg but Bendo avoids. Body kick and then a solid knee connect for Bendo. Good left hand from Henderson in a brief exchange but he has his leg caught again off a kick attempt. Takedown this time from Edgar but Bendo pops right back up and lands a nice low kick and follows with a knee. Spinning backfist from Frankie misses by a mile but he lands a left hand to counter a low kick. Lunging knee from Bendo but Edgar blocks it and clips him with a right as the round ends. That was a REALLY close round. I’d lean 10-9 to Edgar but you could go either way.

Round Two and Bendo really pushes forward, but Edgar clips him with an early left. Single leg is avoided by Henderson but he has his leg caught again just after and Edgar lands a glancing kick of his own. Solid counter right from Bendo. Inside leg kick connects for Frankie. Big body kick from Henderson lands, but Edgar catches it and then they trade with some hard punches before Henderson gets free. Nice inside leg kick again from Frankie but he walks into a hard right from Bendo. Knee from Bendo leads into the clinch but they break quickly. Nice combo from Henderson and he lands a heavy knee to the body of the champion. Edgar fires right back with a combo. Edgar’s left eye is looking marked up. Takedown from Frankie and he grabs a guillotine as Bendo looks to get up. Looks like Frankie’s going to take the back and he manages it, but Henderson slips free as they stand. Right connects for Edgar and he lands a low kick as Bendo aims for the eye with his punches. Rushing shot from Edgar lets Bendo crack him with a knee, but Edgar fires back with a combo. Nice takedown from Edgar and he goes into the full guard this time, keeping Henderson grounded. He lands some ground-and-pound but Henderson throws his legs up for a possible submission. Edgar stands free and then leans over him, but Henderson lands a HUGE UPKICK that crumples the champ! Edgar desperately goes for a leg, but Henderson rolls back with a guillotine and ends the round with some vicious ground-and-pound. Round ends there and it looks like Frankie’s nose is badly broken. 10-9 Henderson in another close round, but the upkick won it for him.

Round Three and Edgar is looking in a bad way; his left eye swollen badly and his nose likely busted. Good body kick from Frankie though as he’s showing no ill effects. Henderson is really looking to establish the jab now. Edgar moving around nicely on the outside. There’s a lot of blood coming from his nose though. Henderson blocks a takedown but eats a punch on the way out. Good kick to the body from the challenger and he backs Frankie up with the jab again. Big takedown attempt from Edgar is stuffed nicely. Brutal knee to the body from Henderson and he lands a right as Frankie hits him with a counter too. They trade kicks and Edgar slips to his back, eating a right on the way and Henderson looks to take his back, but Frankie spins into him and so Bendo trips him down instead, getting into half-guard where he lands a couple of punches. Edgar scrambles back towards the fence and works back up, but Bendo breaks with a body kick. Just under two minutes remaining and Bendo flashes the jab again but takes a counter right from the champ. Nice trade and both men land. Good leg kick from Edgar. Heavy body kick from the challenger but Edgar catches it and returns fire. Edgar gets a takedown but Henderson pops up and tries one of his own that Frankie stuffs. Big head kick misses for Bendo. Single leg and Frankie gets Henderson down, but he pops up on the buzzer after landing a solid elbow from the bottom. Incredibly close round again but I think Henderson took it by a hair. I’ve got him 29-28 up going into the fourth.

Round Four and Bendo blocks a high kick and keeps on throwing the jab to begin the round. Body kick lands for Henderson but Edgar answers with a nice combination. Low kick from Bendo connects with Frankie’s groin, making a sickening noise. Ref Marc Goddard calls time to let him recover. They restart and Edgar glances with a right. Henderson answers with one of his own before they clinch briefly. Good right hand again from Edgar. Big knee from Henderson as Edgar shoots and he jumps to guard for a guillotine attempt. It looks quite tight and Frankie looks like he’s gritting his teeth and turning red, but he pops his head free to end up on top. Bendo lands some elbows from the bottom and escapes to his feet, using the tease of the Sakuraba kimura to slip free from Edgar’s rear waistlock as they stand. Powerful leg kick from the challenger. He lands another but Edgar catches it, but Bendo avoids anything and gets out this time. Good knee connects for Bendo. Good right from Bendo and they clinch where he throws Edgar, but the champ pops back up only to take a kick to the body on his way out. This fight is a judges nightmare. Good kick to the body again from Henderson before the round ends. That was maybe the closest round yet. 10-9 Bendo but I could easily see it the other way too.

Round Five and really this could be anyone’s fight still. Couple of nice low kicks from Edgar and he lands a right hand too. Low kick from Bendo is caught AGAIN and Edgar lands a kick of his own. Good punches from Henderson and he follows with a leg kick. Edgar’s bleeding all over the place now. Takedown is stuffed by Henderson but he takes an uppercut. HARD left hand connects for Edgar but Bendo shakes it right off. They clinch and Edgar lands with a solid right hand and looks for the takedown, managing to take a rear waistlock, but Bendo uses the kimura tease to escape again. They continue to circle before Henderson cracks Frankie with a right hand in an exchange. Slip from Henderson but Edgar can’t capitalize with the takedown as the challenger pops back up. Good knee to the body from Henderson. What looks like a glancing right hand suddenly drops Henderson, and Frankie quickly grabs a front facelock, but he can’t spin onto the back and they come back to their feet. Just over a minute to go and neither man has slowed down at all here. Couple of solid body kicks land for the challenger. He has a kick caught again but avoids the takedown. Single leg from Edgar is avoided again. Jumping knee lands for Henderson and he tries a guillotine before dropping some hard elbows on the buzzer. Close round but I’d give it to Henderson giving him the win 49-46, really tight call though.

Judges have it 49-46, 48-47 and 49-46…..all for Benson Henderson, your NEW UFC Lightweight Champion. Well, I think that was the right call even if the fight was incredibly close. Great fight, too. Watching this again I still don’t agree with how they gave Frankie a rematch – he lost cleanly even if the fight was close and they really should’ve booked Henderson vs. Pettis rather than putting Showtime on the shelf, but blah, that’s another show. The big difference for me in this fight was the fact that when Henderson hit Edgar he did a lot of damage and had him hurt, while none of Frankie’s shots – and he did land quite a lot – didn’t seem to ever have Henderson truly hurt. That’s probably down to the size difference methinks, but such is life when you’re Frankie Edgar and you choose not to cut weight. Great main event although I wouldn’t call it a FOTYC or anything like that.

-Highlights roll there but not before we see Henderson celebrating with his mother. Word.

Final Thoughts….

On paper this was one of the best UFC cards of all time and in delivery it lived up to all the hype, turning into one of the best UFC shows in recent memory and probably of all-time, too. There’s something for everyone here – brutal knockouts from Tamura, Gomi, Pettis and Hunt; the ridiculous comeback from Boetsch; a handful of excellent technical fights in Hioki/Palaszewski, Mizugaki/Cariaso and Edgar/Henderson; and a pair of major upsets in Lee/Yamamoto and Bader/Rampage. I really didn’t enjoy Akiyama/Shields which keeps this from getting the full monty, but even that fight had some really cool moments like Akiyama’s ludicrous trips and throws. If I had three thumbs, they’d all be pointing up for this event. Highest recommendation.

Best Fight: Lee vs. Yamamoto
Worst Fight: Akiyama vs. Shields

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time…