UFC 144: Edgar vs Henderson Breakdown
The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its long anticipated return to Japan on February 25th. Taking place in the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, the event is anchored by a matchup that has been touted as a potential fight-of-the-year candidate, a Lightweight title fight between champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Benson Henderson. UFC 144, which will take place in front of a sold-out crowd, will mark the UFC’s first trip to Japan since UFC 29, in December of the year 2000. Loaded to the brim with a large portion of the UFC’s Japanese fighters, the card could prove to be a great satisfaction or serious disappointment for Japanese fans. Regardless, we are provided with an evening of extremely intriguing matchups that should produce some highly entertaining cage fights. The event will feature a unique seven-bout main card, broadcast over four hours on Pay-Per-View. The first bouts of the undercard will be broadcast on Facebook, while the remaining undercard bouts will be viewable on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada.
Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) -133 vs. Benson Henderson (15-2-0) -105
*** for the UFC Lightweight Championship.
Expect to find yourself perched on the edge of your seat throughout this fight. UFC matchmakers have presented us with an extremely intriguing matchup between two well-rounded and athletic fighters, both of whom have become reputable for their parts in extremely exciting fights. The champion, Frankie Edgar, has become famous for his lion-heartedness, and it will almost certainly be showcased in this bout against a challenger as dangerous as Henderson. Coming off a definitive win via knockout over his long-time nemesis, Gray Maynard, Edgar enters this fight with his lone loss avenged. The champion can now focus on cementing his legacy as the world’s premier Lightweight. Benson Henderson, the former WEC Lightweight champion, will have something to say about this. Known for his stunning athleticism and thighs the size of oak trunks, he enters this fight on a three-fight winning streak, having recently bested Mark Bocek, Jim Miller, and Clay Guida. This fight may well come down to Henderson’s ability to take the fight to the ground, where he can work for a submission. Edgar’s boxing is among the best in MMA, and is likely to cause problems for Henderson on the feet, should the bout stay vertical. Expect Frankie Edgar to work Henderson methodically and diligently, discouraging takedown attempts with crisp combinations and smooth footwork. While both men may be in trouble at points in what should be a whirlwind-paced fight, Edgar’s boxing and defensive wrestling should be the catalyst for a decisive victory, and his retention of the belt.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar by Unanimous Decision
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson (32-9-0) -286 vs. Ryan Bader (13-2-0) +195
UFC 144’s main event is supported by a Light-Heavyweight showdown between two wrestler-turned-sluggers in Quinton Jackson and Ryan Bader. Jackson, recognized as the favorite, has become a bit of a question mark lately. His motivation has been poor, and he has frequently discussed retirement. In addition, his plodding, boxing-heavy style has grown stagnant and predictable. However, this is a fight for which the former champion has begged. Having spent much of his heyday in the defunct Japanese promotion, PRIDE, Jackson was vocally eager to return to Japan. His wish was granted by UFC execs, and with that decision, he is given an opportunity to get back into the win column following a 4th round submission loss to current champ, Jon Jones.
In Bader, Jackson will face an NCAA division 1 All-American wrestler with crippling power in his hands. Just ask Bader’s last opponent, Jason Brilz. Yet, despite Jackson’s knockout losses to Mauricio Rua and Wanderlei Silva under the PRIDE organization, his chin is far from fragile. Should the screams of Japanese fans be enough to re-ignite the fire inside Jackson, it could be a difficult night for Ryan Bader. Bader’s best chances lie in his ability to take the fight to the ground. He may also find success holding Jackson against the cage, and punishing him with short strikes to break his will. To win, it is also imperative that Bader be ready to exploit any mistakes Jackson makes. If Jackson gets reckless in his aggression, Bader may be granted some serious opportunities to finish. If Bader is unable to do these things, it will only be a matter of time before Quinton Jackson is howling in triumph, his signature victory celebration. If his training was fruitful and if he is driven to win big in front of his favorite crowd in the world, Jackson should secure a violent victory over Bader.
Prediction: Quinton Jackson wins by knockout in the third round.
Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) -312 vs. Mark Hunt (7-7-0) +210
When talented Heavyweight strikers enter the cage, it must be understood that the night could end for either man in the blink of an eye. This will be the case when French kickboxer Cheick Kongo collides with Samoan kickboxer Mark Hunt. Hunt rides a two-fight win streak into the fight, having recently conquered Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell. Kongo approaches this bout with a win over Matt Mitrione, and a spectacular knockout win over Pat Barry in his wake. Kongo’s easiest avenue to victory, much to the disappointment of those who are eager for a slugfest, may be to expose Hunt’s weak takedown defense and grind out a conservative victory. Both men are dangerous on the feet and neither man is an especially effective wrestler, but the edge on the mat has to be given to Kongo. Hunt’s safest bet to secure a win is to draw Kongo into a firefight and gun for a knockout. If Kongo is able to keep his composure when Hunt is on the attack and is able to keep his opponent guessing with his superior, albeit still meager wrestling skills, he should be able to coast to a clear-cut victory.
Prediction: Cheick Kongo wins by unanimous decision.
Jake Shields (26-6-1) -417 vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4-0) +260
There is a definite air of desperation surrounding this fight. Both men were once expected to be extremely successful in the UFC, but neither has lived up to his own hype since joining the organization. Shields, the former Strikeforce Middleweight champion, and the most recent challenger to Georges St. Pierre’s Welterweight belt, has tasted defeat in his last two outings. Most recently, he fell victim to a knee and follow-up punches from Jake Ellenburger. Akiyama is in perhaps an even stickier situation. He is 1-3 in the UFC, with his lone win occurring at UFC 100 well over two years ago. Three of these fights were fights of the night, due largely to Akiyama’s brawler style and stupendous chin, but they are losses all the same. This string of losses at Middleweight has forced the man they call Sexyama to cut to Welterweight. This may be more problematic then beneficial. Despite being undersized at Middleweight, stamina has always been an issue for the Japanese superstar, and it’s entirely possible that the cut to 170 pounds may hinder his cardio even further. If Akiyama wants to keep his job, he needs to start winning, and soon. It’s a no brainer that he holds a significant advantage on the feet over Shields, who’s striking is awkward and clunky. He will likely attempt to coax Shields into a brawl and try to finish his opponent standing. The key to victory in this fight, then, will be location. If the bout unfolds on the feet, Akiyama will win. The opposite will be true if Shields is able to implement his takedowns. Eventually, his smothering style will likely cause problems for Akiyama, wearing him out significantly. Shields may take a beating on the feet, but bruised and bloodied or not, it will be he who has his hand raised at the match’s closure, in an entertaining fight that hopefully allows both men to keep their jobs.
Prediction: Jake Shields wins by unanimous decision.
Yushin Okami (26-6-0) -455 vs. Tim Boetsch (14-4-0) +280
While it was a disqualification victory, it was a victory nonetheless, that made Yushin Okami one of the few men on the planet to achieve a victory over Anderson Silva. In his last fight, at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, however, he was dealt a brutal loss at the hands of the same man. While his championship aspirations did not go as planned that night, Okami remains one of the Middleweight division’s most game players. Tim Boetsch will have his hands full. Boetsch, following a drop to Middleweight from Light-Heavyweight, has been awarded this chance against Okami, after impressive wins against Kendall Grove and the Calgarian Nick Ring. In both instances, Boetsch used his size and strength to whip his opponents around like ragdolls, en route to unanimous decision victories both on both occasions. Against Okami, Boetsch’s size advantage will not be so obvious. Okami is thought to be one of the division’s most physically powerful specimens, and he will likely have the strength to match Boetsch. Look for Okami to press Boetsch against the cage, and keep him under constant pressure so that he is unable to execute effective strategy. Boetsch’s success in the division thus far demonstrates the potential he has at Middleweight. Given time and practice, he may become a superlative member of the division. At this stage in Boetsch’s career, however, Okami’s strength and style will prove too much for him. Look for Okami to waltz back into the win column in a fairly effortless-looking display, reminding people that despite a few lackluster victories lately, he is fully capable of knocking people out.
Prediction: Okami wins by technical knockout in the second round.
Joe Lauzon (21-6-0) +220 vs. Anthony Pettis (14-2-0) -333
Time and time again, the Lightweight division has been called the UFC’s deepest and most talent-rich. This marquee Lightweight matchup is an excellent portrayal of this fact, and may well provide us with the next opponent for the Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson winner. Pettis entered the UFC as the final WEC champion, having edged Benson Henderson in their historical battle at WEC 53. It was during this fight that Pettis unleashed his breathtaking kick off the cage, which has garnered some serious fame. He did not, however, enjoy such success in his first UFC matchup, finding himself on the wrong end of a decision against Clay Guida. More recently, though, Pettis defeated Jeremy Stephens, reassuring MMA fans that his hype is certainly justified. Lauzon’s most recent win saw him thrash Melvin Guillard inside the first round. Despite entering the fight as a substantial underdog, Lauzon was able to score on the feet against Guillard, knocking him down, and quickly securing a rear naked choke. Given the dynamic, and innovative style possessed by both of these Lightweights, it’s entirely possible that they will steal the show come Saturday night. Lauzon almost always charges out of the gates in the first round, often with a similar outcome to his fight against Guillard. Pettis will need to be prepared for this initial Lauzon assault. Having been in more than a few grueling battles throughout his career, Pettis should be able to brave the storm. Gradually, he will start mixing things up with unpredictable strikes from interesting angles, and the occasional takedown. Once Lauzon is sufficiently frustrated, Pettis will ground him and secure a submission for the victory.
Prediction: Anthony Pettis wins by armbar in the third round.
Bart Palaszewski (36-14-0) +140 vs. Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) -200
Hatsu Hioki’s UFC debut was highly anticipated, and was expected to be accompanied by great success. This was not the case. Although his first bout against George Roop did end in victory, the win did not showcase the kind of domination that is usually characteristic of Hioki. Despite this, a win is a win, and so Hatsu Hioki marched one step closer to a shot at Jose Aldo’s UFC Featherweight title. Before any such dream comes to fruition though, Hioki will need to defeat Bart Palaszewski. Palaszewski enters this fight having recently leveled former Lightweight contender Tyson Griffin, and he will prove to be an interesting challenge for the Japanese star. Both men carry ten years of professional experience into the bout, making it that much more intriguing. Despite having never been knocked out in his lengthy career, it would be extremely wise of Hioki to be wary of Palaszewski’s power. Palaszewski has found victory seventeen times by way of knockout, and will likely be striving for a similar outcome against Hioki. If he is successful in this endeavour, he will make an excellent case for his own crack at Jose Aldo’s belt. However, Hioki’s chin will serve him well during any onslaughts, as will his patience. If he can keep a level head, he will succeed in taking his opponent down, and working him over from top position. He will be able to pick his shots, and outwork Palaszewski in a back and forth, and extremely competitive bout, earning a win in front of a loyal crowd.
Prediction: Hatsu Hioki wins by split decision