It was a marathon four hour show for the Ultimate Fighting Championship as they returned to Japan for the first time since 2000 as Ben Henderson challenged Frankie Edgar for the Lightweight title in the main event of UFC 144, shown live in the early hours of this past Sunday morning on ESPN here in Britain.
The broadcast began in the lightweight division as Anthony Pettis went up against Joe Lauzon.
Pettis began his night’s work with a stiff kick, with Lauzon retaliating with a combination. The next few moments saw the fighters circling each other, getting off the occasional shot until Pettis connected with a right kick to the jaw. As Lauzon fell to the mat Pettis followed him down, the referee stepping in when Lauzon was out of it, giving Pettis the highly impressive knockout win.
It was down to featherweight for the next fight as Hatsu Hioki took on Bart Palaszewski.
This was a great fight. Hioki put in a top notch performance here, putting Palaszewski on his backside within seconds with a stiff left jab, and when he took the fight to the ground it looked as if there wasn’t anything Palaszewski could do and Hioki put on a tremendous display of ground fighting, particularly with his submission attempts.
Palaszewski came back a little in the second round although he still lagged behind in the striking game. By the time the third round began Hioki re-established control on the ground, overwhelming his man once again, making the art of ground fighting look easy.
With the fight going the distance it was down to the judges to render a decision, and there was no surprise here as Hioki took the unanimous decision. Awesome stuff.
Then it was up to the middleweight division as Yushin Okami faced Tim Boetsch.
This fight was a fine example of how a fight can turn in an instant. Okami dominated for the first two rounds, out striking him in the first round, opening up a cut on both of Boetsch’s cheeks, and out grappling him on the ground in the second, going for a number of submission attempts.
But an inspiring talk from his cornermen lighted the fire under the American as he took it to Okami from the beginning of the third, putting him on the back foot with a series of crisp strikes, sealing the deal with some nice dirty boxing, holding Okami’s head with his left and delivering a series of uppercuts with his right, and as the Japanese star slumped against the cage the referee quickly stepped in to give Boetsch the TKO win.
Welterweight action followed as Yoshihiro Akiyama faced Jake Shields.
This proved to be an entertaining three round affair. Akiyama put on a good performance. His takedown defence was top notch, his striking was crisp and neat, and his judo throw takedowns were really impressive.
On any other day all of this would probably have led to a win for Sexyama. But the only problem was that Shields was just that much better. Although he had trouble scoring with the takedowns early on his striking was far better.
Shields finally scored with the takedown late on in the third, quickly taking his back, looking for a rear naked choke. Shields would have gotten the hold on earlier if Akiyama hadn’t grabbed the fence a couple of times. But sadly time ran out for him.
So it was down to the judges once again, with every one of them giving everything to Shields.
The big boys of the heavyweight division were up next as Mark Hunt took on Cheick Kongo.
I really wasn’t expecting this one to go to the ground, and my prediction came true.
Hunt slipped early on, and Kongo tried to get the takedown, but Hunt managed to escape. From there Hunt began to up his game, putting Kongo on his backside before putting him down after a series of hard rights, with the referee stepping in to give the Super Samoan the great TKO win.
The co-main event saw Quinton Jackson taking on Ryan Bader, and although Jackson weighed in six pounds above the limit it was still listed as a light heavyweight bout.
This was another good fight. With the first round looking pretty even the fight suddenly sprang into life when Rampage scored with a massive slam, Bader’s right arm twisting into an angle that no arm should ever go in to.
But within seconds Bader took control, scoring with a takedown of his own and dominating the action from then on, putting on a great display of ground work, spoiling Jackson’s return to Japan and going for a couple of submissions as the fight came to an end.
Once again the judges were called into action as Bader earned the biggest win of his career with the unanimous decision.
The main event saw Benson Henderson challenging Frankie Edgar for the Lightweight title.
Now this is what a main event title fight should be about, five rounds of exciting back and forth action between two men at the top of their game.
The first notable moment came when Edgar caught a kick from Henderson, with the challenger going for a pro wrestling enziguri-like kick. From there whenever Henderson went for a kick Edgar caught it, although each and every one had an impact.
That didn’t stop Henderson from inflicting damage though. By the end of the first round Edgar’s left eye was swollen, and a possible broken nose was added to the damage in the second when Henderson connected with an awesome upkick in the second.
We also saw numerous takedowns and submission attempts, with Henderson coming the closest with a wicked looking guillotine after Edgar slammed him to the mat. Allied with the awesome display of striking from both men and we had a tremendous main event.
The only thing missing was a finish, which meant that the judges came into play once more as Henderson took the unanimous decision to become the new Lightweight champion.
The show rounded out with filler material, a featherweight encounter between Tiequan Zhang and Issei Tamura.
These two began swinging for the fences as soon as the fight began. Tamura had more success early on, knocking Zhang down and following him to the ground for a short spell of ground and pound.
After a stand up because of inactivity the fight soon returned to the ground, where Tamura continued his chosen attack, although Zhang was hardly the passive fight, especially when he went for an arm triangle while he was still on his back.
The fighters were a little more pensive when the second round began, until Tamura connected with a big right that sent Zhang down like a sack of spuds. The man from China was out of it with the referee quickly stepping in to give Tamura the knockout win.
In conclusion - the UFC’s return to the Land of the Rising Sun will go down as a great success, a tremendous event filled from top to bottom with great fights.
From the opening lightweight encounter between Pettis and Lauzon through to the crowning of the new Lightweight Champion each and every fight delivered big style, with the main event title fight clearly the fight of the night for me.
So with that being said I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to give UFC 144 a big thumbs up. Nice work all round guys.