Tonight (Saturday, February 25th, 2012), UFC 144: Edgar vs Henderson takes place LIVE from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. As with every large scale MMA event, we’ve taken the liberty of breaking down every fight on both the preliminary and main cards.
Tiequan Zhang (15-2) vs Issei Tamura (6-2)
The lone Facebook preliminary fight features WEC import Tiequan Zhang, as he makes this third UFC appearance. Widely regarded as one of, if not the, best mixed martial artist to come out of China, Zhang looks to get back into the win column, after a unanimous decision loss to Darren Elkins in his most recent appearance. “The Mongolian Wolf”, who is known for having an excellent guillotine choke, enters this fight looking to make his fellow countrymen proud.
Late replacement Issei Tamura steps in on only two weeks notice. Stepping in for injured Leonard Garcia, the Shooto vet looks to rebound from a loss of his own, having lost to Guy Delumeau in November. The Krazy Bee fighter has shown in his previous fights that he loves to throw leather and will absolutely run through someone while searching for a takedown. However, when he gets to the ground, he really doesn’t do much.
While Zhang has the clear advantage in this bout, the decision-friendly Tamura is no slouch. Despite stepping in on short notice, and not having fought in a cage before, Tamura could very well grind out a decision victory, as he did against accomplished grappler Gustavo Falciroli. That said, I feel he overcommits to some of his takedowns, and Zhang should be able to capitalize and lock in a guillotine choke. He’ll have to make it happen early though, or he’ll be dropping a decision.
Winner – Tiequan Zhang defeats Issei Tamura via Submission Round 1.
Takeya Mizugaki (15-6-2) vs Chris Cariaso (12-3)
Longtime WEC fighter Takeya Mizugaki returns to the octagon following his brutal TKO of Cole Escovedo. Having mixed success in his Zuffa career, Mizugaki has traded wins and losses in all of his eight fights inside of a Zuffa cage. While that doesn’t look so good on paper, his losses have come to the some of the best in the division, and along the way he has defeated the likes of Rani Yahya, Jeff Curran, Reuben Duran, and the aforementioned Escovedo. With nine of his fifteen victories coming by decision, the Shooting Gym Hakkei fighter is not afraid to leave it all out there and go fifteen minutes with anyone.
With eight decisions in twelve wins, Chris “Kamikaze” Cariaso comes into this fight trading wins and losses in his own Zuffa career. Losing to Renan Barao and Michael McDonald is nothing to be ashamed of, and along the way, Rafael Rebello, Will Campuzano, and Vaughan Lee have all faced the American bantamweight, and have all fallen. Cariaso brings a variety of striking to this bout, and has no problem going the distance if needed.
This fight could very well be a fire fight. Both men have effective striking, stamina, and can take a punch or twelve. In what I feel is a very even fight, the difference comes down to speed and technical prowess, and I feel Mizugaki has the edge. If he can keep the pressure on and go toe to toe with Cariaso, he should be able to treat himself to the victory, and treat the fans to a very entertaining fight.
Winner – Takeya Mizugaki defeats Chris Cariaso via Unanimous Decision.
Riki Fukuda (17-5) vs Steve Cantwell (7-5)
After a car accident took him out of action, Riki Fukuda finally returns to the cage. Nearly a year to the day removed from a controversial decision loss to Nick Ring, the Japanese wrestler looks to score his first UFC victory. The DEEP veteran is tough as nails, relentless in his assault, and can be a threat to many middleweights inside the octagon.
The Dan Hardy of the middleweight division, Steve Cantwell, undoubtedly fights for his job this Saturday. Despite a promising start in his Zuffa career, going 3-1 in WEC, and absolutely destroying the arm of Razak Al-Hassan, “The Robot” has lived up to his nickname, fighting like one through his four straight decision losses. Relatively even with submission and TKO victories, Cantwell can finish fights, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t in over three years.
I don’t like to discredit any fighter, but Cantwell is likely going to be looking for a job after this fight. I like him, don’t get me wrong, but Fukuda is relentless, a strong wrestler, and can hold his own on the feet. Ring rust and recovering from an injury might be a factor for him, but I doubt it. He’s going to make Cantwell pay for taking this fight from opening to closing.
Winner – Riki Fukuda defeats Steve Cantwell via Unanimous Decision.
Norifumi Yamamoto (18-5 1 NC) vs Vaughan Lee (11-7-1)
A former Olympic hopeful, the K-1 Hero’s 2005 Lightweight Grand Prix winner, a legend. Any of these can be used to describe “Kid” Yamamoto. A knockout artist, a fantastic wrestler, the man I watched smash Royler Gracie, Caol Uno, and Genki Sudo. To say I am a fan of “Kid” is an understatement. Having only one victory since his 2007 win over Rani Yahya, “Kid” has not faired well in the UFC, going 0-2. Noticibly slowing, Yamamoto is 1-4 in his last five, and likely needs a win here to remain relevant, and in the UFC.
The Brit, Vaughan Lee, makes his second UFC appearance, coming off a loss to Chris Cariaso in his debut at UFC 138. The well-rounded grappler, Lee has nine first round finishes to his credit, and hopes to make “Kid” number ten. Lee has had the benefit of facing several fighters far below his level, which may attribute to his finishing rate, but that is no fault of his own. Lee has the potential to go far in his MMA career, and Yamamoto may be the stepping stone he needs at this point.
All fanboyism aside, I’m taking “Kid” in this fight. While Lee has some clever submissions in his arsenal, I don’t believe he has the wrestling to get into any advantageous positions, nor is he a good worker off of his back. While the submission threat is always there, I think Yamamoto dictates where this fight goes, and puts Lee to sleep within the first ten minutes.
Winner – Norifumi Yamamoto defeats Vaughan Lee via Knockout Round 2.
Takanori Gomi (32-8 1 NC) vs Eiji Mitsuoka (18-7-2)
A legend of PRIDE, “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi looks for his second UFC win, and likely the continuance of his UFC career when he steps into the Saitama Super Arena this weekend. Having stood across the cage from some of the best fighters in MMA history, Gomi is no stranger to the attention that surrounds his UFC 144 appearance. With powerful fists, as demonstrated when he dispatched of Tyson Griffin and Hayato Sakurai, Gomi is dangerous for anyone with a chin. While the Gomi of old is long gone, he is still a force to be reckoned with.
A replacement for George Sotiropoulos, Mitsuoka is a accomplished grappler in his own right. With eleven wins by submission, it’s no question what his bread and butter is. Holding over victories over notable fighters such as Joachim Hansen and Bruno Carvalho, it’s no doubt that the Freelance Gym fighter is a threat to anyone.
Gomi’s best weapons are his fists, and his weaknesses are clearly submissions. Mitsuoka’s best weapons are his submissions, and unfortunately for Gomi, he has never been knocked out, with his one TKO loss caused by cuts. While this, on paper, looks like a clear cut win for Mitsuoka, he has his weaknesses. While he has the submission chops required to secure the victory, his wrestling is lacking, and he doesn’t set up his shots well. Should Gomi be prepared for telegraphed and lackadaisical takedown attempts, he should be able to keep this on the feet, but I can’t see him knocking out Mitsuoka, and fifteen minutes is a long time when you’re locked in a cage. This fight could go either way, but I’m going to take Gomi.
Winner – Takanori Gomi defeats Eiji Mitsuoka via Unanimous Decision.
Anthony Pettis (14-2) vs Joe Lauzon (21-6)
The final WEC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis continues his campaign for the UFC lightweight title shot that was eluded him for so long. The man behind the infamous “Showtime Kick” which will live on through highlight reels forever, Pettis looks to build off of his UFC 136 victory over Jeremy Stephens. A kickboxer with a fantastic submission game, Pettis is looking to make a big statement in this fight, en route to what he hopes will be the title shot he was promised long ago, before the division was stalled.
“J-Lau” also looks for a title shot, something that has eluded him since his UFC debut in 2006. After making short work of would-be contender Melvin Guillard in his last bout, the BJJ purple belt and seven time UFC bonus recipient looks for his third straight win, and his seventh straight bonus. With seventeen of his victories coming by submission, it goes without saying that Lauzon can submit just about anybody.
Pettis is clearly the favorite in this fight. With exceptional grappling, unorthodox and precise striking, and a well-rounded game overall, Pettis has the tools to take this fight. Lauzon, however, looks to spoil the party as always, and undeniably has the tools to do so. While he has a purple belt in BJJ, he has submitted black belts. He has also outstruck considerably better strikers. I am really tempted to pick Lauzon in this fight, and with him being an underdog (at +195), I am more than a little tempted to throw some money down on him. That said, he’ll likely have to push the pace and finish Pettis quick if he intends on walking away with the win. If you’re looking for a the logical outcome, Pettis finishes an exhausted Lauzon in the second round, likely with strikes.
Winner – Anthony Pettis defeats Joe Lauzon via TKO Round 2
Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) vs Bart Palaszewski (36-14)
Shooto and Sengoku veteran Hatsu Hioki fights returns home tomorrow and looks to continue his campaign for a title shot. Widely regarded as the #2 featherweight in the world, the well-rounded fighter is riding the strength of a five fight win streak. With notable victories over Marlon Sandro, Mark Hominick, and George Roop, his next victory in the octagon could very well grant him a fight with Jose Aldo. With ten submissions and nine decisions to his credit, it’s clear where Hioki’s strength lies, but he’s no slouch on the feet, and he’s always improving.
“Bartimus” looks to build off of his violent knockout of Tyson Griffin back at UFC 137. While having trouble building consistent winning streaks over the course of his career, Bart has come into his own in since his days in WEC, and looks to earn a shot at Jose Aldo as well. With victories over Anthony Pettis, Karen Darabedyan, and the aforementioned Tyson Griffin, the Team Curran fighter is more than capable of holding his own in the cage. With 28 of his 36 victories coming within the distance, he’s certainly not afraid to leave it all in the cage while in attempting to finish his opponents.
Palaszewski’s best chance in this fight is to keep Hioki away from him and use his effective striking to beat up the Japanese standout. However, Hioki has a hell of a chin, and if he can get inside, he can take this fight to the ground. When on the ground, Hioki will not have to worry about much, and will likely mix ground and pound and submission attempts throughout every moment spent on the mat. I do expect him to do so, and I think at the end of this fight, “Bartimus” will once again be a victim of the inconsistencies that have plagued him throughout his career.
Winner – Hatsu Hioki defeats Bart Palaszewski via Unanimous Decision
Yushin Okami (26-6) vs Tim Boetsch (14-4)
Making his first appearance in the cage after his loss to champion Anderson Silva, Yushin “Thunder” Okami finally comes home to Japan. The large middleweight is 10-3 in his UFC career, with losses coming to a former champion, the current champion, and the uncrowned champion on the division. Known for his grinding style, Okami also has heavy hands and a solid chin, and he’s not afraid to take the fight to anyone. Looking to climb his way back up the division, Okami will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement and entertain his fellow countrymen.
Fighting out of AMC Pankration, Tim Boetsch looks to remain undefeated as a middleweight. After making short work of both Kendall Grove and Nick Ring, “The Barbarian” looks to impose his will once again on Okami. The former light heavyweight fighter relies on his strength, wrestling, and powerful hands to get him the victory. Having dropped down for the 205 pound division due to his inability to impose his will against the larger fighters, Boetsch has had a significant size advantage in his last two bouts, and has publicly stated that his size and strength are his keys to victory in this fight.
Unfortunately for Boetsch, Okami is a pretty large middleweight. With a great clinch, ridiculous top control, and the ability to dictate where a fight goes, Okami is more than capable of securing the victory here. While Boetsch is a big, strong dude, Okami is exactly the fighter that Boetsch dropped to middleweight to avoid, and I believe Okami will stifle any offense by the American, take him down, and do enough to keep it there for 15 minutes.
Winner – Yushin Okami defeats Tim Boetsch via Unanimous Decision
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) vs Jake Shields (26-6-1)
Making his welterweight debut, “Sexyama” faces a tough challenge. The Korean-Japanese fighter likely needs a win to stay in the UFC. With victories over Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, and although controversially, Alan Belcher, the Judo black belt brings an effective ground game, as well as some crisp striking, into the Saitama Super Arena.
Jake Shields, a man long considered to be one of the best fighters in the world, returns to the octagon as a man on a mission. Suffering two consecutive losses to Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger, and after considering a move back to middleweight, Jake Shields is refocused and looking to get back into title contention. The Cesar Gracie trained fighter brings a solid grappling acumen and noticbly improved striking into this fight and will look to make Akiyama’s foray into a lower weight class one he will regret.
While Akiyama has grappling chops, and is unquestionably the better striker, but Shields is on an entirely different level. His wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and difficult to deal with grinding style can cause problems for just about anybody, and Akiyama is no Dan Henderson. I expect Shields to take control from the very start and dominate the entire fight. I would say Shields takes a decision, but I think Akiyama gasses bad as the fight wears on, and gives up a submission late in the bout.
Winner – Jake Shields defeats Yoshihiro Akiyama via Submission Round 3
Mark Hunt (7-7) vs Cheick Kongo (17-6-2)
Having fought most of his 14 career fights in PRIDE, it’s no surprise that Mark Hunt is popular in Japan. The accomplished striker surprised many, myself included, by being successful in the UFC heavyweight division. With a rocky start in the octagon, succumbing to a submission by Sean McCorkle, Hunt has managed to improve his game and handed Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell losses in their most recent appearances. Having fought some of the best heavyweights in the world, Hunt is not afraid to stand and bang, and with an opponent like Kongo, this is a fight Hunt is ready for.
The Frenchman, Kongo, is slowly making his way back up the ladder in the heavyweight division. After back to back losses to Cain Velasquez and Frank Mir, Kongo has gone 3-0-1 in his last four. Along the way he made a miraculous comeback to knockout Pat Barry, and made short work of Matt Mitrione, showing that his wrestling and striking can guide him to victory. With most of his victories coming by way of knockout, Kongo hits hard, and nearly finished Velasquez several times in their fight.
While Hunt has looked much better in his last few fights, I feel this step up in competition may be a little too much for him. I like Hunt, and I am pulling for him to take the victory here, but the larger Kongo has more ways to win. Kongo will likely use his reach to keep Hunt at bay, and if he feels the need to take the fight to the ground, he will, and will have success doing so. While Kongo’s chin is not necessarily the best, and Hunt hits very hard, Kongo should be able to survive any onslaught, and likely get the ground and pound stoppage. Seriously though, I hope Hunt wins to keep things in the division more interesting.
Winner – Cheick Kongo defeats Mark Hunt via TKO Round 3
Quinton Jackson (32-9) vs Ryan Bader (13-2)
He may not be Japanese, but “Rampage” is coming home. The heavy-handed striker looks to rebound from his loss to champion Jon Jones, but this fight means much more than just a win to Jackson. He has stated publically how badly he wanted to fight in Japan, how happy he is to be on this card, and how little a win means to him here, he’s just happy to fight in the land of the rising sun. 7-3 in his UFC campaign, “Rampage” has only lost to the the best of the best in the division. While he has made it to a decision in four of his last five fights, “Rampage” is always capable of knocking anybody out, and he’ll be looking for Ryan Bader’s chin in this fight.
“The Ultimate Fighter 8” winner Ryan Bader looks to build off his knockout win over Jason Brilz at UFC 139. After suffering back to back losses to Jon Jones and most surprisingly, Tito Ortiz, many questioned where Bader stood in this division. A victory over Jackson would most certainly catapult “Darth” Bader back towards the top of the division, and towards a rematch with the man who handed him his first loss. A strong wrestler who can powerful fists, Bader relishes the role of the underdog and looks to play spoiler for Quinton’s so-called homecoming.
Whether it was a fluke or not, Bader got rocked bad by Tito Ortiz. Let’s be honest, if Rampage finds that chin, it’s going to be a short night for Bader. While Bader is a good wrestler, he’s not as good at using his wrestling in MMA as someone like Rashad Evans is, and even Jon Jones had trouble taking Rampage down early in their fight. While Bader always stands a chance, I don’t see him coming out of Japan as the victor. I expect this fight to either have a similar outcome as Rampage vs Hamill, or to end violently with Bader on the floor.
Winner – Quinton Jackson defeats Ryan Bader via Knockout Round 1
Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) vs Benson Henderson (15-2)
A real life “Rocky”, Frankie Edgar is the unlikely king of the lightweight division. After defeating BJ Penn twice in a row, surviving a beatdown at the hands of Gray Maynard and going to a draw with the powerful wrestler, and then surviving the same beatdown in their third fight en route to knocking out Maynard, Frankie is a man you can never count out. A significantly skilled boxer with strong wrestling, some of criticized Edgar for his hummingbird like fighting style, but he has definitely made the best of it, and looks to continue his reign over the 155 pound division.
A former WEC lightweight champion, Ben Henderson looks for his fourth straight UFC win, and the coveted lightweight championship, when he steps into the octagon on Saturday night. The large lightweight, known for his durability, heart, conditioning, and “give ’em hell” fighting style, will look to impose his will on the smaller Edgar. After defeating top lightweights Jim Miller and Clay Guida with relative ease, there are few who can stand across the cage from “Smooth” and come away with the victory. The crafty fighter has a hell of a guillotine, and I would not be surprised if he looks for an opening in this fight to use it.
I’m a big fan of Bendo. His first fight with Donald Cerrone showed me a lot about his heart and abilities, and he has done nothing but improve since then. The larger, stronger man in this fight, he’s fully capable of going 25 minutes with anybody and laying a beating on them. Having said that, I learned my lesson picking against Frankie. I picked BJ in both fights, and Gray in both fights, and look what happened. When this fight was announced, I predicted Bendo to run through Edgar and take that belt, but looking at this fight closely, comparing the two fighters and their contrasting styles, I think Edgar remains on top of the lightweight division. Edgar has the wrestling chops to take people down, and avoid being taken down, as he demonstrated against Maynard. He can take a beating from powerful strikers, recover, and comes back to win the fight, as we have also seen, and I just don’t see him being submitted. While I was big on Bendo early, I think Edgar perhaps gets a late stoppage win over him, but to be safe, I’m going to take Edgar by decision.
Winner – Frankie Edgar defeats Benson Henderson via Unanimous Decision.
That’s how we here at North Bay MMA see the fights going down tonight! Tune in at 7:30pm EST for the first preliminary fight on Facebook.com, 8:00pm EST for the other four preliminary bouts on FX or Sportsnet in Canada, and 10:00pm EST for the pay-per-view card.
Hope you enjoy the fights!