UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson for the UFC Lightweight Championship will be airing this Saturday, Feb. 25th, live from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan via PPV. The main card will start at 10 PM and will go for 4 hours and feature 7 fights instead of the usual 4. This marks the UFC’s first official foray into Japan, which was once the epicenter of MMA, in almost 12 years, . This event will also occur almost 5 years to the day when Zuffa (parent company of the UFC), purchased Pride Fighting Championships, the onetime premiere MMA organization in the planet.
The Nation went 4 for 5 on his UFC 143 predictions (but was only 1 for 4 on the predicted finishes of the winners), and is now 7 for 8 since he started doing this on the Details. Here are my UFC 144 Main Card Predictions:
Joe Lauzon (21-6) vs. Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (14-2) – Pettis was the last WEC Lightweight Champion before Zuffa folded the promotion into the UFC, and is one of the best strikers at 155. Pettis’ “Showtime Kick” in the last WEC match ever is one of the MMA highlights for the ages. Lauzon on the other hand is a very good grappler who has 17 submission wins to his name. Both are decent all-around fighters though and this isn’t your classic striker vs. grappler matchup per se. This will be a good back and forth battle, with Pettis coming out on top. Prediction: Pettis by decision
Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) vs. Bart Palaszewski (36-14) – Hioki is one of the most highly regarded featherweights in the world, and this will be his second fight under the UFC banner. Palaszewski is a grizzled 50 fight veteran, but Hioki fighting in front of his countrymen will be a huge plus. Hioki’s ground game will be too much for Palaszewski, as he grounds and pounds his way to victory. Prediction: Hioki by decision
Tim Boetsch (14-4-2) vs. Yushin “Thunder” Okami (26-6) – Okami is a big, strong middleweight with a very good wrestling base. Boetsch also has a very good wrestling base, and is fighting his 4th fight at 185 after fighting at Light Heavyweight before that. The difference here will be Okami’s wrestling is better. Prediction: Okami by decision
Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama (13-4-2) vs. Jake Shields (26-6-1) – First and foremost, Akiyama has the best entrance in MMA, period. He was also the most hated man in Japanese MMA (and possibly Japanese sports) at one time due to his Korean ethnicity, as well as being guilty of greasing in his fight against the most legendary and beloved Japanese MMA fighter of all time, Kazushi Sakuraba. After winning 15 fights in a row over 6 years, Shields has lost 2 fights in a row. Sexyama is a world class judoka, having won 2 Gold Medals in Asian competition. His throws and trips will be able to get the fight into the ground, which is where Shields would want it anyway, being a high level BJJ practitioner. Akiyama has better standup, but Shields’ ground control will be the deciding factor. In spite of Shields’ tendency for boring fights, I expect Akiyama’s Japanese mentality of fighting to please the fans instead of fighting for the win will push the action and we’ll have a fun fight to watch. Prediction: Shields by 3rd round submission.
Cheick Kongo (21-2) vs. “The Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (14-7) – This should be a fun strikefest. Both heavyweights are very, very good strikers and will be happy to throw down. Hunt’s conditioning and ground defense has improved, but I’ll be surprised if either one tries a takedown at all in the entire fight. Prediction: Kongo by 2nd round KO.
Ryan “Darth” Bader (13-2) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9) – Rampage was one of the biggest stars from Pride, and he begged and pleaded and complained and threatened to be included on this card. This will be his first fight on Japanese soil in 6 years, where he made his name. In fact, Rampage’s powerbomb on Ricardo Arona is probably THE Pride highlight of all time. Bader is a good young fighter who won his last fight via KO after losing his last 2, which snapped his undefeated record. Rampage, while not the slam happy Rampage from Pride, is still good enough to beat Bader and will do so via KO. Prediction: Rampage by 3rd round KO
For The UFC Lightweight Championship – The Challenger: Ben “Smooth” Henderson (15-2) vs. The Champion: Frankie “The Truth” Edgar (14-1-1) – Edgar beat the legendary B.J. Penn for the title back in 2010, and has since defended it three times since then, winning twice and drawing once. Edgar has shown great quickness and an iron heart in those fights, as he was damn near defeated in the first round in the 2 recent Gray Maynard fights before coming back to pull off a draw in one and a KO victory in the other. Edgar is considered small for 155, but he has used his speed and wrestling to beat the bigger guys. Henderson is a different beast though. He’s fast enough to counter Edgar’s speed, has very good wrestling as well, and he has a gas tank that can go for hours. I predict Henderson will be able to cut off Edgar’s movement, and power his way to victory. Prediction: Henderson by decision.
The two biggest local draws for Japanese fans – Kid Yamamoto and Takanori Gomi – will actually be fighting on the prelims airing on FX instead of the main card. However, as I said, they are the biggest local draws and Japanese fight legends, and thus I will discuss their fights as well:
Kid Yamamoto (18-5-1) vs. Vaughan Lee (11-7-1) – Yamamoto has had a rough start to his UFC career, but he was at one time one of the top 5 pound for pound fighters in the world. In spite of the fact that 135 is his natural fighting weight, he fought guys who were at 155 and beat them easily. Yamamoto has a great wrestling base (coming from a wrestling family), although 13 of his wins have come via KO. I can’t fathom him losing here. Prediction: Yamamoto by 2nd round KO
“The Fireball Kid’ Takanori Gomi (32-8-1) vs. Eiji Mitsuoka (18-7-2) – “The Fireball Kid”, at one time considered the best 155 pounder in the world, is another Japanese MMA superstar who has found the transition to the UFC rough sledding. Gomi has good boxing and has a good wrestling background as well, and fighting again on home soil, I expect him to come out on fire like his nickname suggests, like the Gomi of old. He can’t do his usual standing on the turnbuckle celebration on the cage, but you’ll see him celebrating nonetheless. Prediction: Gomi by 1st round KO.