It’s show time!
No Jeremy Lin reference is necessary. This weekend’s UFC 144 in Japan should carry with it enough cache to warrant mainstream coverage by all media outlets.
The card is outstanding, with UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (14-1-1) looking to successful defend his title for the fourth time against former WEC Lightweight champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson (15-2) in the main event. Plus, former light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9) returns to the country where he became a household name against former Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan “Darth” Bader (14-2).
The event also features Japanese favorites Yushin Okami and Hatsu Hioki, all triggered by an outstanding lightweight fight between Joe Lauzon and Anthony Pettis to start the card.
I may be getting ahead of myself.
UFC 144 marks the first time the Ultimate Fighting Championship visits Japan in just over eleven years. At that event, future UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz successfully defended his belt for the 1st time, kicking off a start to the then record of successful title defenses.
Many MMA fans consider Japan the birthplace to the modern era of mixed martial arts. The country, and most notably Saturday’s venue of the Saitama Super Arena, hosted the Pride Fighting Championship for the ten years it was in existence. The promotion made household names of UFC regulars Dan Henderson, Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, the Noguiera brothers and Alistair Overeem.
Japanese MMA fans are also some of the most distinctive of sports fans. During the heydays of Pride, you could here all the action in the ring, as most crowds remained silent during contests, erupting when action took place.
As my co-host Jmart said on last week’s “Inside the Cage”, you could hear the communication between corners during most fights.
With the UFC reaching a new pinnacle each and every event, a sold out crowd of 22,000 fans on Saturday will continue the upward trend of popularity the sport is seeing.
Following Saturday’s action, many expect the UFC to make a quick return to Japan.
Of course, Saturday’s importance will also be centered on the action in the Octagon.
Edgar faces his first opponent as lightweight champion not named BJ Penn or Gray Mayanrd, looking to further establish himself as the lightweight kingpin and one of MMA’s best pound for pound. He has showcased miraculous grit as well as the division’s best boxing and takedown defense. His fights vs Penn and Maynard are some of the greatest fights we have ever witnessed, and Edgar can quickly trend towards legendary status by disposing of Henderson.
Easier said then done. Henderson, who lost a controversial decision in his last appearance in the WEC; the famed “Showtime Kick” fight vs Pettis where the kick that Pettis landed off the cage went viral and could have weighed the decision in Pettis favor following a 5-round war.
Since then, Henderson has run rough shot over the lightweight division. He manhandled Mark Bocek in his UFC debut and then stopped the 7-fight win streak of Jim Miller last August.
Not to be out done, he dominated Clay Guida in the main event of Fox’s first ever-streamed event on Facebook.
He is a legit threat to Edgar’s reign and the fight could not only be “Fight of the Night” by candidate for “Fight of the Year.”
Also, Rampage Jackson (hopefully wearing the famous Apollo Creed American Trunks” returns to the arena where he made his Pride debut and collected seven wins meets Bader, a wrestler on a bit of a downturn. With a win, Jackson could wind meeting Dan Henderson in a rematch fans of clamored for.
Speaking of wins (or losses), a loss by the aforementioned Edgar could turn him down to a more natural weight of 145 and cause havoc to a dream matchup with featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
I might be getting ahead of myself, but UFC 144 has all the makings of a “happening”. Mark Hunt vs Cheick Kongo in heavyweight action, someone is getting knocked out.
Okami, Takanori Gomi and Yoshihiro Akiyma fighting in their home country? Awesome!
Pettis and Lauzon to kick it off and 7-total fights on the PPV? Sign me up for Saturday.
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