UFC 144: Return to Japan
By Don Avila
Led by the mini-destroyers Ultimate Fighting Championship brings its brand to the island of Japan with eagerness and excitement for UFC 144.
UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) risks his belt against rapidly improving Ben Henderson (15-2) on Saturday Feb. 25. The MMA juggernaut of UFC hits Tokyo, Japan like a science fiction classic, but it’s more than real.
“I'm super excited to fight over in Japan, the best place for martial arts. It is engrained in their culture, they're huge fans and I think they're going to appreciate the show we put on,” said Edgar.
Henderson finally gets a shot at the title.
“Here I am now and I'm ready to give my best shot,” said Henderson who’s last performance against Clay Guida was impressive.
How excited is Henderson to fight in Japan.
“It really does mean quite a bit to be able to fight in Japan, like Frankie said earlier, kind of the birth place of MMA. MMA was very big in Japan for such a long time, it was a Mecca of MMA earlier on,” Henderson said. “So it's nice to hopefully be a part of what is going to be the spark of the return of the Japanese MMA and just being able to get MMA that much more globally into the mainstream.”
Rampage vs. Darth
Also on the massive fight card is Rampage Jackson (32-9) pit against Ryan “Darth” Bader (14-2) in a light heavyweight fight that will display whether youth or experience will prevail.
“I'm really excited about going back to Japan, there's no secret about that. I love that place. I think I was so popular in Japan because of my fight style,” said Jackson who formerly fought for Pride Fighting before signing with UFC. “I was young and I didn't care. I just wanted to put on fights for the crowd and they love that type of stuff. Wrestling is real popular there and it doesn't have the same factor as MMA.”
Though Bader has not fought in Japan like Jackson, he relishes the role of being the unknown.
“I kind of like playing rough and sitting that underdog role, I've trained my butt off and I'm ready to go,” says Bader.
Heavyweight favorite Cheick Kongo (27-6-2) faces veteran Mark Hunt (7-7) to give fans something to talk about.
Japanese welterweight Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4) may be a hometown favorite but won’t have it easy facing perennial contender Jake Shields (26-6-1). The California-based grappler has never been soundly defeated and needs this opportunity to prove he’s among the best.
Middleweight Yoshin Okami (27-6) expects a war against Tim Boetsch (14-4) in their battle of 185-pounders.
In a featherweight clash Japan’s Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) doesn’t have it easy on paper facing Bart Palaszewski (34-13).
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (12-2) hopes he’s more substance than hype when he faces gritty Joe Lauzon (20-6) in a battle of 155-pound lightweights.
Japan’s Takanori Gomi (32-8) hopes to rebound from a loss with a win over Eiji Mitsuoka (18-7-2) in their lightweight collision. Ever since joining UFC, Gomi has run into bad luck or he’s just simply getting old. Losses to Nate Diaz, Clay Guida and Kenny Florian have kept him from the forefront.
In a bantamweight match Japan’s Norifumi Yamamoto (18-5) faces Vaughan Lee (11-7-1) in a three round bout.