After an eleven year hiatus, the UFC finally returned to Japan, and the event could not have gone any better. Since I was unable to personally make the trip to Saitama, I cannot speak on what the population that was not a member of the 22,000+ that was in attendance thought of it. However, those that were in the arena could not have made the event a better atmosphere. It was a fantastic hybrid of both American and Japanese atmospheres.
Regarding the fights, a seven fight main card will never be turned away. But even the preliminary card had terrific fights on display, involving a few local superstars like Takanori Gomi and Kid Yamamoto. Then the main card hit pay-per-view, and from the beginning, every fighter made sure you were making a mistake if you were not watching this historical event.
From Anthony Pettis’ spectacular head kick knockout to Tim Boetsch’s tremendous comeback against Yushin Okami to Mark Hunt’s pinpoint striking against Cheick Kongo, Dana White could not have been happier how the return to Japan turned out.
Then we arrived to the main event, a highly anticipated matchup between UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Edgar must have been in shock that he was not repeatedly knocked down in the first round; a change from his last two fights against Maynard. Unfortunately for him, that did not last long, as he was knocked down in the second round from an upkick by Henderson.
That became the theme of the fight, as Edgar was able to survive Henderson’s strong array of attacks. While he was continuing to implement his style against Henderson, it seemed the damage done to Edgar was the catalyst for the loss.
Personally, I scored the fight in favor of Henderson. But awarding Edgar the belt certainly would not have been a travesty.
Regarding the future, Joe Rogan and Dana White both stated that it is likely that the pay-per-view’s opening winner, Anthony Pettis, will be taking on the closer in Henderson in the next matchup for the title. But this seems to be the wrong decision with the former champion in Edgar.
Edgar defeated B.J. Penn at UFC 112 in April 2010 via a closely contested decision. He then had to face Penn again just four months later at UFC 118. He then faced Gray Maynard in January of last year at UFC 125, which ended in a draw. Because of the decision, he had to face Maynard again later that year at UFC 136, where he defeated Maynard via TKO.
Now, Edgar loses a close decision, and he is being glossed over in favor of a different rematch in Henderson vs. Pettis II. Much like the judging in MMA, where is the consistency? For Edgar to have to rematch an opponent twice in consecutive years, and now seemingly unable to be given the same treatment, it makes little sense.
Anthony Pettis, while immensely talented, does he deserve a title shot? After losing to Clay Guida in June, he went on to defeat Jeremy Stephens in October and then defeated Joe Lauzon on Saturday. With no disrespect meant towards Stephens and Lauzon, that does not seem to merit an immediate title shot. Yes, he did enter the UFC as the final WEC champion, but he then lost to Guida in his debut.
Looking over the last few years and title contenders that were given title shots with brief winning streaks, it has not gone over well. (I am excluding fighters that received title shots after being signed to the UFC then being given title shots after just one fight)
Demian Maia-UFC 112: After being knocked out by Nate Marquardt and defeating Dan Miller, Maia filled in for an injured Vitor Belfort against champion Anderson Silva
Conclusion: Loss via decision
“Rampage” Jackson-UFC 135: After narrowly defeating Lyoto Machida, Jackson then defeated Matt Hammil to earn a shot against Jon Jones.
Conclusion: Loss via 4th round submission
Kenny Florian-UFC 136: Florian moved to featherweight for one last title run. He defeated Diego Nunes in his divisional debut and went on to face Jose Aldo for the title.
Conclusion: Loss via decision
Lyoto Machida-UFC 140: After defeating Randy Couture following two straight losses, Machida went on to face champion Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title.
Conclusion: Loss via 2nd round submission
Now there could be three cases this year, with Pettis taking on Henderson, Hatsu Hioki taking on featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and Urijah Faber taking on Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight championship. (For the record, Faber has been given three previous title shots after two or fewer consecutive wins, and is 0-3 in those fights).
Yes, no two fighters and their scenarios are alike. But the phrase “striking while the iron is hot” should not always be the remedy to the problem. Edgar should be given the same treatment he had to deal with over the past two years, with the opportunity to rematch Henderson for the title.
Biggest winner: Japan
Quite a few fighters earned huge victories, including the aforementioned Pettis and of course Henderson. Also included are Tim Boetsch, Mark Hunt, Hatsu Hioki, and Ryan Bader, who all scored significant wins as well.
But with the return to Japan, nothing could be more significant than an opportunity for mixed martial arts to flourish in the country once again. Many fans stateside became fans thanks to Pride, and with 50,000+ frequently in attendance in Japan, it is obvious that Japanese fans did as well. Because of the inconsistency of Dream and the downfall of K-1, Japan just has not had an opportunity to enjoy MMA and kickboxing. If the UFC is able to frequently return, nothing could be better for MMA as a whole.
Bonus: It is obvious after Saturday, that another big winner was Mizuka Koike. The translator for the event clearly jumped to the top of the translator power rankings. She probably knows the English language better than you and I do.
Biggest loser: Yushin Okami
While “Rampage” Jackson can be argued, he was likely not going to earn another title shot with his career being closer to the end than being in his prime. But Okami was coming off of his title loss to Anderson Silva last August, and was fighting in his home country against an opponent he was expected to beat. He was doing that for two rounds and things were going according to the script. But then Tim Boetsch ripped the script apart and Okami’s face at the same time. His vicious uppercuts on Okami would have knocked any other fighter out..well, except Mark Hunt. This now leaves Okami with two losses in a row, and a loooooong way away from ever earning another title shot.
Biggest question: Why is Dana White Openly Suggesting Frankie Edgar drop to featherweight?
Dana White is a big fan of Edgar. That was evident after UFC 136, where White stated that Edgar is top 3 pound-for-pound. Now, just minutes after losing the lightweight title, White is quick to suggest that Edgar drop to 145 pounds. It is an insult to Edgar to treat him that way, especially after just losing a title he held for nearly two years.
Yes, Edgar is a small lightweight. But he is not being overpowered by the bigger lightweights, holding his own against two of the bigger lightweights in Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson. He arguably won the fight. In fact, White stated that he felt Edgar won the fight. So why should he now drop a weight class? If he feels most comfortable there and is competitive (the answer is yes to both questions), then Edgar should stay at lightweight.
Perhaps White is in need of a true challenger to Jose Aldo at 145 pounds, that he is desperate enough to market that weight class in any way possible.
Since there were seven fights on the main card of the event, Future Matchups to Make will be a separate article to be posted tomorrow. Make sure to check that out, concluding the wrap-up of UFC 144.