After eleven long years, the world’s leading MMA organization invades the Land of the Rising Sun with a stacked card from top to bottom. For so many years Pride ruled the Japanese MMA landscape featuring such stalwarts as Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Kazushi Sakuraba, and many others.
The biggest difference between PRIDE and some of the other Japanese MMA organizations at the time, as well as the Zuffa-run UFC, is the fact that the lighter weight classes were given a prominent spot on the card.
That being said, maybe it should come as no surprise that the main event of UFC 144 will see UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar attempt to defend his title for the third time since capturing it from BJ Penn at UFC 112. This time around he’ll take on former WEC title-holder Benson Henderson.
The 27-year-old Arizona native has been on quite the tear since making his UFC debut against Mark Bocek at UFC 129 in Toronto this past March. He defeated the Canadian born Bocek via unanimous decision before a crowd of more than 55,000 fans.
Henderson then derailed Jim Miller and his seven fight winning streak at UFC Live: Hardy vs. Lytle in August. Last but not least, Henderson defeated Clay Guida in a thrilling three round affair on the undercard of the first ever UFC on FOX card in November.
The UFC announced after the win over Guida that Henderson would face Edgar for the title in Japan. The rumors had been swirling in the days and weeks leading up to the fight with Guida that the winner would become the number one contender, but Henderson needed to hear it from the horse’s mouth himself.
“I had heard that the winner may be in line for a title shot, but I’m not one to believe in rumors,” said Henderson in an exclusive conversation with Fightline. “The day before the fight Dana White had said the winner would be facing Frankie Edgar and being as confident as any other fighter out there I got excited because I knew I would win and would have the opportunity to compete for the UFC Lightweight Championship.
“Although I was happy that I had won the fight, my initial reaction in my performance was that I was a little disappointed,” Henderson continued. “In my opinion I felt as though I could’ve done a lot better. My hat’s off to Clay Guida as he is a tough fighter and he did a great job of making me fight his fight. I think I can fight a lot better than I did. I am my own harshest critic and even though my team was happy I know I didn’t perform the way I could have.”
After losing the WEC title to Anthony Pettis in the organization’s last event, the UFC promised “Showtime” a shot at the winner of the Edgar-Gray Maynard title bout at UFC 125 in January. As luck would have it that bout ended in a draw forcing the UFC to match the two up for a third time later on in 2011.
Pettis would go on to face Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale in a fight that he would lose via unanimous decision. Coupled with Pettis’ loss and Henderson’s quick ascension up the UFC lightweight ranks, “Smooth” found himself on the fast track to a shot at Edgar and his lightweight championship after just three bouts inside the Octagon.
“I’m surprised at the speed of my success,” a still-smiling Henderson replied on the topic. “But going back to the fact that I’m a confident fighter I expect my career to go a certain way. I expect to win every fight I go into, I know I can win. Am I super surprised at how successful I have been, I would say no, but I am surprised at how fast I’ve been given a title shot.
“I think that also applies to the level of fighters that I have faced. Before I came over to the UFC I wasn’t expected to make it this quickly to the top of the division,” he elaborated. “If you look at the fighters I have fought in these three fights it’s a lot easier to understand. I’ve beaten a top contender in Bocek, a guy on a four fight win streak in Guida and Miller who had won seven fights in a row before he faced me.”
Fans can catch UFC 144 live on PPV in less than two weeks (February 25). In addition to Edgar vs. Henderson the card also features Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon, Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields, and Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader.