The weekend draws near and the UFC has planned for it another stacked card, this one taking place at the site of the legendary Pride Fighting Championships, the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
The fight card — which will see seven fights aired live on pay-per-view, as opposed to the usual five-fight structure — will play witness to a lightweight title fight, the return to Japan of one of Pride’s most notable stars, a host of Japanese talent getting the spotlight and a full lineup of intriguing fights.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for FightLine’s live, ongoing coverage of the event.
Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson
UFC lightweight champion Frankie “The Answer” Edgar faces yet another hungry and dangerous 155’er gunning for his belt in former WEC champ Ben “Smooth” Henderson, and neither man have any intentions of doing anything other than leaving the Land of the Rising Sun as champion.
Edgar (14-1-) is finally being seen as a true champion — and it’s about time, as multiple stellar performances against BJ Penn and Gray Maynard should have had people realizing that far sooner. Though undersized for the division in comparison to his peers, Edgar’s speed and scrambling abilities set him apart. Few fighters sneak in offense during scrambles as well as Edgar and few force scrambles as he does, making him one of the most effective fighters at implementing his game plan over that of his opponent. Add to that incredible grit and championship heart and you have a man fit to wear the crown.
Ben Henderson (15-2) famously lost his WEC lightweight title and a shot at the UFC equivalent courtesy Anthony Pettis and his Showtime Kick at the last WEC event, WEC 53, which took place in late December of 2010. Since then, Henderson has gone on a tear, running roughshod over Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida to earn a shot at Edgar. A big ’55er, Bendo claims impressive all-around skills and the ability to blend them well also, with possibly the game’s best submission defense, to boot. Losing to Pettis as he did ignited a fire in his belly, and Henderson is eager to show the world he belongs at the top.
Mark: Picking against Edgar in title fights has left many betting men with lighter wallets and I expect doing so this time will result in the same. Henderson is as dynamically skilled and effective as they come and presents a real threat to The Answer’s title, but Edgar’s ability to adapt and overcome has seen him this far and I believe will see him leave Japan still champion. It certainly won’t be easy for the champ to take out Henderson (especially inside the distance) but he did it to Gray Maynard and I think it’s time Edgar gets his due. Frankie Edgar via third round TKO (strikes)
Dana: Can Benson Henderson finally be the one to dethrone Frankie Edgar atop the UFC lightweight division? “Smooth” has worn gold before, as he was a champion in the WEC. Plus, he has been one of the hottest fighters since joining the UFC, taking out Jim Miller and Clay Guida. Henderson is one of the bigger 155 pounders out there, while Edgar is used to being the smaller man inside the Octagon. Henderson’s all-around game is what will give Edgar the most fits, as he is a solid on the ground, a capable mat grappler and has knockout/submission skills. Edgar, however, has shown time and time again to have a third, fourth, and fifth wind in his matches. This time, though, I feel like Henderson has what it takes to claim the crowned. Benson Henderson via unanimous decision
Jack: The best in the stacked lightweight division are set to square off and I couldn’t be more excited. Henderson has a huge weight advantage, but that has not stopped Edgar in the past, defeating larger contenders in Maynard and Penn. With guys this quick and explosive, I see this being a back-and-forth stand up battle. They both have the cardio and the hearts to carry on exchanging for five rounds. In the end, I think Henderson is just a little more dynamic with great transitions and a dangerous mix of high kicks and elbows. Benson Henderson via unanimous decision
Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Former Pride FC superstar Quinton “Rampage” Jackson returns to his old stomping grounds to face fellow light heavy Ryan “Darth” Bader, a fighter still young in the game looking to further legitimize his career with a victory over Rampage.
Though the 33-year-old hasn’t exactly looked like the howling bruiser we grew accustomed to seeing during the Pride days and in his early stint with the UFC, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9) still very much ranks among the world’s best 205ers. Jackson has admittedly moved away from a diverse and more effective style in favor of an entertaining one and it’s cost him in recent fights, though he remains a threat to most anyone in his division. Rebounding from a recent loss to champ Jon Jones, Jackson is simply looking to put on a memorable fight for his Japanese fans by throwing them bungalows and knocking Bader’s head off, with little regard to winning and losing.
The Ultimate Fighter 8 alum Ryan Bader (13-2) managed to string together twelve straight professional victories before he ran into a pre-champion Jon Jones at UFC 126. Bones put Bader away with a guillotine choke in round two and, in his following fight, Tito Ortiz did the same one round earlier. Darth recently rebounded from that two-fight slump with an impressive first-round knockout of Jason Brilz. Now, he’ll be looking to prove that he can do the same thing against the division’s elite.
Mark: Much like BJ Penn, Jackson is a fighter who’s presence on fight night is almost always determined by how motivated he is to face that particular opponent. Though Bader clearly doesn’t excite Rampage all that much, Jackson is amped up to return to Japan and promises to deliver an exciting, memorable fight. Bader could out-wrestle and out-hustle Jackson to a decision, especially considering the former UFC champ’s waning motivation, but I just can’t shake the image of Bader getting dropped by Tito Ortiz. I think ‘Page puts the bungalows on Bader and then parties like a winner in Japan. Quinton Jackson via first round TKO
Dana: “Rampage” is returning home, as the former UFC light heavyweight champion grew to superstar-level while competing in Japan. I have a feeling we will see a new “old” Jackson against Ryan Bader, as Jackson doesn’t want to see his career end on a sour note. Bader will need to use his excellent wrestling to control Jackson and keep him from unleashing hell in the stand-up game. Look for “Rampage” to wait until the prime opportunity to strike before dropping “Darth” midway through the fight. Quinton Jackson via second round KO
Jack: Rampage has been dying for a fight in Japan and has promised to unleash the brawling Rampage of old. Bader is here to suspend his aggression with collegiate level wrestling. I see a charging Jackson leaving himself open for the takedown and a more skilled Bader taking advantage. The ASU grad will proceed with caution, eeking out a victory over Jackson with calculated ground and pound. Ryan Bader via unanimous decision
Jake Shields vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama
Yoshihiro Akiyama will be making his welterweight debut when he meets fellow seasoned grappler Jake Shields at UFC 144; both men will be looking to end losing streaks.
Before challenging Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title, Cesar Gracie Fight Team member Jake Shields (26-6-1) was riding a six-year, fifteen-fight winning streak. After losing a decision to GSP and a consecutive bout to Jake Ellenberger by first-round KO, Shields is in a two-fight slump for the first time in his career. That and having lost his father during the Ellenberger fight would shake many, but Shields insists he is fully-prepared and ready to show the world why he went undefeated for so long.
Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4, 2 NC) is in similar shoes as Shields. After making a successful UFC debut over Alan Belcher, Akiyama dropped consecutive contests to Chris Leben and Michael Bisping, both fights earning Fight of the Night for good reason. The judoka then met Vitor Belfort at UFC 133 last August and was knocked out within the first round. Those bouts all took place at middleweight and the man with one of MMA’s best entrances is looking to show his true form and potential in a new division.
Mark: This is another tough one to call, because it’s hard to predict how Akiyama will look at 170lbs. Assuming that he fights the same and has a similar gas tank, I expect Akiyama to do well early on against Shields, who’s stand up is still almost perfunctory. However, if Akiyama can be caught in a sub by Chris Leben when he’s tired, imagine what Shields could do to him. Though Shields got touched by Ellenberger in his last fight, his battle against Dan Henderson proved he has the heart and chin to come back from a rough start and clinch victory, which is what I believe we’ll see him do against Akiyama. The hometown advantage Akiyama has will serve him well, but will be mostly negated by Shields’ past experiences competing in the country. Jake Shields via third round submission
Dana: Jake Shields is in much the same situation as Quinton Jackson in this fight, as the former No. 1 contender has seen his stock drop following losses to Georges St-Pierre and Jake Ellenberger. The Ellenberger loss came at a difficult time for Shields, but he has not used that as an excuse. Skill-wise, Shields is leaps and bounds ahead of Yoshihiro Akiyama, but Akiyama will have the advantage of competing in front of his country. That will give him an adrenaline-rush to start, but Shields is smart enough to avoid any big-time punches by Akiyama. Jake Shields via second round submission (rear-naked choke)
Jack: This is a must-win for both fighters as they are coming off consecutive losses. Shields has some of the best jiu-jitsu in the business but his stand up looks awkward to say the least. The fight will rely on his ability to take the action to the ground. For Akiyama, I say the cut to 170 serves him well initially as he picks apart Shields with solid footwork and quick combinations. Unfortunately for “Sexyama”, his questionable cardio will make him susceptible to the takedown as the fight progresses. I see a shifty Shields catching him in something awful in the second round. Jake Shields via second round submission