The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes it’s somewhat long-awaited return to the Land of the Rising Sun, this weekend when they hold their first card in Japan since UFC 29 all the way back in the year 2000. They are returning to the former hotspot of PRIDE Fighting Championships, the massive Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The main Pay Per View card of the event has been amped up to four hours of run time and has added an additional two bouts.
Featuring a main event for the UFC’s Lightweight Championship between challenger Benson Henderson and champion Frankie Edgar, the UFC is offering a very solid card this weekend. Also the card features nearly every Japanese fighter employed by the UFC, so it offers a lot for the hometown crowd as well as a number of intriguing bouts for those of us who will be watching the card from the comfort of our own living room.
In addition to a potential barn-burner in the Main Event, this card offers a lot of intriguing bouts throughout the entire main card. The heavyweight bout between Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo could turn into a complete slug-fest. The lightweight contest between Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon could feature all kinds of crazy high-octane action and that bout has some definite title implications at 155-pounds. A potential number one contender bout in the Featherweight division will take place when world-ranked Hatsu Hioki takes on Bart Palaszewski. Bouts featuring Quinton Jackson, Ryan Bader, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jake Shields, Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch round out the main PPV card. Let’s get right into the action.
Preliminary Card Bout (Facebook): Featherweight Bout: Zhang Tiequan vs. Issei Tamura
Zhang “The Mongolian Wolf” Tiequan (anglicized Tiequan Zhang) is a Chinese-born fighter and is the first fighter from China to fight for the UFC. He is a member of the Black Tiger Team from China, as well as a notable member of China Top Team. Zhang is a BJJ, Sanshou and Shuai Jiao (Chinese Wrestling) based fighter. He is a brown belt in BJJ and excels when the fight hits the mat. Zhang is one of the better grapplers in the Featherweight division who has good takedowns with decent kick-boxing skills. Zhang started his career by going 14-0, stopping all of his opponents. Zhang has a career record of 15-2 and has never been finished in a fight.
Issei Tamura is a Japanese born fighter, who fights out of the Krazy Bee Dojo in Tokyo, Japan. He is actually taking this bout as a late-replacement for the injured Leonard Garcia. Tamura is a wrestling based fighter who has spent the majority of his career under the Japanese Shooto promotion’s banner. Tamura is relatively new to MMA, making his pro debut in June 2008. Tamura is fairly undersized as a Featherweight fighter, who cuts relatively little weight to make 145 pounds, and stands only 5’5” so he may be fairly undersized in this bout. However, he remains a strong wrestler who is able to takedown and control his opponents as the base of his offense.
Analysis and Prediction: There is a lot to say about Octagon jitters, as they have been the downfall of many fighters in the past. Also account for the fact that Tamura is a late replacement and is somewhat undersized for the division, there is a lot going against him in this bout. In Zhang’s previous fights he has hunted submissions relentlessly, sometimes at the expense of winning the bout. This proved to be his downfall in his last bout against Darren Elkins, where he was taken down because of his willingness to go after Guillotine Chokes which never really came close to stopping the bout. Tamura isn’t the greatest of fighters, but he has the tools to beat Zhang here, unless Zhang has worked considerably on his game planning and cardio, he’s going to struggle against someone who is perfectly willing to grind away at him from top control. Issei Tamura via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card Bout (FX): Bantamweight Bout: Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso
Takeya Mizugaki is a 28-year-old fighter from Ibaragi, Japan. Mizugaki formerly fought for the Shooto promotion in his native Japan, before being brought in as supposed cannon-fodder for then WEC Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres. Mizugaki ended up going five rounds, in a highly entertaining slugfest that earned him some serious job security. Mizugaki is a striker first, with developing ground skills, but he definitely prefers to keep his fights in the pocket. He is a member of the Shooting Gym Hakkei gym in Kanagawa, Japan. Mizugaki has done well in both the WEC and UFC, falling only to the elite of the division (Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles, Scott Jorgensen, Miguel Torres) but has defeated all other comers. Mizugaki owns a professional record of 15-6-2.
Chris “Kamikaze” Cariaso is a 30-year-old fighter from San Fransisco, California. Cariaso has fought for a number of large MMA promotions including Strikeforce and Elite XC before signing with the WEC. Cariaso is a striker with solid kick-boxing skills who like his opponent has fared well but has fallen against the higher-level fighters in the Bantamweight division. Cariaso also adds competent grappling skills to his strong kick-boxing background, which makes him a tough match up for nearly anyone in the division. He owns a professional MMA record of 12-3.
Analysis and Prediction: Both of these guys are strong strikers with competent ground skills. Both men would also much prefer to stand in the pocket and trade with their opponents rather than work the fight to the mat. The similarities do not end there, as they both have fared well against mid-level competition but have struggled against the upper class of Bantamweights. The biggest thing here may be that Mizugaki will enjoy a four-inch height and reach advantage, which could be the downfall of a striker like Cariaso. This one is likely going to feature three rounds of back and forth kick-boxing, but don’t be surprised if it degenerates into a brawl at times. One of a number of potential Fight of the Night contenders here, but the Japanese fighter takes it on home soil. Takeya Mizugaki via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card Bout (FX): Middleweight Bout: Riki Fukuda vs. Steven Cantwell
Riki “Killer Bee” Fukuda is a 31-year-old fighter from Tokyo, Japan. Fukuda is a boxing and Shooto based fighter, who was an All Japan University Wrestling Champion. He has fought for a number of notable MMA promotions including DEEP, Dream, Elite XC, Shooto and K-1. Fukuda is a member of the Grabaka Gym and is a very grinding fighter. Fukuda is very tough and durable who is constantly moving forward. He throws solid one-two combinations as a way to close the distance against his opponents before shooting for takedowns. From top control he is very effective at grinding away at his opponents with constant ground and pound. One thing that may be concerning for Fukuda is that he has been out of the cage for over twelve months due to injury. Fukuda owns a career record of 17-5.
Steven “The Robot” Cantwell is a 25-year-old fighter from Long Beach, California. He is a former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion who now trains out of the One Kick’s Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada. Cantwell has had a bizarre history with the UFC, pulling out of a number of fights due to undisclosed injuries, one of which Dana White said “May cause him to never fight again.” When he is fighting Cantwell is a strong grappler with mediocre striking skills. He does however own a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but outside of a few fights, hasn’t really been able to translate those skills effectively to the cage. Cantwell has a career record of 7-5, but hasn’t won a bout since 2009 and is likely fighting for his employment in this bout.
Analysis and Prediction: Fukuda is being thrown a soft-ball here from the UFC in my opinion. He is coming off of a long layoff and is getting an opponent tailor-made for him to beat. Cantwell is a fairly sloppy striker and although Fukuda isn’t the second coming of Muhammed Ali, he’ll likely hold the edge striking. On the ground Cantwell had nothing to offer Mike Massenzio who is a pretty comparable grappler to Fukuda, so it’s unlikely that Cantwell can do much to stop Fukuda from taking him down. He’s too tough to be finished, but he’s likely going to drop a clear cut decision to the Japanese fighter. Riki Fukuda via Unanimous Decision
Preliminary Card Bout (FX): Bantamweight Bout: Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto is a 34-year-old fighter from Kanagawa, Japan. A few years ago Yamamoto was one of the most feared fighters in the lighter weight-classes in the world. His stellar wrestling background as well as strong striking and knockout power that is abnormal for a man so small, made him a nightmare for many opponents. Since coming over to the UFC, he has not fared as well, dropping back to back decisions and is 1-4, in his last five bouts. Fighting out of his own Krazy Bee Gym in Tokyo, Japan he’ll be looking to get back on track in this bout. Despite his recent struggles, his approach to fighting remains the same. Strong wrestling that he uses to keep the bout standing, while hunting for the huge right hand that can end anyone’s night. Despite his recent struggles Yamamoto owns a professional record of 18-5.
Vaughan Lee is an English fighter from Birmingham, England. He is a member of the Ultimate Training Centre in Birmingham, England. Lee is a fairly well-rounded fighter. During his fight against Chris Cariaso, Lee was able to dominate Cariaso on the ground for the first round. He has also shown fairly strong kick-boxing skills in previous fights. However, in his bout against Cariaso, once he was taken down, he showed very little ability to do anything from his back. Lee also has significant power in his strikes as well, as he holds a number of first round stoppage victories on his resume. Still he remains a fairly hot and cold fighter, with a professional record of 11-7-1.
Analysis and Prediction: This is a fight that’s likely going to take place on the feet. I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in either fighter, but I think Yamamoto holds enough advantages here to win the bout. His wrestling hasn’t looked great in recent bouts, but he was once a contender to join the Olympic Wrestling team for Japan, so it’s unlikely that Lee will be able to work the bout to the mat easily. In a striking battle, Yamamoto struggles at times against fighters who are faster than him, which I don’t actually think Lee is. Throw in the home crowd advantage and it’s likely that “Kid” will land a huge right hand at some point that ends the Brit’s night. Norifumi Yamamoto via TKO in Round Two
Preliminary Card Bout (FX): Lightweight Bout: Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka
Takanori “The Fireball Kid” Gomi is a 33-year-old fighter from Kanagawa, Japan. Formerly the face of the lighter weight-classes in PRIDE, he is the former PRIDE Lightweight Champion. During his peak he was the Lightweight version of Chuck Liddell. A striker with big power who threw massive looping punches that hit with a ton of power, while using his strong wrestling skills defensively to avoid being taken down to the mat. Things have been tough for Gomi since 2008, as his skill set has since deteriorated. His wrestling skills have not gotten any better and his striking has slowed with age. He is no longer the feared striker he once was, as in his last bout he was outclassed in the striking department by Nate Diaz. Outside of an impressive one-punch KO of Tyson Griffin in 2010, Gomi hasn’t looked like his former self in a number of years. Still, his one-punch KO power has to be respected and he is still one of the most recognizable Japanese fighters in the history of the sport. Gomi holds a professional MMA record of 32-8 with 1 No Contest.
Eiji Mitsuoka is a 36-year-old fighter from Saitama, Japan. He is accepting this bout on late notice as an injury replacement for George Sotiropoulos. Despite his relative unknown status in North America, he has fought for a number of major Asian MMA promotions including Dream, DEEP, World Victory Road and PRIDE. Mitsuoka is an extremely talented grappler with limited striking skills to complement. However, he recently took a year long sabbatical from competition where he trained exclusively in striking skills, so who knows what kind of impact that might have. Mitsuoka is a member of the Wajyutsu Keisyukai RJW Fight Team. Mitsuoka holds a professional MMA record of 18-7-2.
Analysis and Prediction: Despite the fact that he holds little name value, Mitsuoka is a dangerous opponent and is one that Gomi cannot overlook. Striking, Gomi holds a distinct advantage, as he throws significantly better combinations and hits harder than Mitsuoka, even with his deteriorating speed. However, Gomi has always been prone to gassing out and being out-classed in the grappling department. Mitsuoka is extremely tough and durable, having never been stopped due to strikes in his career. If Gomi hasn’t improved his cardio issues, it is entirely possible that he pummels Mitsuoka for two rounds, before getting taken down and submitted in the third. It’s actually the outcome that I’m predicting. Eiji Mitsuoka via Submission in Round Three
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Lightweight Bout: Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis is a 25-year-old fighter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a member of the Roufusport Fight Team based out of his hometown, where he trains regularly with fighters like Alan Belcher, Pat Barry and Ben Askren under legendary kick-boxer Duke Roufus. Pettis is a very well-rounded fighter with backgrounds in Muay Thai, Tae Kwan Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Pettis was the final WEC Lightweight Champion and actually defeated headliner Ben Henderson at the WEC’s final show to win that title. Pettis has very flashy and quick striking skills, perhaps being most notable for “the Showtime Kick” where he scaled the cage wall, before delivering a head kick to Ben Henderson in their bout. On the ground Pettis has an active guard and is very active from both the bottom as well as top control, constantly searching for sweeps and submission attempts. Pettis holds a career MMA record of 14-2.
Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon is a 27-year-old fighter from Brockton, Massachusetts. He trains at his own home gym Lauzon MMA in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Like his opponent Lauzon is a very well-rounded fighter. He is a competent striker who can put together combinations well, as well having a very impressive and aggressive grappling skill set. Lauzon is a former cast-member of The Ultimate Fighter, where he was defeated in the semi-finals by Manny Gamburyan. Lauzon is coming off one of the biggest wins of his career at UFC 136 when he stunned Melvin Guillard with a big punch, before latching onto his back and submitting him via Rear Naked Choke. Lauzon has a professional record of 21-6, including 17 wins by way of submission.
Analysis and Prediction: This is an extremely intriguing bout and is a serious contender for Fight of the Night. Pettis is one of the flashiest strikers in the Lightweight division, but in his last bout showed that he could follow a game plan if needed by outwrestling and grappling Jeremy Stephens. Pettis was controlled by Clay Guida, but Lauzon doesn’t have the wrestling chops to control Pettis on the mat like that. Most likely this bout takes place wherever Pettis wants it to, which means it will likely turn into a striking battle. Lauzon is decent, but he’s shown a tendency to gas out in the later rounds and he won’t be able to keep pace with “Showtime.” Pettis will wear him down with leg kicks and body punches before finally stopping the bout in the third round. Anthony Pettis via TKO in Round Three
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Featherweight Bout: Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Hatsu “Iron Broom” Hioki is a 28-year-old Japanese fighter. He is a member of the ALIVE Shooto & Jiu Jitsu Academy in his hometown of Tokyo, Japan but also trains at the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal, Quebec, Canada alongside Georges St. Pierre. Hioki has fought for a number of notable organizations including TKO, Shooto (where he was the Lightweight Champion) and World Victory Road. Hioki is a competent striker, who can put together stellar combinations and has a very strong chin, but his bread and butter is his grappling game. Hioki is a black belt in BJJ and the majority of his wins have come via Submission. From top control Hioki is absolutely relentless, constantly pressing to pass guard and throw ground and pound as well as search out submission opportunities. Hioki’s professional MMA record is 25-4-2.
Bart “Bartimus” Palaszewski is a Polish born fighter that resides and trains in Illinois. He is a member of Jeff Curran’s Team Curran gym in Wonder Lake, Illinois. Palaszewski despite not yet being 30 years old is a veteran of the fight game with 50 career professional bouts. Despite his training with Jeff Curran and his black belt level in BJJ, striking is where Palaszewski is most confident. He throws solid combinations with big power. He recently made the drop to Featherweight and had impressive results as he flattened Tyson Griffin at UFC 137 with a huge left hook that knocked Griffin out cold. Palaszewski owns a career record of 36-14.
Analysis and Prediction: I’ll admit a couple things right away here, 1) I bet pretty big on Hioki against George Roop. 2) It was a less than impressive victory for someone who is touted as the number two Featherweight fighter in the world, 3) I actually had it scored 29-28 in favor of Hioki. With that out of the way, we move on to this bout. Hioki struggled against Roop’s lengthy frame, but striking has never been his strong suit, he is often willing to oblige opponents in that realm, but he prefers the ground. Against Palaszewski he faces a BJJ black belt, that should be significantly better on the ground than he actually is. This one will certainly come down to Hioki’s ability to get the fight to the mat. Palaszewski hits hard and hits often, so this fight could end at any time, but in front of a home crowd and with octagon jitters out of the way, I think Hioki finds a way to drag Palaszewski down to the ground and runs game on him from there, eventually earning a late stoppage. Hatsu Hioki via Submission in Round Two
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Middleweight Bout: Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
Yushin “Thunder” Okami is a 30-year-old fighter from Kanagawa, Japan. He is a Judo based fighter, with a black belt in that discipline. Okami also has very strong wrestling skills which he has continued to improve since beginning to train in the USA with Chael Sonnen at Team Quest. In addition to his strong wrestling and Judo skills, Okami is one of the larger fighters in the Middleweight division and is extremely strong which aids him in controlling his opponents on the ground. Okami has decent technical boxing, backed mostly by a solid jab and basic one-two combinations, but he uses his strikes simply to close the distance and get into a clinch with opponents. From there it’s a Judo throw, or a double leg takedown away from hitting the mat, where Okami can grind away on his opponents with ground and pound from the top. Okami holds a professional MMA record of 26-6.
Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch is a 31-year-old fighter from Lincolnville, Maine. Like his opponent he is a Judo and Wrestling based fighter. After struggling as a Light Heavyweight fighter an improved diet and drop to Middleweight has rejuvenated him as a fighter. Boetsch often struggled to control his opponents at 205 pounds, but now is better able to impose his wrestling skills against Middleweight fighters. Boetsch has proven very competent in the clinch in his UFC career, showing good dirty boxing skills, with nasty uppercuts, as well as a strong ability to earn takedowns using his Judo skills. Boetsch holds a career record of 14-4.
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Analysis and Prediction: Boetsch has found new life at Middleweight. As a Light Heavyweight, he faced some of the biggest, toughest wrestlers in the division and was completely man-handled by most of them. However, at Middleweight he hasn’t had that problem. Against Okami, he may be back in problematic territory. Okami is one of the biggest, strongest fighters in the Middleweight division. Okami probably has the better stand up. The only area I really think Boetsch has an advantage is in the clinch with his dirty boxing, but it’s unlikely Okami let’s him hang out there for very long before he takes him down. On the ground Okami is one of the best grinders out there, constantly pounding away at his opponents. Boetsch has big power, so if Okami gets baited into a firefight it’s possible he could be in trouble. But Okami has never shown himself to be reckless, he’s a controlled fighter, who usually follows the game plan and even though Boetsch knows what it is, he doesn’t have the track record to stop it. Yushin Okami via Unanimous Decision
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Welterweight Bout: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama is a 36-year-old fighter from Osaka, Japan. He is a 3rd degree black belt in Judo and also holds strong boxing skills. He currently splits training time between Team Cloud in Japan and Jackson’s Submission Fighting in New Mexico. Akiyama is making his Welterweight debut in this fight, so it may be interesting to see how the weight cut affects him, as he has never really been known for having strong cardio. Still, he was a small Middleweight fighter and fans have been calling for him to shed the weight for a while now, so it’s unlikely to have a massive impact on him come fight night. Akiyama’s biggest issues have always been his cardio and is inability to game plan, often resorting to brawling against fighters and ignoring his obvious ground advantages. Still, because of his amazing chin and ability to withstand punishment he’s mostly gotten away with it (save for his last bout against Vitor Belfort where he got annihilated striking and KO’ed for the trouble.) Akiyama holds a professional MMA record of 13-4-2.
Jake Shields is a 33-year-old fighter from California who is a member of the famed Cesar Gracie Fight Team where he trains regularly with Gilbert Melendez and the Diaz brothers. Shields has fought for and held titles in a number of notable MMA promotions including Elite XC, Shooto and Strikeforce. He is a black belt in BJJ as well as a former NCAA Division 2 Wrestler at San Fransisco State University. Shields is best served when using his wrestling to get the fight to the mat and then working his high level Jiu Jitsu skills against his opponents. His stand up is fairly rudimentary, although he can absorb a lot of punishment, which usually keeps him out of trouble, in fact Jake Ellenberger was recently the first person to finish Shields via strikes in more than 10 years of pro completion (and that was a week after Shields’ father and manager had passed away, so it’s hard to ignore the psychological effects that likely had on Shields.) Despite his recent setbacks, he remains one of the best Welterweight fighters on the planet and is probably the top one or two grapplers in the UFC’s Welterweight division. Shields owns a professional MMA record of 26-6-1.
Analysis and Prediction: This bout has some serious contrast in styles. Neither fighter has great striking, but of the two, Akiyama’s is definitely better. If Akiyama could stay disciplined when striking, he would hold a significant edge, but his tendency to throw wild punches often ends up hurting him. On the ground Shields is an absolute beast, his blend of NCAA level wrestling and BJJ skills, combined with great athleticism and strength makes him tough for anyone to handle on the mat. His striking is surprisingly bad for someone who’s been in the fight game for as long as he has, but it’s rarely been a problem for him in the past. On the ground Akiyama is no slouch, but he is not a dynamo from his back. His grappling game is mainly focused on being effective from top control. On the bottom against a fighter like Shields, he’s going to be focused on covering up and playing defense, the perfect chance for Shields to capitalize on a small mistake and latch onto a submission. Akiyama has also always had problems with his cardio and after cutting weight to drop a weight-class, I doubt it’s going to improve in this fight. Shields on the other hand has fought in numerous championship bouts and has looked solid over all five rounds, so we know he won’t slow down. If Akiyama gets tired in round three, expect him to get taken down, pounded on and Rear Naked Choked for his troubles when he turtles up. Jake Shields via Submission in Round Three
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
Mark “The Super Samoan” Hunt owns one of the strangest resumes in all of MMA completion. A former Super Heavyweight fighter who used to weigh in at well over 300 pounds, but has since made the permanent cut to 265 pounds to make the UFC’s heavyweight limit, Hunt is one of the most powerful strikers in all of MMA. Hunt holds career victories over Wanderlei Silva, Ben Rothwell and Mirko Cro Cop, but has losses to other fighters like Sean McCorkle and Melvin Manhoef. As a former professional K-1 Kickboxer that is where Hunt’s skills lie. The New Zealand born fighter is now a world traveler, training at a number of notable MMA Gyms in his quest to improve his all-around MMA game, his most recent stop was at American Top Team. Hunt holds a professional MMA record of 7-7.
Cheick Kongo is a French born Heavyweight fighter from Paris, France. Kongo trains at the Wolfslair MMA Academy in Paris. The 36-year-old stands 6’4” and with an 82 inch reach regularly holds reach advantages over his opponents. Kongo is a kick-boxer first and foremost with backgrounds in Muay Thai, Savate and traditional kick-boxing. Recently he has shown a more dynamic MMA game, with an ability to game plan, by utilizing wrestling and top control against his opponents. Kongo is very successful in the clinch, where he can use knees to the body to wear out his opponents, before searching for a takedown. Although his ground game is fairly basic, he still excels at sitting in guard and posturing up to use his size to deliver ground and pound to his opponents. Kongo holds a professional MMA record of 17-6-2.
Analysis and Prediction: This one is definitely one of the more intriguing bouts on the card, that could go a couple of ways. It also feels as though it’s a bit of a throwback to the sideshow fights that Pride used to put on. Kongo is a kick-boxer, but he doesn’t have the most solid of chins. In his bout against Pat Barry he tried to strike which earned him a ticket to queer street and if it wasn’t for Barry’s poor decision-making he probably could have won that fight. Instead Kongo made the epic comeback. Against a powerful striker like Hunt, it’s hard to think that Kongo will be making any kind of comeback if he takes anything more than a jab directly to the chin. Hunt is fairly one-dimensional, but he has been improving in other areas. However, Kongo has also improved considerably recently. In his most recent bout against Matt Mitrione he used a plethora of leg kicks and a newfound wrestling skill set to dominate Mitrione for three rounds. If he employs a similar approach against Hunt, he should be able to outwrestle the samoan for three rounds, but if he chooses to stand and trade, it becomes a dicey situation for the Frenchman. Overall, Kongo has shown himself to be getting smarter, so I think he plays this one safe and earns a clear unanimous decision, but if he decides to trade, it could be upset city for Mark Hunt. Cheick Kongo via Unanimous Decision
Main Card Bout (Pay Per View): Light Heavyweight Bout: Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a 33-year-old fighter from Memphis, Tennessee, but he will be returning to his second home for this bout. Jackson is a former standout from the Pride Fighting Championship days and is loved by Japanese fight fans. He’s already stated that he’s looking forward to putting on a show for the locals. Jackson is a strong striker and a decent wrestler, however, he prefers to use his wrestling mostly for defense, preferring to stand and trade with his opponents. Jackson is probably one of the most straight-forward fighters in the UFC. He comes to bang. Jackson constantly uses his footwork to shuffle around, searching for the opportunity to throw a counter right hand, or a big overhand hook, all of which have the potential to end any fighter’s night. Jackson owns a professional MMA record of 32-9.
Ryan “Darth” Bader is a 28-year-old fighter from Reno, Nevada. Bader is best known as the winner of the eighth season of Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter. Bader was a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler, winning three Pac-10 Championships during his time at Arizona State University. Bader is a member of the Power MMA Team and a former member of Arizona Combat Sports Fight Team. He prefers to use his wrestling in his fights, using takedowns and top control to earn points on judge’s scorecards, while using ground and pound to wear out his opponents. Since his time on the reality show, Bader has continually improved his striking skills and is now a fairly competent boxer. Still, his boxing skills are fairly basic, throwing simple combinations and sometimes winging big power punches. Despite his skills being somewhat rudimentary, no one can knock his ability to throw with power as he has earned several recent KO victories. Bader’s career record is 13-2.
Analysis and Prediction: Many people seem to think that Bader has a decent chance at pulling off the upset in this one. The easiest thing to point to is following the game plans that Jon Jones and Rashad Evan have both used successfully against Rampage. Leg kicks, fighting at range and then dragging him to the mat at every opportunity. Rampage’s weakness has always been that he’s too straight-forward. He doesn’t check leg kicks… ever, it’s a serious problem for someone so high on the Light Heavyweight food chain. His other problem coming into this bout is his love for the Japanese fans. At a recent press conference he admitted that he fought stupidly in his Pride days, not fighting intelligently and instead fighting for fan reaction instead of winning, and even worse than that, he’s promising to do it again!
Bader has the tools to win this fight, but it won’t be easy. Rampage has some of the greatest takedown defense in the division and is extremely durable. His loss to Jon Jones was pretty lopsided, but he has lasted the longest of any of Jones’ victims in the UFC so far, so that has to say something. Also, you can never count out the power in Jackson’s counter-punches. The perfect game plan for Bader is to stay outside, work the leg kicks intelligently and use a solid jab to set up his takedown when closing the distance. From the bottom, Jackson has very little to offer other than covering up and trying to scramble, so if Bader is patient he should be able to control the bout on the mat for the majority of the time that it stays there.
All of this of course is easier said than done. Rampage is one of the biggest punchers in the division and is probably the most well-rounded striker that Bader has ever faced. Jackson is an expert at using his footwork to avoid getting trapped in the cage and his massive frame and brute strength make him a nightmare to try and work to the ground. His counter-punching style is extremely effective and if he says he’s willing to let the fists fly in the cage, it could be lights out early for Bader, who’s chin was somewhat exposed by Tito Ortiz. Even if Bader tries to replicate the game plan that Evans used, it’s worthy to note that Rampage won the third round of that fight and after shrugging off a takedown attempt landed some huge uppercuts that nearly knocked Rashad out cold. If the same thing happens to Bader, history has proven that he might not be able to last like Rashad did. Quinton Jackson via TKO in Round Two
Main-Event Bout (Pay Per View): Lightweight Championship Bout: Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson
Benson “Smooth” Henderson is a 28-year-old fighter from Colorado Springs. Henderson is probably best known as a former WEC Lightweight Champion. Henderson is an extremely aggressive fighter, constantly pressing forward against his opponents. Henderson is a member of the MMA Lab Fighting Team in Glendale, Arizona. He has a background in a number of different martial arts disciplines, including a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was a former NAIA All-American Wrestler when he was in college. Henderson is a decent boxer, but he lacks the high-level technical aspects such as strong footwork and tight defense to make him a truly strong striker. Instead he relies more on pressure and getting in close. In clinches there are so many things that Henderson can do including punches, knees, elbows, takedowns and submission attempts, it’s hard to defend against, because opponents never know exactly what’s coming. On the mat is where Henderson truly excels as he uses his strong wrestling base to earn takedowns and is very dangerous from top control, constantly forcing opponents to work to avoid submissions and ground and pound. Henderson owns a career MMA record of 15-2.
Frankie “The Answer” Edgar is the reigning and defending UFC Lightweight Champion. Edgar is a 30-year-old fighter from Toms River, New Jersey. Edgar is a member of the Renzo Gracie Combat Team based out of New Jersey. There Edgar is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Ricardo Almeida and also trains his boxing under Mark Henry and his Muay Thai skills under the tutelage of Phil Nurse. Before joining the UFC Edgar was an NCAA Division 1 Wrestler at Rutgers University. Edgar is the best boxer in the UFC’s Lightweight Division, using strong footwork, hand speed and incredible timing to overwhelm his opponents in exchanges. Edgar also uses angles well, constantly moving around, which makes him difficult to wrestle against as he is never straight ahead for wrestlers to shoot for takedowns or force him into clinches against the fence. Edgar owns a professional MMA record of 14-1-1.
Analysis and Prediction: This one definitely has the potential to be five rounds of intense, high-paced, back and forth action. The fighting styles of both men definitely lends itself to this one going all five rounds. Edgar is one of the most difficult fighters in the UFC to finish, as he’s escaped more submissions than anyone else and has never been knocked out in his entire career. Edgar on the other hand has shown how hard he is to finish, mainly throughout his trilogy of fights against Gray Maynard, where he was rocked in nearly every fight, before storming back to win the remaining rounds in those bouts.
Henderson has said in media interviews that he plans to use his size and cut off the cage against Edgar, to try to trap him against the walls. However, that might be easier said than done for him, as Edgar’s footwork is extremely impressive and will not be easy to control in the cage. Edgar will almost certainly have the speed advantage on the feet, so it’ll be tough for Henderson to try and trap Edgar without taking a number of punches for his trouble. The other problem is that Edgar is an excellent wrestler himself and his ability to sprawl and brawl is extremely impressive, it definitely will not be smooth sailing for Henderson in this realm.
Henderson has been impressive in his last few fights, but it’s important to note that Edgar will be the best striker that he has faced in a long time. And the last time he faced a striker of this calibre, he lost to the “Showtime Kick” to Henderson, in the WEC’s final show. Edgar will certainly want to keep this bout standing, as he has a decided advantage there. Trained under Ricardo Almeida in Jiu Jitsu, the champion is certainly no slouch on the ground, but it’s that area where his opponent excels. Henderson can really push the pace if this fight hits the mat, his ability to create scrambles and pressure opponents during those scrambles, is what makes him very dangerous and it was one of the tools he used to defeat both Clay Guida and Jim Miller.
This fight is going to come down to who can impose their game plan on the other man. Both fighters have strong, solid cardio and can fight for all five rounds, and both have done it several times before in their careers. Both fighters are also able to push the pace on their opponents, so it will be interesting to see which fighter begins to slow down first. For Henderson, although it’s something that’s been missing a bit from his game lately, he should be looking to throw a high volume of leg kicks. As Carlos Condit showed against Nick Diaz, nothing slows down a strong boxer more than leg kicks. Edgar is very quick and agile on his feet, but if Henderson can land some big leg kicks to slow the champion down, he’ll have more success trying to stalk him down throughout the fight.
For Edgar, I imagine he’ll fight at a range. He is an expert at closing the distance quickly and darting in and out before taking a lot of return fire. His superior footwork, combined with Henderson’s at times sloppy striking defense, should allow Edgar ample opportunities to get combinations off. Once he hits Henderson it will be just as important that he gets away quickly, Henderson will likely be the larger and stronger fighter in the cage, so Edgar will want to avoid spending any extended time in clinches with Henderson, where the challenger can begin to control the pacing and placement of the bout. Overall, I think Edgar is highly criticized as a UFC champion, but he definitely should not be. Solid wins over Maynard, BJ Penn (twice) and Sean Sherk are nothing to laugh at. At the end of the day, I think his boxing will be too much and he’ll be too quick on the feet for Henderson to slow down and control. I’ll take Edgar by a close, but ultimately clear and unanimous decision. Frankie Edgar via Unanimous Decision
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