The UFC makes it’s long-awaited return to Japan tomorrow night for UFC 144 and we’ve got a fullpreview for the main event and quick predictions for all the other major fights below.
Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson
This lightweight title fight has all the makings of a terrific fight with both men being in great form and are well matched skill-wise.
Striking is perhaps the area where there’s most daylight between the two. Henderson is a solid striker – he’s certainly improved since his early fights in the WEC and can hold his own, but he’s not especially dangerous in this area. Edgar on the other hand has a natural talent for fisticuffs with his speed and movement which makes him able to hit and not be hit. The downside is that he’s not a power puncher, and he’ll struggle to put away Henderson who’s got a very good chin and an iron will.
Grappling is where things get really interesting. Again Edgar is very quick, has good takedowns and great technique which is important since he’s a little undersized for the division. Henderson is stronger and more powerful and I’d say is also more unpredictable with his grappling and is always working rather than attempting to ‘lay-and-pray’, instead constantly looking for opportunities to finish the fight. He likes to utilize ground and pound and is the more effective of the two in this regard.
Jiu-Jitsu wise both men are fairly well rounded. Each is particularly good defensively – Edgar is tricky to keep on the mat long enough to actually sink in a submission, while Henderson has an almost inhuman ability to fight off deep submission attempts. Henderson’s chokes are nasty and are a dangerous weapon against most fighters, but he’ll do well to sink one in against the champ here.
Finally there’s the cardio issue and really both these men can fight at a high tempo for the full five rounds. Given that Edgar cuts very little weight to fight at 155lbs I’d give him a slight edge though.
Such a hard one to call. I’ve always admired Henderson as a fighter and think he thoroughly deserves this opportunity. His ability to push the pace and engage in a battle that encompasses all aspects of MMA is great to watch and has won him a lot of fights, but I think against Edgar he’s found some one who can match him. At the same time Edgar also possesses better stand-up and I think his speed advantage will pay dividends if he’s able to keep the fight standing. Can’t see anything other than a five rounder here though.
Frankie Edgar to win by decision.
Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
The big question here is which ‘Rampage’ Jackson is going to show up? He’s certainly motivated to fight in front of the Japanese fans again, but another run at the title seems unlikely and he’s been hinting that his career is now heading towards a conclusion. He’s also not motivated to fight Ryan Bader and that’s a concern as he’s not a fighter you can take lightly.
If he is on his game then he definitely has a striking advantage over Bader. Both men rely mainly on boxing and while Bader is heavy hitter, Jackson is more technical and also has the power, though he’s not delivered a KO in quite some time.
Bader’s wrestling is better, but Rampage has excellent takedown defense and that’s the key to this fight for him. If he can stuff those attempts all night long then he’s going to give himself a real chance of winning here.
Both men are fairly submission shy. Bader’s had a problem with getting choked recently, but he shouldn’t have to worry about that at all here. In fact Bader’s the one that’s more likely to go for a submission finish if he can get Rampage down, but really ground and pound is probably going to be his gameplan and could be an effective one.
I’ve really not been impressed with Rampage at all lately. His heart just doesn’t seem to be in it anymore and his killer instinct has gone AWOL. He matches up well with Bader though. His hands are much better and I think his ability to shut down his wrestling game could pay off here. Couple that with his desire to put on an exciting fight in Japan we may see a little more life from him, but I think he’ll find it difficult to finish the hard-headed Bader.
Quinton Jackson to win by decision.
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Both these fighters are in desperate need of a win after a string of poor performances, and for Akiyama that’s lead to him dropping down to 170lbs in an attempt to stave off the possibility of being cut from the promotion.
Striking wise you have to give Akiyama the advantage here. It’ll be interesting to see how his power is affected by the drop down in weight, but regardless of that he’s still far more comfortable than Shields in the stand-up realm, as the former Strikeforce middleweight champion has just never seemed to take to this element of MMA.
Wrestling wise it’s all Shields though. I think he’ll be able to take Akiyama down and his top game is smothering. With a couple of losses on his record I fully expect Shield’s to play it safe here and focus on controlling the action rather than working hard for a finish if it does go to the floor.
Akiyama does have a good submission game, but Shields is a high level jiu-jitsu practitioner and I don’t see him getting caught out by the Japanese fighter, or indeed giving him enough room to operate in the first place.
Cardio is a meaningful aspect of this fight. Shields hasn’t been quite up to par in a couple of his UFC fights, but generally throughout his career he’s had good conditioning and I think we’ll see an example of that tomorrow night. As for Akiyama, his gas tank has been a major weakness for some time and the hope is that the weight cut will have helped in that regard. if not, Shields will punish him for it.
It’s a big ask for Akiyama to drop down and immediately have to face someone like Shields. As long as Shields avoids prolonged spells trading with him I think he can dominate him on the mat and grind out a decision victory.
Jake Shields to win by decision.
Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
two former training partners with a background in kickboxing meet up in this heavyweight bout that should be a fan-pleaser.
Hunt’s best attributes are his heavy-hands and granite chin so he’ll be looking to keep this fight standing and at close distance where he can look to test Kongo’s own punch resistance which has been somewhat questionable of late.
Kongo also has power in his punches and will enjoy an 8 eight inch reach and 6 inch height advantage. he’s also got a more versatile kickboxing game which should involve a fair amount of kicks being injected into the proceedings as he looks to keep this fight at range rather than brawling toe-to-toe.
There’s not much to tell about Hunt’s ground game other than that he’d prefer to avoid that side of things altogether. On the other hand, despite being recognised primarily as a striker, Kongo actually is a pretty decent wrestler and has vicious ground and pound. It’s a trick up his sleeve that he’s used before against strikers and it would not be a surprise to see him try to implement it here.
Hunt’s getting a little long in the tooth and doesn’t have the best cardio, so if Kongo can survive the early onslaught and make it through to the later rounds that should be too his advantage.
It’s been nice to see Hunt get a couple of wins under his belt in the UFC, but I think he’s living on borrowed time. If he lands cleanly he could absolutely KO Kongo, but I think we’ll see the Frenchman fight strategically here and exploit Hunt’s obvious weakness on the mat to produce a referee stoppage due to ground and pound.
Cheick Kongo to win by TKO in Rd2.
Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
Two middleweight’s solidly placed in the upper half of the middleweight division go at it in this main card match-up and it should be a competitive fight.
While it’s not his strong suit Okami can generally hang in the striking realm (unless it’s against the likes of Anderson Silva of course!) and has the cleaner technique of the two men here, but generally he uses it as a means to an end to initiate grappling exchanges. Boetsch is more willing to trade and has more punching power and some interesting and slightly unorthadox offense thanks to his background in Jeet Kune Do. He’s also a big, strong and robust man, and seems well suited to the 185lb weight class, though Okami is also very big for the division.
Both men prefer to work at close range. Boetsch makes good use of dirty boxing, but Okami enjoys working from the clinch and will make it difficult for ‘The Barbarian’ to get off with his punches.
Okami’s grinding based gameplan is also likely to include getting Boetsch on his back on the canvas and he’s exceptionally difficult to shake off once he’s established top control. Boetsch is known to use judo based throws to take his opponents to the floor, but on this occasion he finds himself facing another Judo stylist and so he’s more likely to just attempt to keep this fighting standing.
Even at his new weight class I’m not entirely convinced by Boetsch’s cardio and I’d expect a three round fight to favor Okami who’s well accustomed to going three rounds.
I don’t think this will be a pretty fight to watch, but I do think Okami will be getting the better of it as he sticks to Boetsch like glue with his clinch and ground work in order to ensure his hand is raised at the end of the 15 minutes.
Yushin Okami to win by decision.
Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis
Thanks to a last minute decision by the UFC we’ll be seeing a further two fights on the PPV portion of the card so let’s notch up some quick picks for these bouts as well.
Lauzon Vs Pettis has the makings of a cracking fight. Stand-up wise Pettis has the edge and while he’s best known for his inventive arsenal of strikes he’s generally a very talented kickboxer even with more bread and butter techniques too, though he’s not neccessarily a guy that’s wielding one punch knockout power. Lauzon can hang on the feet well to a certain level, but is far less versatile and may struggle against a fighter of Pettis abilities.
Lauzon is at his best on the floor where he makes very good use of his BJJ skills. He’s an intelligent fighter and it shows in the way he operates, being quick to seize upon openings when they come and yet methodical while he works towards them. Certainly not the type of guy who’s going to attempt to ride out a decision, whether he’s off his back or on top he looks to finish, and in fact all eight of his UFC wins have come inside the distance, mainly by submission.
What’s impressive about Pettis is that despite his striking prowess he’s also worked hard to round out his game and he too is comfortable on the mat and is tricky to take down. He’s not on the same level as Lauzon grappling wise, but he knows enough that he’ll make life difficult for him and could limit his chances to get him to the canvas as takedowns aren’t Lauzon’s strong suit.
I’m still to be convinced that Pettis is going to live up to the WEC hype now that he’s in the UFC, and this will be a good test to see whether he’s going to sink or swim. I also respect Lauzon and think he perhaps slips under the radar a little more than he should. Having said that I think the fact that J-Lau isn’t the greatest wrestler might hinder him here as I see Pettis stuffing enough of his takedowns to force prolonged stand-up exchanges which he’ll get the better of, and those will be the most significant moments of a close fight.
Anthony Pettis to win by decision.
Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Both Hioki and Palaszewski are potential contenders for the featherweight title in the not so distant future so a win here is a must to keep their momentum going.
I’d have to give a significant advantage to Palaszewski striking wise, with Hioki’s best asset in this regard being his durability. Palaszewski has good boxing, though to be fair there’s more to his offense than that, and packs a big punch for a 145lb’er. If possible he’ll be more than happy to turn this into a toe-toe brawl.
Hioki on the other hand would much prefer to turn this into a grappling battle, and if he does so successfully then he holds all the aces. Good on the clinch, hard-working on top, effective with ground and pound and with a plethora of submissions at his disposal he has the complete package to get the job done here.
Palaszewski is a BJJ black belt, but he’s certainly far from invincible if he does get taken down and I’d pretty much rule out the potential for him to catch a fighter of Hioki’s caliber in anything from his back. His best bet on the ground is to get on top and land ground and pound, but that’ll be far easier said than done.
Hioki’s disappointing UFC debut has clouded my judgement on this one a little, along with the fact that there’s been a long line of Japanese fighters who’ve failed to deliver in the UFC. However, he has the home advantage here and I do think his grappling ability could be big in this fight, so while I can’t quite shake the image of Palaszewski landing another KO blow I’m instead going to opt for Hioki getting a late submission.
Hatsu Hioki to win by submission in Rd3.
Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee
Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka
Tiequan Zhang vs. Issei Tamura
Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso