Photos: NAOKI FUKUDA／WOWOW
The Ultimate Fighting Championship made a triumphant return to Japan on Sunday, Feb 26 after more than a decade since their last event in this country, and for the first time under the current ownership of Zuffa.
A sold out Saitama Super Arena crowd were entertained by twelve fights on the day, with the results as follows:
- Benson “Smooth” Henderson def. Frankie Edgar via unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 49-46) to become the new lightweight champion
- Ryan Bader def. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Mark Hunt def. Cheick Kongo via TKO (punches)—Round 1, 2:11
- Jake Shields def. Yoshihiro Akiyama via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Tim Boetsch def. Yushin Okami via TKO (punches)—Round 3, 0:54
- Hatsu Hioki def. Bart Palaszewski via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Anthony Pettis def. Joe Lauzon via knockout (kick and punches)—Round 1, 1:21
- Takanori Gomi def. Eiji Mitsuoka via TKO (punches)—Round 2, 2:21
- Vaughan Lee def. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto via submission (armbar)—Round 1, 4:29
- Riki Fukuda def. Steve Cantwell via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Chris Cariaso def. Takeya Mizugaki via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Issei Tamura def. Tiequan Zhang via knockout (punch)—Round 2, 0:32
In the Lightweight Championship match it was a second round up-kick by Henderson that stunned former champ Edgar and seemed to propel him to the ultimate outcome, a win via unanimous decision.
The evidence of Henderson’s striking skill was etched on the face of Edgar early in the fight: in the third round a rapidly closing left eye and nose gushing blood were easy to see from the stands.
After the fight Henderson remarked, “I wanted to use my size to my advantage,” though he confirmed that cutting weight to get to the 155-pound division was not an easy task. “I want to make sure my opponents feel that pain.”
Edgar was not pleased with the decision however, as evidenced by his post-fight comments. “I thought I did enough to win,” he said. “That’s what my guys told me. But those are the breaks, man. Congrats to Ben.”
Other highlights of the card included a powerful knockout by Mark Hunt and a sublime submission armbar by Vaughan Lee on Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. Japanese fighters excelled on their home soil with many of them turning in their best UFC performances to date, despite mixed results in the win/loss column (4-5).
The crowd was energized throughout the event and was noticeably more animated than Japanese MMA crowds of the past. The sold-out Saitama Super Arena also played host to an incredible contingent of foreign fans, many of who flew in from North America, Australia and South Korea for the event.
UFC President Dana White said about the Japanese crowd after the fight, “I didn’t know what to expect, whether they’d be loud… The UFC is completely different from any event that has ever been in Japan before.” White went on to say, “Tonight was a great event, the fans were awesome and as I was leaving everybody was screaming, ‘Come to Japan again!’”
Anthony Pettis, Vaughan Lee, Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar each earned $65,000 fight-night bonuses for their performances at Saturday’s UFC 144 event.
Pettis earned the night’s “Knockout of the Night” award, Lee picked up the “Submission of the Night” bonus, and headliners Henderson and Edgar earned “Fight of the Night” honors.
After such a successful event, things bode well for a Rising-Sun return for the UFC in the future.