It’s been nearly a week since the UFC made their return to Japan after nearly twelve years and many divisions have been reshaped in the aftermath of the stacked card.
-Benson Henderson’s decision win over Frankie Edgar in a hard fought contest marks the first title change on pay-per-view in nearly a year. The fight was close with Edgar controlling takedowns and countering, but the larger Henderson landing the most significant strikes. This should lead to a rematch, to see if the new champion can be the first to truly dominate Edgar after edging the fight but there’s also a new challenger on the horizon in Anthony Pettis. Pettis erased the taste of a disappointing transition to the UFC and a lackluster 2011, marked by a fight where he was outwrestled by Clay Guida and his narrow win over Jeremy Stephens. The former WEC champion, who owns a 2010 win over Henderson, rebounded huge with a headkick knockout of Joe Lauzon early in the first round.
-Former K1 Champion Mark Hunt continues his rise through the UFC rankings and makes a sound play for the top ten and a step up in competition. Hunt hurt Kongo with a counter early in the first round and armed with that confidence stopped him with a flurry of rights. Almost as impressive as the fight was his post fight interview where he bristled at Joe Rogan’s line of questioning. Hunt’s terse, monosyllabic answers and complete lack of surprise at his victory were a bit reminiscent of the interviews Chael Sonnen once gave, before going off the deep end. While I would love to see the UFC give Hunt what he wants, a fight this Saturday in Australia – the Super Samoan should face either a returning Shane Carwin or Antonio Silva in the early summer.
-A much larger name from the PRIDE era was much less impressive, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson weighed in at 211 pounds for his light heavyweight contest, and despite swaggering in to the PRIDE theme music and looking mean failed to perform against Ryan Bader. Despite getting dumped on his head briefly in the second frame Ryan Bader easily dominated the former champion, outwrestling him and earning the decision nod. The win didn’t do much for Bader, whose career now has a signature win but not one that impresses most and ignited retirement talk for Jackson.
-Another former title contender coming off a dominating loss to the champion, Yushin Okami, looked to have righted the ship against former light heavyweight journeyman turned resurgent middleweight Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch. Boetsch was battered in the standup and smothered on the ground, but then as he came out for the third round Boetsch hurt Okami with a headkick and followed up with brutal uppercuts against the fence leading to a TKO win. Prior to this fight Okami was ranked the #3 middleweight in the world by almost all media outlets. Boetsch has a very legitimate claim toward a contender fight now, perhaps with Michael Bisping or Mark Munoz.
-Elsewhere in the card Jake Shields evened up his UFC record against Yoshihiro Akiyama. At welterweight, Akiyama seemed to be the complete package he was hyped as in 2009. He looked strong and thwarted nearly all of Shields takedown attempts and hit Shields with uppercuts and counters. Shields took a disputed decision based on keeping busier, which was in part due to Akiyama’s bizarre decision to throw a low volume of strikes after engaging in brawls with powerful strikers like Chris Leben and Alan Belcher. Shields, a former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, will need an impressive signature win still to stay at the top of the UFC’s changing welterweight division. Also lucky on the card was Takanori Gomi, who fought a sloppy and undisciplined brawl with newcomer Eiji Mitsuoka that almost saw him submitted toward the end of the first round, the legendary PRIDE lightweight realized his opponent was out of gas in the second round and finished him with punches – however the questions regarding whether we will see the Gomi of old seem to have been definitively answered with a “no”. Also on the undercard newcomer Issei Tamura, following a dominant first round, brutally knocked out Chinese standout Tierquan Zhang. The 33-year-old Zhang was thought once to be a popular fighter who could prove an inroad to the UFC in China, however the featherweight had been dominated in wrestling based decisions by Darren Elkins and Danny Downes and has dropped his Zuffa record to 2-3. I have no doubt the UFC will break into the Chinese market, however, when they do “The Mongolian Wolf” is unlikely to be headlining. Steve Cantwell lost a wild brawl to Riki Fukuda, making his fifth straight loss in the promotion; Chris Cariaso won a very disputed decision over former WEC bantamweight contender Takeya Mizugaki; British bantamweight Vaughn Lee submitted KID Yamamoto in the third round dropping the once revered fighter to 0-3 in the UFC, and Hatsu Hioki rebounded from a stumble against George Roop last fall where he narrowly escaped with a win by earning a lopsided decision over Bart Palaszewski.
And following a card that reshaped many divisions, the UFC will launch one this Saturday afternoon, local Australian time, when the flyweight tournament kicks off in Sydney, Australia – I’ll see you all then.
by: Jared Bellow (@DetroitMMA)