23 February 2012

UFC Japan

This is the first UFC card in Japan since late 2000. For those expecting a show reminiscent of the Pride FC days, they'll be disappointed because this is more about establishing UFC in a market where MMA has fallen way out of favor. Japan used to be the strongest market around for MMA, but Pride's demise due to the shady practices of its previous owners (The Yakuza is scary!) signalled an end to a boom period where the precipitous fall of the business spoke more to the culture of Japan than it did to the quality of the sport. It's a culture that's really prone to fads and trends, and MMA (and, to an extent, pro wrestling) has suffered because of that.

This show begins at 8:30am Sunday morning in order for the pay per view to air live at 7pm PST/10pm EST here in the US. On the plus side, it's a four hour show, meaning that we get seven fights on the main card.

Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis - In terms of fight quality, this match and the main event makes this show well worth the money spent. Joe Lauzon is one of the best first round fighters around, whose only flaw is in those later rounds where he has a tendency to gas. Only three of his 21 wins have gone past the first round, and of his six losses, only one has gone to a decision. The man has an exciting style of fighting. Pettis is just as exciting, as he's a guy that is dangerous off his back and is incredibly dynamic with his strikes. While the Showtime Kick can certainly get written off as a fluke, it's not the only crazy thing the guy has shown he can do with his feet. Much like the main event, I'm torn because I really like both guys and find it hard to pick between them. If it goes the distance, this is Pettis' fight whereas an early first or second round stoppage favors J-Lau. Put a gun to my head and I'll probably choose Pettis by decision since I don't see him getting caught in a submission.

Bart Palaszewski vs. Hatsu Hioki - In the UFC environment, few fighters who made their name in Japan have found initial success. The two factors most responsible for this appear to be the transition to a more stringently drug-tested organization and the mentality that an exciting fight is more important than winning. Hioki is the latest Japanese sensation who floundered in his UFC debut, losing to journeyman fighter George Roop. Palaszewski found success in what was supposed to be his featherweight debut against Tyson Griffin, who missed weight. My friends and I have always joked that there's a special gravity in Japan based on all of the Pride fights we witnessed that involved guys getting dropped on their head and somehow not becoming paralyzed. Perhaps that gravity will be on Hioki's side on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it won't win him the fight. I expect this fight to go three rounds with Palaszewski coming out the winner via KO.

Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch - Okami is so boring. And Boetsch is a big and powerful middleweight. Okami's boredom almost always wins, though, unless it's someone on the upper echelon of the division, which Boetsch is not, so Okami by decision.

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields - Akiyama is a guy that has had exciting fights but keeps losing because he gets into slugfests when he should be taking it to the ground and continues to get outmuscled by bigger guys at middleweight. To combat the latter, Akiyama is dropping down to welterweight for the first time, a place that makes more sense for the style of fight he's been engaging. That's not the kind of fight you get with Jake Shields, though. He is a grinder who goes for submissions with really rudimentary stand-up, and Akiyama does not have the power to take out Shields. Shields also has a tendency to stick to his game plan way more than most fighters do, his recent loss to Jake Ellenberger notwithstanding. The fact is that Shields will win, probably by decision, but I'm hoping by a submission in the first.

Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt - Mark Hunt is terrible and Cheick Kongo cheats. Kongo by TKO in the second.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Ryan Bader - Rampage isn't motivated for this fight but that's because Bader really isn't on Rampage's level. Yes, he's good, but he's not as good as Rampage. Bader will get tired before Rampage does, and Rampage has better takedown defense than Bader does takedowns. Jackson should win by TKO in the third and move on to fight Shogun Rua later this summer.

Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar (c) for the UFC Lightweight Championship - Several of the more famous Japanese fighters will be fighting on the FX prelims, so the main event should be interesting from a crowd reaction point of view because no one there will care about Edgar or Henderson. However, if the attendants give the two half a chance, they'll be in for an exciting bout.

Ben Henderson's nickname of "Smooth" is incredibly appropriate. The guy gets out of submissions and can endure holds that can snap most limbs, tear most joints, or make most men pass out. Oftentimes, the fact that submissions don't seem to work on Henderson can break the will of his opponents, giving him the psychological advantage.He constantly presses the action with his wrestling and finds openings with his strikes. Henderson is also a great student of the game because he knows how to break down and analyze fights. This ability adds to his technique, which is often flawless.

Henderson has fought five round wars in the past, but not against anyone with the conditioning of Frankie Edgar. While Henderson has a distinct size advantage over Edgar, everyone has a size advantage over Edgar and that hasn't stopped him from beating all of his opponents, including Gray Maynard, the one guy who had previously handed him his only loss. In giving up the size, Edgar more than makes up for it with his speed and footwork, which no one in the division can match.

When I wrote about Edgar/Maynard III last October, I said that I didn't like Frankie's eventual chances against either Clay Guida or Benson Henderson. Now that the day is almost here, I can't help but change my tune. This is another occasion like Pettis/Lauzon where the longer the fight goes, the more it favors the champion, and if it ends early, it'll go the challenger's way. At some point early on, Edgar will get himself in trouble, and Henderson has a much better killer instinct than Gray Maynard could ever hope to have, so he'll capitalize. Edgar has proven he's a survivor, though, and if Henderson doesn't win in that moment, I don't see Benson winning. Henderson has a great guillotine choke and really solid body shots with his kicks. He has the best chance of winning if the fight stays on the ground, but Edgar won't let it stay there. Meanwhile, Edgar's stand up, while lacking power, is crisp, technical, and much better overall than Henderson's. The champion will retain. Frankie Edgar wins this fight by decision.

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