UFC 144 was truly a night for a betting man as seven underdogs won their bouts, most notably Benson Henderson who secured a stunning victory in the UFC lightweight title in a thrilling contest against former champ Frankie Edgar.
For months, the UFC have been trying to build Edgar up as the Rocky Balboa or Arturo Gatti of Mixed Martial Arts. After taking the title away from BJ Penn and having two fantastic contests with Gray Maynard in 2011, Edgar was always considered the underdog who managed to win. However, he was unable to stop Henderson from taking the title away from him as the two fought furiously for 25 minutes, with both men battling in very corner of the octagon in a bloody battle that will be a strong contender for fight of the year when awards time comes around.
For the majority of the fight, Edgar managed to catch the leg kicks of Henderson and counter effectively. However, the most damaging moments came from Henderson who smashed his heel into the nose of Edgar late into the second round, breaking the American's nose and causing him to breathe heavily through his mouth for the remainder of the fight. A tight guillotine choke near the end of the fourth round could have sealed Edgar's fate, but he managed to wriggle himself free and continue to the fifth round.
Both men threw everything including the proverbial kitchen sink into the brutal contest, but neither were able to finish the job. With such a close fight, it was difficult to predict who the judges would give the win too, but all three felt that Henderson won three or more rounds and deserved the win.
With Henderson as the winner and his former foe from the WEC, Anthony Pettis winning earlier in the night via a devastating head kick against Joe Lauzon, many fans are now clamouring for a rematch of the legendary fight they had at WEC 53, which resulted in the infamous "Showtime Kick". When asked about the possibility Pettis getting the next title shot, UFC President Dana White replied "I think he's gonna get it."
It was not all smiles though as former PRIDE favourite and former UFC Light-Heavyweight champion, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson lost a unanimous decision to Ryan Bader. Jackson was competitive in the first round, even managing to do a slam, reminiscent of his PRIDE days. However, it was not to be as Bader used his superior wrestling skills to control Jackson for the last two rounds. Many feel that Jackson should retire now as injuries and a lack of recent success in MMA have seen him fall further down the ladder of his division.
Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami had easily the best fight of the night, with a beautiful come from behind victory from Boetsch in the third round securing the deal. After being battered and bullied for ten minutes, Boetsch made a stirring comeback, managing to land consecutive uppercuts in the clinch and eventually knocking out Okami in his homeland.
Also, former PRIDE and K-1 heavyweight Mark Hunt finished Cheick Kongo in spectacular fashion, knocking out his fellow heavyweight in the first round. Although Hunt has not got the most impressive record, no heavyweight won as many fights as the New Zealander last year in the UFC and he is now considered to be in the mix of contenders.
Although it was not a clean sweep for all the Japanese fighters on the card, the likes of Takanori Gomi, Hatsu Hioki, Riki Fukuda and newcomer Issei Tamura all won their bouts in resounding fashion, with the most impressive being Hioki who made a strong claim to face UFC Featherweight Champion, Jose Aldo.
Debuting in the UFC with a lacklustre performance against George Roop, Hioki looked fantastic against Bart Palaszewski, putting on a grappling masterclass against the WEC veteran and Curran MMA trained fighter. After twelve years away from the country that gave birth to martial arts, the UFC made a triumphant return to Japan. Although they did not have 70,000 screaming Japanese fans like the days of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena was still a sell-out.
Much of the Japanese media were curious as to whether or not the UFC would be successful in coming back to Japan, but after a night filled with drama, controversial decisions and breath-taking knockouts, it's hard to see how this night could be a failure. In fact, if I was a Japanese fan, I'd be hoping that the UFC don't wait another twelve years to return.