Frankie “the answer” Edgar may not have been the UFC’s most famous champion over the past few years, but he certainly was one of the hardest for his opponents to figure out. Neither B.J. Penn or Gray Maynard had been able to figure out an answer (pun intended) for Edgar’s unique combination of quickness and toughness in championship bouts.
That situation changed on Sunday night in Japan, as Benson Henderson used his size and striking to take the UFC Lightweight Championship from Edgar in the main event of UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan. Henderson left Edgar bloody and bruised while earning a 49-46, 48-47, 49-46 unanimous decision.
Edgar (14-2-1, 9-2-1 in the UFC) controlled a great deal of the first 10 minutes of the fight using constant movement and a mix of punches and kicks. He also found an effective defense for the kick-heavy offense of Henderson (16-2, 4-0 UFC) by catching numerous leg and body kicks and countering while doing so.
The bout swung dramatically in Henderson’s favor in the closing seconds of Round 2, just after Edgar had scored a takedown and landed multiple punches from guard. When Edgar backed off for a moment to find another angle to attack, Henderson caught him coming in with a huge up-kick, gashing open the champ’s nose and visibly staggering him.
As he’s done many times before, Edgar shook off that shot and an increasingly ugly left eye to keep himself in the fight. But he found himself in trouble again in the fourth round, getting caught in a guillotine choke following a successful slam. Edgar managed to escape the hold without tapping out, but he never landed a fight-changing shot down the stretch.
Edgar was despondent after the decision was announced, telling Joe Rogan he thought he had done enough to win the fight, especially since he was able to score more takedowns. He declined to answer whether he would consider moving down a division to featherweight, something brought up several times by the commentating team during the fight since the size difference between the two fighters seemed to be an obvious advantage for Henderson.
Even if Edgar departs the division, Henderson figures to have no lack of dangerous challengers for his new gold. That point was driven home emphatically during the opening bout of the main card by Anthony Pettis, a man already known for his WEC victory over Henderson.
Though opponent Joe Lauzon has a number of first-round victories to his credit, it was Pettis (15-2, 2-1 UFC) who picked up the victory in less than 90 seconds of action. A sizzling left head kick left Lauzon (1-7, 8-4 UFC) crumpled on the canvas, and the punches that followed were hardly even necessary. That sensational shot won Pettis the Knockout of the Night award and undoubtedly put him right in the lightweight title hunt.
There was plenty of action in other weight classes as well. The fan favorite in the light heavyweight co-feature was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson thanks to his days in Pride, but he was simply no match on this night for Ryan Bader, losing a 30-27 decision on all three cards.
Despite missing weight by five pound and forfeiting 20 percent of his purse, Jackson (32-10, 7-4 UFC) flashed a glimpse of his vintage self with a big slam that dropped Bader (14-2, 7-2 UFC) on his head in Round 2. Before and after that, though, it was all Bader, taking Jackson down repeatedly and staying in dominant positions on the ground for long periods of the fight.
Jackson spent much of the third round on his back fending off ground and pound. Bader also looked for a kimura and a guillotine choke in the final minute, and it hardly mattered that he couldn’t lock them in since all three judges preferred his work in every round.
Heavyweight Mark Hunt needed no such help from the scorecards, taking matters into his own fists with a first-round stoppage of fellow striking ace Cheick Kongo. Hunt (8-7, 3-1 UFC) fought most of the early part of his career in Japan, and his victory was a popular one with the live crowd.
Hunt never really allowed Kongo (17-7-2, 10-5-1 UFC) to get anything going. He crashed home a flush counter left 1:45 into the opening round, then connected with a straight right along the cage about 15 seconds later. Kongo went down and could not defend himself, and the ref called a stop to the fight after just 2:11 of action.
The three Japanese fighters on the main card experienced mixed results in front of their home fans. Yoshihiro Akiyama finally got to fight someone his own size by dropping down to welterweight, but unfortunately for him, his debut opponent at 170 pounds was Jake Shields, who defeated him by unanimous decision.
Despite his well deserved reputation as a grappling specialist, Shields (27-6-1, 2-2 UFC) was the busier fighter in the stand-up game throughout. He threw constant leg kicks and punches that never did too much damage, but also prevented Akiyama (13-5, 2 NC, 1-4 UFC) from mounting much offense outside of a pair of flashy judo trips.
Akiyama did manage to stuff numerous takedown attempts, but Shields’ persistence paid off when he finally got his opponent on the mat and worked on taking his back in the final minute of Round 3. He never truly threatened a submission from there, though he didn’t need to, sweeping every round on all three cards.
Yushin Okami fared better in the first two rounds of his middleweight bout with Tim Boetsch. He couldn’t seal the deal, though, and that set the stage for one of the most dramatic UFC comebacks in memory.
Boetsch (15-4, 6-3 UFC) got the worst of a mostly striking affair in Round 1, then found himself buried beneath Okami (26-7, 10-4 UFC) toward the end of Round 2, defending against a variety of submission attempts and eating shots from full mount.
Needing to throw caution to the wind in the final round, Boetsch broke through with a right hand that sent Okami stumbling back to the fence. A head kick and a vicious series of uppercuts followed, sending Okami to a TKO defeat just 54 seconds into Round 3.
Featherweight Hatsu Hioki salvaged a bit of Japanese pride by showcasing his full range of grappling skills. Always game Bart Palaszewski didn’t make it easy for him, but ultimately was overwhelmed any time the fight went to the ground.
That happened about midway through Round 1, with Hioki (26-4-2, 2-0 UFC) looking effortless in pulling off transitions once he got on the mat. He threatened to end things with an armbar and strikes, but Palaszewski (36-15, 1-1) hung tough.
The Polish-American found some success keeping the action standing in Round 2, so Hioki immediately put him on his back to start the final round. Palaszewski had to use every trick possible to avoid being submitted, and he did manage to make it to the final bell. All three judges favored Hioki, turning in one 30-27 and two 29-28 cards.