PRIDE is back!
Well, not really. But for this first time since the legendary MMA promotion folded, a relevant Mixed Martial Arts event for North Americans will take place in Japan, as UFC 144 will go down this Saturday night in "The Land of the Rising Sun." Zuffa, owners of both the UFC and the now debunked, PRIDE, will host their first event in Japan since purchasing the promotion. Before the Fertitta brothers and Dana White came into the fold, Japan was a useful market for the sideshow-like events that were the UFC. But in comparison to PRIDE, the UFC was simply small potatoes. In fact, the popularity of MMA in Japan has fallen on hard times since the collapse of PRIDE. Before it was bought out, MMA and more specifically, PRIDE, was one of the most popular sports in the country. There, Mixed Martial Arts legends were born and some of the greatest fights ever took place. For whatever reason, the UFC hasn't yet clicked in Japan. But, this weekend, Zuffa will look to recapture the magic that was, Pride Fighting Championship and manufacture another major revenue generator overseas.
Headlining the event, in both heritage and legacy, is MMA's Rocky Balboa, Frankie Edgar. The UFC's Lightweight Champion, will defend his title against rising star, Ben Henderson. Edgar will be fighting a man not named Penn or Maynard, for the first time since 2009. Edgar has prevailed through two epic wars and two subsequent rematches, to maintain the lightweight crown over the past three years. His signature moment, a devastating knockout of Gray Maynard back at UFC 136 in October. However, the most anticipated fighter for Japanese MMA fans won't be fighting in the main event. The most popular and polarizing fighter in PRIDE history, Rampage Jackson, will have a homecoming of sorts, fighting in the co-main event in the country that made him the MMA legend he is today. He'll battle struggling prospect, Ryan Bader, in a must win scrap for both fighters.
In addition, the UFC will have an extended main card for this event, as seven fights are scheduled to air on the pay-per-view. However, despite nine Japanese fighters being in action, just three are featured on said main card.
On to the picks.
Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson
This fight has the potential to be a lightning fast, 25 minute fight of the year, war. Both fighters have excellent skills in every facet of the MMA game, and outstanding gastanks. Both have gone the distance in championship fights before, and will no doubt, be in the best shape of their lives for this tilt. Despite those similarities, both fighters will have a drastically different strategy heading in. Edgar will look to utilize crisp, stick and move, boxing to earn points, while Henderson will look to smother Edgar, just like every other fighter.
In Edgar's two previous bouts, he has been rocked early, but managed to survive deep waters and eventually rally to win. If Henderson hurts Edgar, at any point in the fight, he will have to throw everything he possibly can at the New Jersey native, in order to finish. However, if Henderson plans to stand and trade with Edgar, he will likely get picked apart. In order to win, Henderson will have to lean on Edgar in the clinch and on the mat and make the best of scramble situations, to catch Edgar out of his comfort zone.
This fight is nearly impossible to predict, but what Frankie Edgar fight isnt? Henderson will likely outweigh Edgar by 15 pounds come Saturday night. However, Edgar's combination of picture-perfect boxing and superb takedown defence is the recipe needed to defend the UFC lightweight title. He'll edge Henderson in a classic on points and defend the title for a fourth time.
Pick - Frankie Edgar via Unanimous Decision
Rampage Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Jackson, a rockstar in Japan, insisted that the UFC put him on this card. Although he didn't get the matchup he wanted, the chance to avenge his losses to Shogun Rua, Rampage was granted the opportunity to fight in front of his biggest supporters. However, Bader is no slouch and is a very dangerous fight for Jackson because of both his ranking and his skill set. Bader is a very strong wrestler with a powerful right hand, but has lost two of three fights. Jackson, although not a spectacular American wrestler, is a great MMA wrestler. Big difference. He'll be able to stuff the takedown repeatedly and eventually knock out Bader, with a dominant performance on the feet, sending the Japanese faithful into a craze.
Pick - Rampage Jackson via 2nd Round KO
Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt
Hunt, a PRIDE veteran, had lost six straight fights before rallying for back to back wins in his last two outings. He will receive a jump in competition in tangling with UFC heavyweight gatekeeper, Cheick Kongo. Kongo is a physical specimen and his superb kickboxing talents and better conditioning will earn him a devastating knockout of Hunt.
Pick - Cheick Kongo via 2nd Round KO
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Akiyama is a fan favourite in Japan being one of the most successful and talented fighters to come out of the nation. He will drop to welterweight to fight Shields, just one fight from challenging for the world title. Shields lost his last bout, just weeks after the death of his father. The mourning clearly effected Shields, who was thought to be one of the pound for pound best fighters on the planet. Shields, an elite grappler, will eventually drag Akiyama to the ground and use is strength to dominate the fight, eventually ending it via submission. Shields gets back on track in spectacular fashion.
Pick - Jake Shields via 3rd Round Submission
Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
In the mismatch of the night, Okami punishes Boetsch for three rounds, who only survives to see a decision just because of his toughness.
Pick - Yushin Okami via Unanimous Decision
Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
The winner of this fight could potentially earn a date with Jose Aldo for the next shot at the Featherweight title. Palaszewski, a 50-fight veteran of MMA, will be in tough against the hometown talent that is, Hioki. The winner of this fight will be the one to force their game plan on the other. Hioki will want to take this fight to the mat, while Palaszewski will want to stand and bang. If Palaszewski can defend the trip, I like him to pick apart Hioki on the feet and the journeyman will enter the title talk.
Pick - Bart Palaszewski via Unanimous Decision
Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis
Just over a year ago, Pettis defeated current title challenger, Ben Henderson, for the WEC Lightweight Title and a shot at unifying the two lightweight title belts under the Zuffa banner. Because of Edgar's draw with Maynard, the Lightweight division was stalled, and Pettis opted to fight, rather than wait for the champ. Unfortunately for Pettis, he lost his debut bout in the UFC to Clay Guida, while Ben Henderson steamrolled the competition and leapfrogged the former WEC champ for the eventually title shot. Pettis will look for some redemption in the first fight of the main card and possibly re-earn that title shot. Pettis is an extremely versatile and dynamic striker (ask Ben Henderson). Lauzon, however, if a very experienced fighter who has battled the best in the UFC for years. He is coming off a surprising 47 second upset of Melvin Guillard. He has underrated standup and a spectacular submission game. Problem is, I don't see this fight hitting the mat. Pettis will be the superior striker in this bout and once he gets comfortable, he will simply show off in a unanimous decision win.
Pick - Anthony Pettis via unanimous Decision
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