Ryan Bader and Rampage Jackson

The Empire struck back as "Darth" Bader defeated "Rampage" Jackson in a unanimous decision. Photo courtesy Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports

The UFC returned to a loyal fan base in Japan for its first show in the country since 2000 and the Japanese diehards were not disappointed. On a card that brought one spectacular fight after another, we could spend all day talking about all the action that took place last night. Instead, though, I’ll cut to the four bigger fights.

In one of several fights to feature a Japanese local last night, Jake Shields took on the man simply known as “Sexy Yama”, Yoshihiro Akiyama. Akiyama is a golden-piped fighter who moonlights as a singer that sells out venues in Japan, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying to mash Jake Shields’ face in. Speaking of Shields, MTV fans might remember him as one of the go-to fighters to dole out punishment to bullies on “Bully Beatdown”.

Shields, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and All-American wrestler, is what you would simply call a ground war specialist and he tried time after time to shoot and takedown Sexy Yama who proved to be stellar in stopping the assaults. Akiyama, on the other hand, displayed his proficiency in Judo as he tripped and threw Shields to the ground several times. Unfortunately for Sexy Yama, Shields landed noticeably more strikes in between and won in a unanimous decision.

Kongo and Hunt

The Super Samoan Mark Hunt connected plenty of devastating punches in a short bout with Cheick Kongo. Photo courtesy Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports

After Shields and Akiyama, two heavyweight knockout artists took to the octagon: Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo. The Super Samoan Hunt was at a severe disadvantage from a height and reach perspective, but had almost 25 pounds on the French national Kongo in a limitless Heavyweight class. Heading into the ring, the tall and ripped figure of Kongo stood out as a more menacing physical specimen over the short and stocky (putting it somewhat nicely for a professional athlete) Hunt.

But Hunt hides a powerful mean streak inside his unassuming exterior and can get into a battle standing up with the best of them. When the fight started, Hunt came in with the opening shot: a mid-level kick that Kongo easily deflected as Hunt fell backwards. As the two continued to throw strikes standing up, Hunt connected on a perfectly placed punch that caught Kongo right on his chin as he stepped into Hunt and buckled his legs. He recovered but less than a minute later fell again to a barrage of punches from the Super Samoan. Hunt threw right hander after right hander eventually knocking Kongo down. When Kongo didn’t protect himself on the ground, the fight was stopped and Mark Hunt had prevailed.

The unique feature to UFC 144, however, was a co-main card. So after Hunt defeated Kongo, it was time for the FIRST of the night’s TWO main events: a Light Heavyweight battle between Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Ryan ‘Darth’ Bader. Bader, the winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 8, got to know Rampage as the opposing team’s coach on the show. Jackson, a movie star and one of the most charismatic and recognizable fighters in the UFC, actually came in 5 pounds overweight at the weigh-in, a blunder that ultimately cost him 20% of his purse.

Rampage made a name for himself in Japan and he did not disappoint for the local fans. In the first round, after a brief scuttle, Jackson dropped his guard and taunted Bader to come at him in typical Rampage fashion. But in the second round Jackson proved there was, as we all knew, bite to his bark when he picked Bader up and slammed him in a devastating blow that looked like it might clinch the bout for Jackson. Bader landed awkwardly on both his right shoulder and neck but recovered and even managed to get on top of Rampage as the two tussled for a little ground and pound. In the third round, Bader got revenge by throwing Rampage and he eventually won in a unanimous decision.

Benson Henderson

Henderson walked away from UFC 144 with a shiny new belt. Photo courtesy Al Bello/Zuffa LLC

The second of the night’s two main events was UFC 144’s only title fight in the Lightweight division. Benson “Smooth” Henderson, the number one contender, looked to take the belt from the reigning champion, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. Henderson, the quietly eccentric (if there is such a thing) southpaw had the slight height advantage over the down-but-never-out Edgar.

The fight’s critical turning point came in the second round. Edgar had Henderson on his back when a brilliant up-kick from Smooth caught Edgar right across the face and brushed him back. Henderson might’ve been able to finish the fight there if the round hadn’t ended just a few seconds later. As they went to their corners, Edgar’s nose was bleeding profusely and his left eye, already swollen from the first round, was getting closer and closer to swelling itself shut. But Frankie Edgar has proven time and time again he can take a beating and still pull out the win. The fight went the full five rounds of a title bout but Henderson ultimately became the new UFC Lightweight Champion in a unanimous decision much to the dismay of Edgar’s camp who felt that the reigning champion had done enough to win.
NOTE: This article was originally published on SportsHead. To read this story and others click here.
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