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UFC 144 Recap: Ben Henderson Dethrones Frankie Edgar, Captures Lightweight Title in Japan

By Jaime C. Feal

Watching world class mixed martial arts in the Land of the Rising Sun was truly historic, as the UFC returned to Japan for the first time in over a decade. On an action-packed main card, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis scored a highlight reel knockout over Joe Lauzon. Crowd favorites Rampage Jackson and Yushin Okami suffered surprising upset losses to Ryan Bader and Tim Boetsch, respectively. To cap off the evening, Ben Henderson edged Frankie Edgar in an absolute war to capture the UFC Lightweight crown.

Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (14-2, 1-1 UFC) vs. Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon (21-6, 8-3 UFC)

Round 1:

Pettis starts with a left head kick partially blocked by Lauzon. Lauzon pawing with the jab, trying to find his range. Lauzon presses inside with punches, and backs Pettis to the cage. Pettis tries to answer with his hands, but Lauzon covers up well. Pettis lands an ENORMOUS left head kick that hurts Lauzon bad. “Showtime” pounces on the fallen fighter and lands three piston-like right hands, turning Lauzon’s lights out and stopping the fight in scintillating fashion.

Anthony “Showtime” Pettis wins by KO at 1:21 of Round 1. With the win, Pettis is on the short list of contenders for a lightweight title shot.
Featherweight Division (145 lbs.):

Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2, 1-0 UFC) vs. Bart Palaszewski (36-14, 1-0 UFC)

Round 1:

The fighters trade jabs, and then Palazewski briefly gets dropped by a counter punch. Bart hops back up, and then the featherweights trade right low kicks. Hioki landing an array of kicks now, mixing it up nicely with front kicks and low kicks. Hioki works for a single and gets it, winds up in Palazewski’s guard. Hioki passes to half guard, and is looking to pass to side. Hioki easily passes to side control and is now looking for a crucifix. Hioki working nice ground and pound and controlling Palazewski. Hioki is going to town on Palazewski’s head with left hands while completely controlling him from side control. Now Hioki is mixing in left elbow strikes as well. Palazewski gives up his back and Hioki goes for an armbar that’s in deep. Somehow Palazewski keeps rolling, fighting, and escapes the armbar attempt but winds up on his back. Hioki back in guard landing solid elbows and punches. 10-8 round for Hioki.

Round 2:

Hioki and Palazewski are pawing at each other with jabs and light kicks, trying to find the range for a big shot. Nice combination for Palazewski, his first good offense of the fight. Hioki lands a right head kick that looks somewhat lethargic. The pace has slowed significantly. Nice body shot by Hioki. Good two piece and a biscuit by Palazewski. Solid right outside leg kick by Palazewski. Another outside leg kick by Palazewski, and a right hand to the body. Bart comes in with a double jab and then lands another right outside leg kick. Palazewski starting to land more lunches now. Hioki shoots for a double leg takedown at the end and briely takes Palazewski’s back to close the round. 10-9 round for Palazewski.

Round 3:

Hioki presses Palazewski against the cage and gets the trip takedown. Hioki in side control, again scoring points with ground and pound. Palazewski regains half guard but is eating left hands to his head. Now Hioki passes to side control again. Palazewski regains half guard as the positional battle continues, and the process repeats itself. Hioki again passes into side control, and now he is trying to set up the mounted crucifix position. Impressive ground control by Hatsu Hioki. Palazewski gives up his back and turtles while Hioki continues to throw punches. Now Hioki gets both hooks in, and is looking for a rear naked choke. Palazewski defending nicely thus far. Slightly over a minute to go in the final round. Hioki looking for an arm lock now, but realistically he looks to be riding out a decision. Hioki lands a few elbows at the bell. 10-9 Round for Hioki.

The Judges score the fight 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28 for the winner by unanimous decision, Hatsu Hioki.

Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):

Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch (14-4, 5-3 UFC) vs. Yushin “Thunder” Okami (26-6, 10-3 UFC)

Round 1:

The fighters paw for range and nothing lands initially. Boetsch lands a straight right hand, and steps forward with a nice combo. Yushin with a one-two. Okami in his southpaw stance, throws a nice stiff right jab. Another stiff jab stops Boestch in his tracks. “The Barbarian” is already swelling and bleeding under his left eye from the jabs of Okami. Boestch shoots for a single which is easily shrugged off by Okami. “Thunder” is controlling the standup with his jab and takedown defense. Big right hand by Okami. Boetsch misses with a wild uppercut. Nice right head kick by Okami. Right body kick by Boetsch. Another good jab from Okami. Inside leg kick by Boetsch. Lead right hook by Boetsch is blocked. Boetsch looking to bulldoze his way forward, lands a right hand. Left knee to the body lands for Okami. 10-9 round for Okami.

Round 2:

Boetsch is cut over both cheeks now as the middleweights begin Round 2. Boetsch wading in with punches, missing everything and looking sloppy. Okami still picking him apart with measured jabs and superior boxing. Good knee to the body by “Thunder.” Boetsch is now with his back against the cage as Okami secures double underhooks. Okami takes Boetsch down with a double leg. Boetsch looking for a guillotine choke, but doesn’t have the guard fully locked in. Okami works out of the guillotine and passes into half guard. Okami looking for an arm-triangle choke. “Thunder” now attempting a far side kimura from the half guard. Okami moves to mount and is torqueing Boetsch’s arm. Okami gives up the lock, and starts throwing bombs from the top. Okami briefly goes for an arm-triangle, but again abandons the submission in favor of more ground and pound from the mount. 10-8 round for Okami.

Round 3:

The fighters clinch and throw strikes while grappling, then Boetsch connects with a solid right hand on the break. Big straight right hand by Boetsch hurts Okami and has him running. Boetsch swarms with punches and is destroying Okami with uppercuts in the clinch. Okami is able to briefly escape but Boetsch tracks him down again and clinches. More devastating short right uppercuts drop Okami against the cage. Boetsch seals the deal with three left hands to Okami’s head, completing an incredible comeback victory.

Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch wins by TKO at :54 of Round 3.

Welterweight Division (170 lbs.):

Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama (13-4, 1-3 UFC) vs. Jake Shields (26-6-1, 1-2 UFC)

Round 1:

Shields lands a nice straight right but fails on his first takedown attempt. Akiyama misses with a one-two. Shields shoots for single and Akiyama hops backwards to the cage. “Sexyama” pushes Shields head down, then whizzers him and spins him on the cage. Impressive judo strength by Akiyama. The fighters break and Akiyama dodges Shields’ punches. Akiyama lands a solid right uppercut, and thwarts another takedown. Shields is able to secure standing back control and threatens a takedown, but Akiyama’s base is too strong and he spins free. Shields hits him with a left hook on the break. Sick trip takedown by Akiyama, kicked the legs out of Shields while throwing him down. Then when Shields stands up, Akiyama judo throws him down again. Shields misses with some punches, but lands a couple jabs near the end of the round. 10-9 round for Akiyama.

Round 2:

Akiyama stuffs another takedown and lands a straight right. Good spinning backfist by “Sexyama.” Akiyama is dominating the fight but stopping every one of Shields’ takedowns, and landing the better strikes. Now Shields gets a couple good jabs going. Akiyama responds with the same. Shields glances at the clock which shows just over two minutes. Heavy right leg kick by Akiyama. Good right straight by Shields. Emphatic judo throw by Akiyama. Shields pops up and shoots for a double. Akiyama again stuffs it and works for position on the cage. Shields is able to get the standing back position but there isn’t enough time left in the round. 10-9 round for Akiyama.

Round 3:

Good jab by Shields. Nice inside leg kick, left leg kick to the body combo by Shields. Another nice jab by Shields. Jake lands a couple light leg kicks. Shields shoots for a double, but is shrugged aside by “Sexyama.” Shields finally gets Akiyama down for an instant, but Yoshiro gets up fast. Jake Shields just clinching, not doing much, the ref separates him. Shields with a nice takedown and takes Akiyama’s back. Akiyama twice grabbed the fence while trying to stop the takedown, ref should’ve taken a point away. Shields has both hooks in and is working for a rear-naked choke. Akiyama with decent defense, as the fighters roll, Shields maintains back control. 10-9 round for Shields.

The judges score the fight 30-27 for the winner by unanimous decision, Jake Shields.

Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):

Cheick Kongo (17-6-2, 10-4-1 UFC) vs. Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt (7-7, 2-1 UFC)

Round 1:

Hunt throws a right leg kick that lands, but he slips and falls backwards. As he gets up Kongo tries to blitz him against the cage, but Hunt clinches nicely. The “Super Samoan” spins Kongo, and then escapes back to striking range. Hunt misses with a lead left hook. The heavyweights trade right leg kicks, then Kongo steps in with a straight right hand. Hunt counters with a nasty left hand that drops Kongo. Cheick gets up but doesn’t look the same, and Hunt smells blood. The “Super Samoan” lands a big overhand right that has Kongo reeling on the fence. Hunt pounces on Kongo with right hooks and drops him. Herb Dean rushes in to pull Hunt off from administering further punishment to Kongo.

Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt wins by TKO at 2:11 of Round 1.

Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9, 7-3 UFC) vs. Ryan “Darth” Bader (13-2, 6-2 UFC)

Round 1:

Rampage immediately rushes out and takes the center of the cage. Jackson feinting and pressing forward, Bader just backing up. Jackson puts his hands out to the side as if to say “let’s go.” Bader with a jab and outside leg kick. Rampage clinches with Bader on the cage, and not much transpires. Rampage eventually pummels under and separates. Bader misses with an overhand right and presses Jackson to the cage. Bader shoots for a double and again presses Rampage to the cage. Jackson works free but eats an uppercut. Nice left hook and right body shot by ‘Page to close the round. 10-9 round for Bader.

Round 2:

Rampage misses with a couple bombs to start the round, and Bader lands a leg kick. With the fighters clinched on the cage, Rampage picks Bader up by his side and throws him on his head. Unbelievable. Vintage Rampage slam from the PRIDE era. Bader rises and eats a knee and left hook. Now a right body kick connects for Jackson. Rampage steps in and lands a thumping left body shot, but Bader takes him down with a double. Bader in half guard working light strikes. Bader wearing down Jackson with top control and body shots. Rampage finally able to stand back up but gets thrown down by Bader. Bader has the back of Rampage as Jackson is turtled. Rampage works back to full guard but Bader stole the round. 10-9 round for Bader.

Round 3:

Bader presses Rampage on the fence some more. Bader with a nice takedown and lands in side control. Now working knees to Rampage’s body. Jackson regains guard. Rampage gets up for a brief moment but Bader gets him right back down. Bader methodically working top control, looking to grind out a decision victory as the crowd boos. Bader going for a kimura with less than a minute to go. Rampage defends and is able to break free. Bader lands a couple elbows then goes for a choke, but the horn sounds to end the fight.

The judges score the fight 30-27, 30-27, and 30-27 for the winner by unanimous decision, Ryan “Darth” Bader.

UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs.):

Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (14-1-1, 9-1-1 UFC) vs. Ben “Smooth” Henderson (15-2, 3-0 UFC)

Round 1:

The lightweights touch gloves and begin pawing with their jabs, Edgar in the orthodox and Henderson in the southpaw. Edgar lands a leg kick, and when Henderson responds “The Answer” catches his leg. Henderson begins hoping backwards on one foot and then attempts a crazy spinning kick that misses. Edgar briefly scores a takedown but Henderson is right back up. Superman punch and kick by Henderson. Edgar again catches a kick and this time lands a couple punches. Henderson continuing to throw kicks to the body which are being caught by Edgar. Henderson lands a nice left hand. Edgar with a body kick this time, shoots for a double and gets it. Benson pops right back up. Edgar misses a spinning back fist. Good left hook by Edgar after a scramble. 10-9 round for Edgar.

Round 2:

Edgar showing damage over his left eye to begin the round. Edgar catches another body kick. Henderson clips Edgar with a right hand. Henderson throws another hard body kick that lands, and Edgar again catches it. Henderson again finds himself on one leg, standing and trading with Edgar. And the exchanges are even when Henderson is on one leg. Crazy fight. The fighters clinch and Henderson lands a nice knee. Big knee to the body by Henderson. Nice left hook by “The Answer.” Edgar trips Benson down and gets on top, then goes for the guillotine as his opponent stands. Henderson escapes and is jabbing at Edgar’s swollen eye. Nice right hand by Edgar. “Smooth” with a good combination in response. Edgar shoots for a single and takes Henderson down. Edgar is on top landing some nice ground and pound. Henderson connects with a vicious upkick that rocks Edgar and turns the tables. Henderson works for a guillotine then abandons it. The round ends with Henderson elbowing Edgar, and when “The Answer” stands up he is pouring blood from a cut caused by the upkick. Devastating upkick may have broken the champ’s nose. 10-9 round for Henderson.

Round 3:

Henderson pawing and missing with the jab, Edgar lands a leg kick. Henderson busts Edgar’s nose open again with a jab. Edgar tries for a takedown which Henderson defends, but “The Answer” lands a right hand on the break. Henderson continuing to move forward with the jab and scores points with a nice combo. Edgar throws a right head kick which exposes him for the takedown, and Henderson capitalizes. Henderson lands a couple shots in half guard, then Edgar gets back up. Nice left head kick by Henderson. Edgar shoots for a double, crazy sprawl by Henderson. Head kick misses for “Smooth.” Edgar shoots for a double and takes Henderson down at the horn. 10-9 round for Edgar

Round 4:

Edgar with an inside leg kick. Henderson with more forward pressure. Double jab and body kick by Henderson. Left leg kick by Henderson catches the champ low, and the ref gives time to recover. The fight resumes, and Edgar lands a leg kick. Henderson with a nice jab, Edgar with a better counter right. Edgar takes down Henderson and “Smooth” locks in a guillotine in full guard. It looks tight at first, but Henderson doesn’t have the right grip on the hands, and Edgar escapes. Henderson is able to get back to his feet. Big right leg kick by Henderson, then a knee. Right leg kick by Henderson pushes Edgar against the cage, then a very nice jab connects afterwards. The fighters each flurry to finish the frame, but neither connects to steal the round. 10-9 round for Henderson.

Round 5:

Good stepping right hand by Edgar, nice counter left by Henderson in response. Big straight left lands flush for Edgar, Henderson doesn’t seem rattled by it though. Good jab by Henderson. Edgar clinches him against the cage, and gets him down briefly. Good leg kick by Edgar. Nice right hand by Edgar, you could hear the impact of that one. Edgar lands a right hand that appears to drop Henderson. Benson gets up and looks fine. Henderson throws another body kick which lands and is caught. Edgar shoots for a single but is stuffed. Ten seconds to go and “Smooth” lands a big flying knee to the body, guillotine attempt, and two elbows. May have stolen the round. 10-9 round for Henderson.

The Judges score the fight 49-46, 48-47, and 49-46, for the winner by unanimous decision and the new UFC lightweight champion of the world, Ben “Smooth” Henderson.


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