Title changes hands in UFC’s return to Japan
Henderson beat Edgar by unanimous decision in the main event at UFC 144 on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, and became the new UFC lightweight champion. Henderson improved to 4-0 in the UFC since the merger with the WEC, where he had his lightweight title taken from him by Pettis in the promotion's last event in December 2010.
As the new UFC lightweight champ, Henderson took the first step toward moving past that loss to Pettis, in which he was kicked in the face by Pettis' now legendary kick off the cage. And the next step is likely to be a rematch with Pettis, quite possibly in his first defense of his new UFC belt. Pettis won on Saturday night, as well, knocking out Joe Lauzon early in the first round with, appropriately, a head kick.
Henderson used a size and strength advantage against Edgar, a fighter that UFC president Dana White has long said should be fighting at featherweight and not lightweight. In the second round, Henderson landed a massive upkick to Edgar's face, cutting him open and possibly breaking his nose. And in the third round, Henderson dropped a guillotine choke on Edgar, looking to finish.
Henderson said Donald Cerrone, a man he twice beat in WEC lightweight title fights, is to thank for the upkick.
"I've gotta thank Cowboy Cerrone – he landed that (upkick) on me and I told him I was going to steal that, 'cause that hurt bad," Henderson said. "I wanted to use my size to my advantage."
Edgar, clearly disappointed in the decision, which he lost with scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47, said he thought he had done enough to win the fight. But he said he'll wait to make any decisions on dropping down to 145 pounds.
"Those are the breaks. Congrats to Ben," Edgar said. "I thought I landed more strikes and got more takedowns. I don't know. We'll see what happens – it's too soon to make any decisions."
Pettis' win over Lauzon to open up the seven-fight pay-per-view was an emphatic start to the main card. With one giant left kick, he put Lauzon out.
"I feel awesome," Pettis said. "I knew this is where I'm supposed to be at. I'm the best in the lightweight division. I'm coming for that title shot. I came out in southpaw stance, I saw him biting on the left hand and it worked out perfectly. It's motivating. (Henderson) had three great fights, and I'm ready to get my shot. Hopefully whoever comes out tonight, I get the winner."
At the post-fight press conference, White said the anticipated Henderson-Pettis rematch is likely to happen: "I think he's going to get it," White said.
In the co-main event, Ryan Bader dominated Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a fight that was changed to a catch weight bout after Jackson came in at 211 pounds, five pounds over the light heavyweight limit. Bader took a 30-27 sweep of the judges' scorecards in Jackson's first fight in Japan in six years.
Jake Shields rebounded from a two-fight losing streak to outpoint Yoshihiro Akiyama, who now has lost four straight fights. White said he, CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and matchmaker Joe Silva will get together to talk about whether Akiyama will get another shot in the UFC. It was his first fight at welterweight.
And in a pair of upsets, Mark Hunt stopped Cheick Kongo with a first-round TKO. Hunt, a K-1 champion kickboxer, joined the UFC after losing five straight MMA fights and lost his first in the UFC, as well. But since then, he has won three straight – looking more impressive each time out. And after being dominated for two rounds by Yushin Okami, Tim Boetsch pulled off one of the great comebacks in MMA history, getting a third-round TKO.