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By: Shawn Ennis, MMATorch Senior Columnist
UFC 144 as a whole gets a resounding thumbs up. I haven't combed completely through my mental inventory yet, but as of right now I can't think of a better MMA card that I've ever seen. But with the good, there is always some bad. So let's root out that bad and make it pay. I'll try to go in chronological order, but there are no guarantees here.
Thumbs Up: to the UFC for pulling off an epic card in Japan. That couldn't have been an easy thing to do, and they did it. Of course you can never guarantee quality, but they sold out the Saitama Super Arena and delivered a fantastic card to those who were curious what the UFC is all about.
Thumbs Down: to one statement in the opening montage. This is nitpicky, but it said the UFC is a global sport. The UFC isn't a global sport - it's a global promotion. MMA is a global sport. I'm just sayin (Look, I'm gonna have to stretch for some of these downs, okay?).
Thumbs Up: to perfect placement of nasty power. Both Issei Tamura and Anthony Pettis had incredible knockouts by landing perfect strikes. Pettis was especially impressive considering the opposition. Joe Lauzon hadn't been knocked out since Kenny Florian stopped him back in 2008. Since then he's been in there with guys like Jeremy Stephens and Melvin Guillard, both of whom are hard hitters, and he never wilted. Pettis completely starched him. Impressive things.
Thumbs Down: to bad judging. Takeya Mizugaki won his fight against Chris Cariaso, but somehow he didn't get the nod. Hatsu Hioki was given a score of 30-27 by one of the judges. I don't know who this judge is, but he did not watch the second round of that fight. Judging continues to be an issue. What do you do about it on a promotional level, though? Pressure the athletic commissions? I don't know the solution to fixing it, but I hope someone figures it out.
Thumbs Up: to Riki Fukuda's relentless offense. Fukuda was active throughout the fight with Steve Cantwell when he could have easily cruised to a victory, especially in the third round. Fukuda looked great, which was partially due to how terrible Cantwell looked after his failed guillotine in the second round, but he definitely deserves credit for his performance.
Thumbs Down: to Cantwell's conditioning, or recovery, or whatever it is that causes him to go into zombie mode in seemingly every fight these days. You've got to give the guy credit for not being stopped, but he has just looked increasingly worse since coming back from his career-threatening injury last year. Oh, and apparently he's at his best when he's moving around and bouncing and such (according to Joe Rogan), which is weird because most guys are at their best when they stand in front of their opponents and eat punches and kicks.
Thumbs Down: to the death of the mystique of Kid Yamamoto. He was one of the most feared fighters in all of MMA in his prime, but he just doesn't have it anymore. The look on his face said it all after the fight. It was the look of a guy who was mad that he lost, which evolved into, "Whatever. I don't even care," during the post-fight interview. Yamamoto's last two opponents were brought in to lose to him, and both of them beat him definitively. Not a good sign for his future in the UFC, or really anywhere.
Thumbs Up: to the recovery of Takanori Gomi. Eiji Mitsuoka came in with a good gameplan and looked to be nullifying Gomi's offense in the first round on the way to very nearly submitting him at the end; but Gomi weathered, recovered, and got the knockout. That having been said, he's not going to win a ton of fights at this point with his hands at his sides and his chin four feet in front of his waist.
Thumbs Up: to colorful pen toppers and loveable translators! Seriously though, that's the most I've ever enjoyed watching a translator work. Which is to say it's the first time I've ever enjoyed watching a translator work. Does she speak Portugese?
Thumbs Up: to Showtime. I already mentioned it once earlier, but it deserves another line. That kick was flawless.
Thumbs Up: to Bart Palaszewski and Hatsu Hioki. If that was a number one contender fight, it was everything a contender fight should be. Hioki finally showed why he's ranked number two in the world in the weight class as he looked spectacular in the first round and then weathered a huge comeback from Bartimus in the second to dominate the third and take the win. I don't know if he can beat Jose Aldo, but I'm very interested to find out having seen that he's capable of bringing it in the Octagon.
Thumbs Up: to Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch. Okami looked as good as he ever has for two rounds and was well on his way to winning a dominant decision over "The Barbarian." But that third round - wow. It was said several times on Twitter right after the fight, and it's absolutely true: That is how you fight when you're down two rounds going into the third. If more guys would lay it on the line like Boetsch did, we'd see far fewer fighters who are able to cruise to victory and put viewers to sleep in the third. Obviously fighting careful wasn't going to get the job done, and Boetsch didn't do that. Riki Fukuda showed how you fight when you're up two rounds, and Boetsch showed what you do when you're down. Just an incredible comeback.
Thumbs Down: to everything about the Jake Shields and Yoshihiro Akiyama fight. The only two good things about that fight were the throws by Akiyama and the decision being correct. Everything else was terrible. For years, every time I would watch Nick Diaz fight, I would wonder if his opponent had ever watched a Diaz fight before considering the way they would stand in front of him and allow him to tee off. Now I have to wonder the same about Akiyama. Do you want Shields on top of you? Of course not. But here's the thing: Akiyama's takedown defense is infinitely better than Shields' non-clinch takedowns. So why would he allow Shields to stand at a distance and pick him apart with his terrible, horrendous striking? Shields obviously wasn't hurting him, and he wasn't able to take him down, but Akiyama did close to nothing for the entire fight. I've seen a couple of people scoring the fight for Akiyama, which makes me think I need to rewatch it, because that just seems incomprehensible to me. There's definitely something to be said for more damaging offense counting for more than an accumulation of nothing strikes, but Akiyama didn't have enough offense for me on first viewing to even win a round.
Thumbs Up: to Mark Hunt winning three straight in the UFC in 2012. What? Seriously? If you said you saw this coming before Hunt debuted in the Octagon, or especially after he was tapped out easily by Sean McCorkle, you are a dirty liar. I like Hunt vs. Struve next. That is if Struve decides to come in smart and go for takedowns. If he doesn't I fear for his safety.
Thumbs Down: to Cheick Kongo not learning. When he fought Pat Barry, Barry had one way to win. Sure, Kongo ended up getting the comeback knockout, but he was this close to being a victim. His best course in that fight was to take Barry down and beat him up. Fast-forward to this fight. Mark Hunt has one way to win. Kongo's best chance was to take him down and beat him up. So he decides to stand? I told you before the fight that Melvin Manhoef is the only one to knock out Mark Hunt, and I'm pretty sure he could knock out an elephant. Kongo has got power, but standing with Hunt, especially considering how the Barry fight went, was just not the smart move.
Thumbs Down: to most aspects of the Rampage-Bader fight. You have to give credit to Bader, who saw his path to victory and took it, but what was Rampage doing in there? I get that the guy wanted to fight in Japan, and that winning isn't everything to the Japanese fans, but he was clearly hobbled going into that fight. His knee didn't look right from the beginning, and it only got worse. Add that to the fact that he obviously wasn't able to get himself right when it came to conditioning, and we got what we got. Like I said, Rampage knows that winning isn't everything in Japan. But fighting to your full ability and giving it everything you've got? That's what the fans are looking for. And Rampage just didn't have the ability to do that last night. He knew that going in, and he shouldn't have fought. This isn't to disparage Bader. Like I said, he did what he had to do. But it's his bad luck that the fight looked more like bad Rampage than good Bader.
Thumbs Up: to epic title fights. Edgar is getting to the point where the only thing you can rely on is that his fight will be great. I had Henderson winning four rounds, but it was close enough that it'd be hard to argue 3-2 Henderson or even 3-2 Edgar. Really, really close fight. Altogether I thought Henderson's offense did more damage, and while Edgar did outland Henderson (by 10 strikes overall, which is basically even) this was a case to me of the more effective offense coming from the challenger. That being said, I need to re-watch the fight and see if I still think that. There's no doubting that Carlos Condit beat Nick Diaz (I had to throw that in there). Had Diaz won it would have been a robbery. This one isn't a robbery no matter who wins it.
Thumbs Down: to the incessant questioning of Frankie Edgar about dropping to featherweight. Let the guy do some thinking, for crying out loud. He said to Joe Rogan after the fight that this was no time to make a decision, and kudos to him for that. And then during the press conference he continues to get badgered? Come on. Maybe it's the right move in the end, but you know what? Maybe it's not. Who's to say that Edgar's advantages at lightweight don't get a lot narrower if he drops down? I don't know if that would be the case, and I imagine it wouldn't, but it's a valid question.
Thumbs Up: to the lightweight division. This place is crazy. I do like Anthony Pettis getting the next title shot, but that's more of a fan reaction than a reasoned analysis approach. If you strike while the iron is hot, you give the shot to Pettis and put it on Fox. That's the fight that people want to see, and it's almost guaranteed to be awesome. If you look at what's fair, it's hard to argue that giving Edgar an immediate rematch isn't the right call. The guy fought four title fights against two opponents. And now he has to get back in line? That sucks. At the same time, again from a fan perspective, I love the idea of Henderson-Pettis II and Edgar vs. the winner of Diaz-Miller (which will probably be Miller).
Thumbs Up: to an incredible night of fights. Let's just bring this full-circle and say again that it was one of the greatest nights in the history of the UFC. As I said in the roundtable, in my book we had a Fight of the Year candidate, two KO of the Year candidates, and a Comeback of the Year Candidate along with two probable number one contender fights. Even if the return to Japan was, as some have suggested, a vanity project for White and company, it was a raging success. As far as vanity projects go, this one was pretty successful.
Follow me on Twitter @shawnennis
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STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
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