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RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST: (11.0 - And not in a Spinal Tap sort of way)
Look, I'm not saying this was the best day of my life or anything. I DO have a daughter and a wife, so there's a birth and a wedding in my past. But other than that, yeah, there's an argument to be made that UFC 144 was the next best four hours of my life. Let's say it was the best time I've ever had that didn't involve the wife or the baby, how's that?
Had UFC 144 ended after the prelims aired, it would have been a memorable event. What with the Gomi comeback, the thrilling four minutes of Yamamoto and Lee, Riki Fukuda's clinic, and Issei Tamura's fantastic ear-flapping KO of Zhang Tie Quan, that's a good night of free entertainment.
But then business picked up. My favorite fighter, Milwaukee's own Anthony Pettis, came out southpaw and kicked a permanent dent into the side of Joe Lauzon's head. With that one kick, Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar both had to know who was their next dance partner with a main event win later in the night. OK, so with the prelims and Pettis' dominant performance (and fourth best kick of his career, so what does THAT tell you about his kicking game?), I'm a happy guy.
We got to see Hatsu Hioki show the American audience why he is so highly-regarded, smothering Bart Palaszewski for 15 minutes. It might not have been thrilling, but it was a grappling clinic, and I loved the fight.
Then Tim Boetsch (Tim Boetsch? Yes, Tim Boetsch!) has a come from behind shock upset over Yushin Okami. It was a performance so memorable that Klingons will drink blood wine and sing songs in his honor for centuries to come. This wasn't over some stiff; over the last six years Yushin Okami had only lost to Jake Shields, Rich Frnaklin, Chael Sonnen, and Anderson Silva. That's damned exclusive company right there. At this point, the rest of the night could be Tyron Woodley fights and it's a great night.
Jake Shields gave me a chance to get the heartrate under 100, but thoroughly beat Yoshihiro Akiyama in a performance that was, um, workmanlike? Yeah, workmanlike, let's go with that.
But wait. There's more! Mark Hunt, you crazy beautiful motherf***er! Mark Hunt kept his hands at nipple level (and when you're only 5'9" tall, those hands are damn low!) in order to bait Cheick Kongo into a standup affair. Note to self... do not ever, (channeling Chris Jericho) EVER stand and bang with Mark Hunt. Mark Hunt hits harder than anyone in MMA, period. And that includes Alistair Overeem. Mark Hunt is a contender. Mark Hunt and his .533 career winning percentage in this sport is a borderline top 10 heavyweight. At this point, we're five fights into the PPV, which is when the UFC usually goes off the air. I've gotten every penny worth out of my $55 (and that's still the case even after noticing that I forgot to hit the RECORD BUTTON!).
So now we're into bonus time. We could literally have five hours of Tyron Woodley, and I'm going to sleep happy. But no, we got much better than that. We got Ryan Bader fighting the smartest fight of his career en route to a thorough domination of former mixed martial artist turned one dimensional puncher Quinton Jackson. Torch Columnist Matt Pelkey called it perfectly on our Tuesday Night Livecast by predicting that Bader would push Jackson against the fence as much as possible in order to wear him down and to stay away from Jackson's power. And this prediction was made before Jackson weighed in 42 pounds overweight. Bader's a contender again. And I hear there's an open casting call on the set of Gina Carano's next movie.
At this point, it's one of the two or three best shows I've ever seen. Great fights, great finishes, great atmosphere, great drama (I know, I need a thesaurus. It's 1:30 AM, so suffer) and signature moments galore. All we need now is a typical Frankie Edgar fight in order to make this the best event of all time.
And that's precisely what we got. I scored the main event 48-47 for Henderson, giving him 2, 4, 5. If I could watch it again (and I can't), I assume I'd score it differently every time. One thing I can say for sure is that if I were to use old PRIDE rules to score this fight, where the fight is scored as a whole, with more emphasis placed on the end of the fight, I'm scoring it for Henderson every time.
Henderson's win sets up a fight with Anthony Pettis, in a fight that will be a rematch of their epic 2010 WEC Lightweight Title fight which was won by Pettis with some kick thing that I heard something about once. So while it's a Pyrrhic victory in as much that Kid Yamamoto is the biggest name in Japanese MMA and he got choked out by some guy named Vaughn Lee, it's a great night for the UFC as a whole. Not only was it a night to which all Klingons will sing many a song, but it set up Pettis vs. Henderson. And if that fight is put on FOX...
So in conclusion, not only is UFC 144 a 11.0 on a 1-10 scale, but every other fight card I've ever scored needs to be reduced by a few points just to keep 144 as far ahead of the rest as it deserves.
ANWAR PEREZ, MMATORCH COLUMNIST: (7.0)
Good to great night of fights. The card ended up flowing really well, with a mix of highlight KO's (Anthony Pettis taking out Joe Lauzon) to great fights with Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar. The big comeback of Tim Boetsch against Yushin Okami was an epic moment. That's exactly what a fighter does when pushed to the wall, he pushes back. And push back he did. Rampage's return was not good; he performed poorly and just looked like a fighter with no focus. As a fan I was hoping for more. The main event delivered as a fight that was thrilling the whole five rounds, and even though Frankie Edgar lost to Benson Henderson, the fight was great, and Edgar showed why he's still considered one of, if not THE, toughest fighters out there. A little long, but a good flow and a great night of fights.
DANIEL MOORE, MMATORCH UK CONTRIBUTOR: (10.0)
UFC Japan started with Issei Tamura blasting Zhang Tie Quan on Facebook, and the fights just got better, and better, and better. This was the most complete, most exciting card I have ever seen, and not one fight on this card let down the rest. The prelims were all excellent, we had a disputable decision win for Chris Cariaso, the second best comeback of the night from Gomi, the previously mentioned Tamura KO, and most importantly, a superb submission win for the Englishman Vaughan Lee. Does that cover almost every way to win or what? If not it's as close as it damn well gets.
Anthony Pettis started the PPV off with another highlight reel kick. I'll be amazed, and hugely disappointed, if he doesn't get the next title shot (If Edgar drops to 145). Hioki looked superb against Palaszewski and also deserves his title shot against Jose Aldo (If Edgar stays at 155). Tim Boetsch produced an amazing comeback after being picked apart by Yushin Okami for over 10 minutes. At one point I thought Joe Rogan was about to announce an on air orgasm, or at the very least have a heart attack.
Yoshihiro Akiyama is always worth a watch just for his intro music, shame the weight drop made no difference to his win column. I've never been a Jake Shields fan and never will be, luckily though their fight was decent, and Shields picked up a very good win for himself, despite possessing stand up skills no better than my mum.
Mark Hunt, on the other hand, can certainly throw a punch, and a very hard punch at that. I hope Kongo received a strongly worded health warning before his walk to the Octagon tonight. Hunt is a beast and once he got in range the outcome was inevitable. Rampage and Bader was enjoyable, but nothing more, nothing less. Bader sensibly stifled Rampage after a couple of awkward moments and got a very big win for himself.
On to the main event. No one expected this to be dull and it more than lived up to the hype. I had Henderson winning it narrowly but I certainly wouldn't have disputed an Edgar win. Either way it deserves a rematch for the loser. Edgar is the toughest, most valiant fighter I have ever seen, so much heart and determination. Henderson however, has an outstanding arsenal and used it to full affect tonight. It was a fitting end to an amazing card.
This card was the best i've ever seen and if Japan doesn't embrace the UFC after this, they don't deserve to host another card again EVER. In terms of promoting the sport in Asia, this couldn't have gone any better for Zuffa. If I were Dana White i'd give every fighter on the card a HUGE HUGE bonus as a big thank you. On a lighter, more irrelevant note, my compatriot Jason Statham was another big winner tonight - How much publicity for his new film? I can't believe he's come so far, surely it's only a matter time before Hollywood realizes he can't actually act!
JASON AMADI, MMATORCH COLUMNIST: (10.0)
This was one of the best cards I've ever seen. It had nothing to do with the fact that they were in Japan, this card just had a ton of sick fights that I'll be re-watching for years to come. There were just so many great stories told tonight that I don't even know where to begin. The main card starting off with Anthony Pettis looking dominant against Joe Lauzon and ending with Benson Henderson capturing the UFC Lightweight Championship (and unifying that with the linear WEC Lightweight Championship) was just incredible.
Kid Yamamoto is done. Takanori Gomi is done. Yoshihiro Akiyama is done. Let’s just get that out of the way. Tim Boetsch being a part of one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history was furthest thing from everyone's minds heading into the third round and the angle that he was landing those uppercuts on Yushin Okami was just incredible.
There wasn't a bad fight on this card, and this is the kind of card people need to see to believe. Amazing.
ERIC HOBAUGH, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR: (8.5)
The PPV portion of UFC 144 started with Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon and it started with a bang. The highlight real head kick KO from Pettis will be talked about for a long time. Joe Luzon is a legit top ten fighter and Pettis made a huge statement with this victory. He might just have earned his title shot with this win.
The Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski fight was great. I had not seen much of Hioki before this fight, but after his great performance this will not be the last time we see him in the Octagon. His striking is excellent. His kicks are great. His ground game is sick and he is a complete fighter. He won the fight convincingly and dominated a good veteran in Palaszewski.
Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch did not go the way I thought it would. Okami dominated Boetsch for two rounds and that was no surprise. The surprise would come in the third round. The unorthodox uppercuts that Boetsch delivered to Okami that ended the fight were amazing. Joe Rogan described the fight “As one of the greatest come backs in the history of the UFC.” I think that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a great comeback.
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields was another good fight. Jake Shields won 30-27 on all three fight cards. I am not sure what fight the judges were watching because I thought Akiyama won at least one round.
When they announced the Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo fight a few months ago, I knew someone was getting knocked out. I was not disappointed by the outcome. Hunt showed why he is a former K-1 champion. He knocked out Chieck Kongo in the first round in devastating fashion. It was great to see Mark Hunt back in the Octagon and winning again. It will be interesting what the UFC does with him next.
When I heard the Rampage Jackson missed weight I was imagining a fat Rampage in the Octagon. When he arrived in the cage I was surprised at how heavy he looked. I know he only missed weight by five pounds, but he looked terrible. His bout with Ryan Bader started slow, then when Jackson picked up Bader and slammed him at the beginning of the second round, I thought the old Rampage had returned. Except for the slam, Bader controlled the fight and earned a decision victory.
Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson was action packed form bell to bell and in all rounds. When Henderson broke Edgar’s nose in the second round from an up kick, I thought the fight might be stopped. How many times have we seen Edgar almost be stopped and then come back to win? This time Edgar would come up short, but not because of the size of his heart. Frankie Edgar is the toughest fighter in the UFC. This was a great main event in which Ben Henderson gave Frankie Edgar a good old fashioned ass kicking and won by decision. I think this fight is a good candidate for fight of the year.
Great night of fights and this one was well worth the money.
SHAWN ENNIS, MMATORCH SENIOR COLUMNIST: (9.5)
I'm really trying to be objective here and put this card in perspective with other cards that were awesome, but this one just keeps coming out on top. As of right now, I can't think of an event that was better than this one. After I calm down a bit, it may be that the Rampage-Bader and Shields-Akiyama fight drag it down slightly, but outside of those two fights, almost everything else was either great or spectacular. From the time Tiequan Zhang got wrecked until the time Henderson had his hand raised, we were treated to something special tonight. Two legitimate knockout of the year candidates, a fight of the year candidate, a comeback of the year candidate, two probable number one contender fights that were both awesome in very different ways, Mark Hunt getting his third straight win in the UFC (?!?!) all wrapped into the UFC's emotional return to Japan? Come on, son. That's insanity.
Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar were masterful tonight. I scored it 49-46 in Henderson's favor, but I wouldn't argue 48-47 in either fighter's favor. A few of those rounds were very close, and the whole fight was a ton of fun to watch. I almost hate to call for Anthony Pettis to get the first crack at the title, seeing as how Edgar has given rematches to his only two opponents as champion, but the iron is hot for that fight right now, and I think it's the right time to strike. And it's been said already by a few people on Twitter, but I think the right move is to put Henderson-Pettis on Fox. And if Edgar doesn't want to move down, have him fight the Miller-Diaz winner for a title shot. If he does want to go to featherweight, how does he not get an immediate title shot? I mean I love Poirier and Koch, but Edgar is the obvious choice for the next title contender if he moves down.
I'll have more on this event with Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, but it is late and I'm tired. So to sum up, long story short, this card was incredible and possibly the best one ever. But there is a lot more to be said, so stay tuned.
JAMIE PENICK, MMATORCH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: (10.0)
This was as close to a perfect fight card as you're ever going to see. From top to bottom this card looked like it could provide something really special; and with the exception of just a couple fights - that honestly looked to potentially be more on the boring end on paper and ended up that way - that's precisely what we got.
Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar put together one hell of a fight, and though Henderson's hand was ultimately raised, Edgar showed once again that his can be some of the most exciting fights to watch in the entire sport.
I'll have a more thorough fight by fight breakdown in the morning, but when you look at what the rest of the card provided, this is easily one of, if not the, greatest events the UFC has ever put on. The fact that Issei Tamura's knockout of Tiequan Zhang wasn't the "Knockout of the Night" showcased just how awesome this night was, because it took something as spectacular as Anthony Pettis kicking Joe Lauzon's head off to top that.
Throw in a legitimizing Hatsu Hioki win, Tim Boetsch's incredible comeback, Mark Hunt winning his insane third straight in the UFC, Vaughan Lee submitting "Kid" Yamamoto, and Takanori Gomi recovering from a 10-8 round to stop Eiji Mitsuoka in the second, and it's clear that - at the very least - this was one of the great nights in UFC history.
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