If you missed UFC 143 live from Tokyo last Saturday…man. Man oh man.
Sure, Shields and Akiyama was a disappointing affair, mostly due to Jake’s stubborn refusal to work on his boxing (and that’s coming from a guy who’s actually one of his frequent defenders), but the rest of the card was top to bottom excitement and intrigue. Even Bader’s dismantling of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was interesting, even if it was for all the wrong reasons, chief among them the fact that the Japanese fans were booing Rampage by the third round. For those of us that have some working knowledge of the history of MMA in Japan and the behavior and tone of Japanese fans at live fights, that was a surreal moment.
Most of the post-fight talk, though, focused on the five round decision that made former WEC champion and standout Benson Henderson the new UFC Lightweight Champion.
After the fight a lot of fighters and pundits took to twitter to say they thought Edgar had won the fight. They had an ally in UFC President Dana White, who said as much during his post-event interview with Ariel Helwani.
But did he? I’m not so sure.
I went into the fight legitimately torn because I genuinely like and admire both fighters. But I found myself cheering for Edgar as soon as they came nose to nose and the size discrepancy between the two fully sunk in. Henderson, even with a very strict diet and training regiment to ensure a proper weight cut that doesn’t sacrifice endurance, is on the (much) larger end of 155 and wouldn’t look out of place at Welterweight (he would, in fact, be as big or bigger than all but the most freakishly large Thiago Alves types). Edgar, on the other hand, is like BJ Penn at 170, in that he’s fighting a full weight class above where he probably should be, and word has it he cuts little to no weight and could easily make Featherweight if he chose to.
This made sitting and watching objectively to be an exercise in will and determination. How could I not watch what Edgar was doing to survive the onslaught of a much, much larger opponent, particularly since I’ve expressed in this space before how underappreciated he is? Edgar was, as he has been for some time now, exemplary of all things that make MMA truly great: courageous, masterful, and technically marvelous. That he kept his cool and fought for three rounds with a closed eye and a broken nose from a spot-on upkick from Henderson made his performance all the more memorable and admirable.
Unfortunately, I felt he was still (narrowly) outstruck by Henderson in all but two rounds. At the end of the fight, I had it scored for Henderson by a score of 48-47. Two of the three judges agreed with me, with the third giving it 49-46 for Henderson. An incorrect judgement in my opinion, but not an absurd one given what we saw from both men. Fight Metric, a valuable if still flawed resource (through no fault of their own since it’s impossible to compute intangibles like aggression and Octagon control), broke it down along the same lines as that lone judge.
It wasn’t a robbery, and I’m glad to see that nobody’s claiming as such. I don’t even know if it was close enough, on paper, to warrant an immediate rematch. I do however think that it’s only fair that the UFC take the size discrepancy and heart Edgar showed into account when considering who Henderson’s next opponent should be. Everyone’s eager to see Henderson try to avenge his WEC Lightweight Championship loss to Anthony Pettis based solely on the famous “Showtime” kick moment from the final round of that fight. Yet I’m hesitant to say that Pettis deserves it over any other contender in the bottlenecked division. The head kick knockout of Joe Lauzon earlier in the evening was impressive, but injuries and circumstances have kept Lauzon in the very bottom rung of the top ten. That makes Pettis’s last three fights a knockout win over a perennial gatekeeper, a very close split decision win over Jeremy Stephens, and a decisive loss to Clay Guida. If we’re going to look at it objectively, that’s not a contender’s resume.
Time and fan reaction will tell if we see Henderson/Edgar II or Henderson/Pettis II. Both sentimentally and objectively, I’m pulling for the former, but I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if we get the latter instead.
OTHER UFC 144 REACTIONS:
- As mentioned before, that head kick KO from Anthony Pettis was mighty impressive. But did it show old form or simply solidify what I and many others have felt, which is that while showing flashes of brilliance he’s still an uneven fighter?
- Ben Fowlkes said Quinton Jackson “didn’t look awful” in his bout at UFC 144, but I have to respectfully disagree. I went so far as to joke that it was really inspiring to see James Toney take a fight against Ryan Bader on suchshort notice. Obviously an exaggeration for comedic effect, but Jackson physically didn’t look good and didn’t fare much better between the bell, either. Injuries happen, but this is the first time in his career Jackson’s ever come in over weight (he weighed in at 211 and had to forfeit twenty percent of his purse to Bader).
- Akiyama lost again, and there was talk after the show of reevaluating his position and future with the company. But I was actually encouraged by seeing him hold his own (even if it wasn’t the most exciting affair) against a guy I still consider to be the #4 welterweight in the world. I think he did enough against a high level of competition to warrant another chance to prove himself at Welterweight.
- What’s the bigger comeback: Tim Boetsch‘s third round knockout after two rounds of being dominated in every manner possible by Yushin Okami, or Mark Hunt‘s improbable career resurgence that came only because he was literally owed fights by Zuffa after their purchase of Pride? Okay, it’s obviously Hunt, but Boetsch’s sure was fun to watch. I mean, those uppercuts! Wow.