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The Downes Side: UFC 144 Predictions

MMA NEWS: UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson.

I was able to watch the FUEL TV fights last week -- where I went 5-1, thank you -- at my brother’s house as he and his roommates celebrated his 21st birthday. I don’t know what to think about the fact that a bunch of college students who hide the holes in their wall with Mission Impossible 4 posters and don’t refrigerate their beer have a better cable package than me. Oh well, at least I cover the holes in my wall with Charles Dickens novels.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its long-anticipated return to Japan for UFC 144. Yet again, I’ve been left off the invite list. This was upsetting partly because I wanted to take my love of Ramen noodles to another level. Oh well, if I want an awkward cultural exchange, I can just walk into any Northern Wisconsin sports bar and order a Syrah with fruit notes of a “deep purple plum.”
Anthony Pettis vs Joe Lauzon

The main card kicks off with a fight that fight should determine who gets the next shot at the lightweight title. Lauzon looked great in his last fight against Melvin Guillard and is looking to fulfill the biblical prophecy of “the geek shall inherit the earth.” Anthony Pettis is coming off a decision win against Jeremy Stephens where he showed much-improved wrestling ability.

Prediction:  In the interest of journalistic integrity, I think it’s wrong for me to predict this fight since I personally know and like both of these guys. As a result, I outsourced this prediction to my Grandma.
Me: Grandma, who do you think will win the fight
Grandma: I hope your friend Anthony wins.
Me: Do you think he’ll knock Joe Lauzon out?
Grandma: Joe seems like a nice boy. He’s pale like you. I hope he doesn’t get hurt. That fighting business is terrible.
There you have it. Per my Grandma Murphy, Pettis by decision.

Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Next up is Hatsu Hioki facing off against Bart Palaszewski. Hioki has won five in a row, including his UFC debut against George Roop in October. “Bartimus” Palaszewski made his featherweight debut in his last fight with a first-round smashing of Tyson Griffin. He’s also the only fighter I’ve ever seen eat at Cinnabon, so he gets bonus points for that.

Prediction: While Hioki has the grappling advantage, his fight against Roop showed his vulnerability in the standup exchanges. “Bartimus” has more power than Roop and that will give Hioki a hard time. Palaszewski will connect with that big right hand and put it away in the first round. If he can just stay away from Cinnabon, he should be a big force in the featherweight division.

Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch

Yushin “Thunder” Okami vs Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch – can you say “boom”? Since dropping to middleweight, Boetsch has won two in a row and gets a big step up in competition. Meanwhile, Okami has quietly been looming at the top of the division -- his only losses in the last four years have been to Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen.

Prediction: So far, Boetsch has had the size and strength advantage at middlweight. This advantage ends at 144. There’s a common misconception that Japanese fighters are always undersized for their divisions. Anyone who’s seen Yushin Okami knows that this idea is patently false. Fighting for the first time in Japan in over six years, Okami will push the pace and grind out a victory with 30-27s across the board.

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Both fighters here are looking to reverse their recent luck. Sexyama has been on a skid, losing his last three fights to Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort and Chris Leben, triggering a drop down to welterweight. Jake Shields, after winning 15 in a row, has dropped his last two.

Prediction: Only two of Akiyama’s 17 fights have gone the distance. Contrast that with Jake Shields, who’s batting over .500 in decisions. Akiyama has judo skills and will try to push it, but he’ll be stifled by Shields’ grappling. Another decision win for Jake, but at least Akiyama has this.

Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
Heavyweight Mark Hunt has been quite the surprise in the UFC. Since stepping into the Octagon, he's landed three fights and two wins under Zuffa rule. Frenchman Cheick Kongo is coming off an underwhelming UFC 137 win over Matt Mitrione.

Prediction: Kongo has shown that he’s willing to fight the “smart” fight even when it’s not the most fan-friendly strategy (see Kongo vs. Buentello, Kongo vs. Mitrione, et al). Mark Hunt’s striking ability can’t be questioned, but his ground game and conditioning are suspect. Kongo will use grappling to wears down Hunt and put him away in the 2nd. It’ll be ugly, so you might want to use this time to grab a drink.... er, maybe not. 

Rampage Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
Ryan “Darth” Bader is a great example of fighter progression. The former ASU wrestler has developed his striking game en route to 6-2 record in the UFC with 3 T/KO wins. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a 41-fight veteran who’s fought on the biggest stages for over a decade and is looking for a triumphant PRIDE-style homecoming.

Prediction: Both of Bader’s career losses have come via submission. While that won’t be a problem against Rampage, Darth’s striking just isn’t at the level to compete with the former PRIDE superstar. Rampage’s boxing has stunted wrestlers like Matt Hamill before, and it’ll do the same here, wearing down his opponent. Japan, get ready -- Rampage wins via TKO in the 3rd and storms Tokyo to celebrate.

Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson
The champion Frankie Edgar is currently riding a 7-fight unbeaten streak that’s seen him fight Gray Maynard and BJ Penn twice each. Since losing his WEC title, “Smooth” Henderson has torn through the best in the lightweight division, adding Jim Miller and Clay Guida to his list of victims.

Prediction: Edgar has to be the most disrespected UFC champion in history. His only loss came in 2008 to a guy he eventually knocked out, yet people keep saying he should drop down to 145. That said, I think he’s met his match. Frankie’s greatest asset has been his speed, and Henderson won’t struggle with that. Especially after seeing Henderson’s scrambles against Guida and Miller, I doubt Edgar will be able to take him down, either. This one goes into the championship rounds and “Smooth” puts Frankie away in the 5th. The title changes hands, and that sets up the table for Pettis vs Henderson 2.

That wraps up another edition of the Downes Side. Be sure to follow me on twitter @dannyboydownes and leave a comment -- I always read them and respond. I know it may come off as desperate, but that’s mostly because I don’t have a better cable package