Click below for the UFC 144 Main Card report
SAITAMA, February 26 – In a grueling fight between two hard-hitting light heavyweights, Ultimate Fighter season eight winner Ryan “Darth” Bader won a unanimous decision over former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the UFC 144 co-main event at Saitama Super Arena.
Bader used leg kicks to keep Jackson at bay during the first round and managed to disturb the former PRIDE star’s rhythm to the point he couldn’t land a single hard attack the entire round. A high slam by Rampage after catching Bader’s leg on a kick led to an awkward landing for the man fighting out of Tempe, Arizona in round two, but he couldn’t swing the overall momentum of the bout. Shortly after this highlight, Bader got a takedown and worked from Jackson’s guard. After getting back to his feet, the former champion soon found himself on the receiving end of another takedown.
The final round was also all Bader. It was clear at this point that both men had expended a lot of energy. Towards the end of the round, Bader worked for a kimura on the ground but failed to lock it in.
All three judges scored the fight with 30-27 in favor of Bader, who now moves to 15-2 with the win, while Jackson, who failed to make weight for the bout reportedly because of a training camp injury, sees his record drop to 32-10. Watch Bader's post-fight interview
UFC 144’s sole heavyweight battle between 2001 K-1 Grand Prix winner and former PRIDE star Mark Hunt and French kickboxing ace Cheick Kongo promised to be exciting on paper and delivered on all its promise.
Only one year removed from having his back against the wall and desperately needing a win against Chris Tuchscherer in Sydney to save his career, Mark Hunt seems to now be on an upward trajectory in the UFC with three wins in a row, the most recent one being today’s first round TKO win over Kongo.
Hunt hurt his foe with a left about 1:30 minutes into the fight, and hit the mark again with a right about thirty seconds later, which made the Frenchman back up against the cage. Smelling blood, Hunt kept chasing after him, hitting him with one right after the other until Kongo collapsed on the floor and the bout was stopped at 2:11 of the first round.
“You've got to be ready for anything. I caught him through the gloves and I knew it dazed him before I went in for the finish. I'm built to last and ready to fight on next week's card in Australia. Dana White, what's up with Sydney?” asked Hunt.
With the upset win, Mark Hunt’s MMA record improves to 8-7, while Kongo’s record drops to 27-7-2 with the loss. Watch "The Super Samoan's" post-fight interview
Dropping down to his natural weight class of welterweight, Yoshihiro Akiyama returned to Japan to do battle with former UFC title contender and Strikeforce champion Jake Shields in what many expected to be a great battle of technical prowess and true Japanese samurai spirit.
Shields and Akiyama didn’t disappoint. The American spent the first two rounds trying for takedowns and not getting them while Akiyama managed to sweep him several times. Shields did, however, press the action with striking while Akiyama didn’t engage as much, particularly during the first round, where he seemed very stiff.
Shields finally got his takedown in the final round. Akiyama grabbed the cage twice in order to improve his position on the ground and was lucky no penalty point was called. Shields ended the round and the fight in back mount, working for a rear-naked choke with both hooks in.
“It was a tougher fight than I wanted at first and I have great respect for Akiyama,” admitted Shields. “He has pretty heavy punches, so fortunately only about two landed.
You never know what's going to happen. I'd like to fight Carlos Condit next, as he has a controversial win against my teammate. I can't believe how loud and enthusiastic the Japanese fans were; it was great.”
All three judges scored the fight 30-27 for Jake Shields, whose record improves to 27-6-1 with the win, while Akiyama’s drops to 13-5 with two no-contests. Hear what Shields had to say in his post-fight interview
Yushin Okami went from being an outsider challenging UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in Brazil in his last fight to coming home to Japan and battling tough middleweight contender Tim Boetsch. To say he received a hero’s welcome in Saitama would be understating things.
Okami dominated Boetsch standing over the course of the first round, using his crisper striking and kicks to give the American a sizable mouse under his left eye. Aside from an arm-in guillotine choke by Boetsch off a double-leg takedown by his Japanese opponent, round two was all Okami as well. The former title challenger worked for an arm triangle but couldn’t get out of half-guard. Then he used a kimura attempt to gain full mount. Okami rained down punches but Boetsch managed to buck him off into his guard to end the round.
Boetsch rushed Okami to start the third round and kept hitting him with lefts and rights. Okami seemed rocked, ate a head kick and several uppercuts, the last one of which dropped him, causing referee Leon Roberts to step in and stop the contest at 54 seconds of the third round in a major upset.
“It still hasn't settled in yet”, an emotional Boetsch emphasized. “The first two rounds weren't good, but I won the third round and that's what counts. Yushin hit me harder than I expected, but I was standing at the end of his range so it was kind of my fault. I knew I had to move forward, but the uppercuts were a spur of the moment thing. Awesome night overall. The next fight I'd like is Dan Henderson because he is a hero of mine and part of being great is beating your heroes.”
With the win, Boetsch’s record improves to 15-4 while Okami’s record drops to 27-7. Watch Boetsch's post-fight interview now
Highly regarded former Shooto and Sengoku featherweight fighter Hatsu Hioki was likely the toughest opponent Bart Palaszewski had faced since debuting in World Extreme Cagefighting more than three years ago. Yet, the 28-year old was more than up for the challenge, coming off his quick knockout win over Tyson Griffin last October.
While there was no question who controlled the action in round one, where Hioki quickly dropped Palaszewski and proceeded to dominate from top position for the rest of the round, his opponent found the perfect defense for every situation the Japanese grappler put him in. Among the holds Palaszewski got out of in one fluid succession of motions were a straight armbar, a triangle choke and an omoplata shoulder lock.
The second frame was considerably more evenly contested, mostly standing. Palaszewski kept kicking Hioki’s left leg, which reddened considerably over the course of the round. Shortly before the five minutes were up, Hioki faked a punch and finally got the takedown he was looking for, but Palaszewski had little trouble getting back to his feet.
Hioki managed to get his opponent back to the ground quickly in the third and final round with a beautiful leg trip from the clinch. He transitioned into side control and landed strikes from that position, but was unable to step over into full mount. Palaszewski gave up his back, Hioki sunk both hooks in and went for a rear-naked choke. The Poland native defended the position properly and ended up not getting in trouble at any point until the round and the fight ended.
All three judges gave the victory to Hioki via scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
“I am very happy to have won the fight”, said Hioki through an interpreter. “I was able to show my unique fighting style, although it wasn't perfect. I was expecting a standup fight from Bart, so there was nothing that really surprised me. I would like to get back to fighting as soon as my body has time to heal.”
With the win, Hioki improved to 26-4-2 while Palaszewski dropped to 35-15. Watch Hioki's post-fight interview
Few fighters have gained as much notoriety as quickly as Milwaukee-based Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. The former WEC lightweight champion and master of spectacular kicks faced a man today in Saitama who entered the UFC with a bang by knocking out former champion Jens Pulver more than five years ago and has continually improved ever since.
While Joe Lauzon has acted as a spoiler a number of times in his UFC career, he was no match tonight for Pettis, who knocked him out cold with a left high kick to the head only 1:17 after the start of the first round. After Pettis followed Lauzon to the ground, referee Marc Goddard called a stop to the bout at 1:21 minutes of round one.
“Winning that fight is an amazing feeling. I was on a bit of a down streak in 2011, but 2012 is my year and I'm getting a title shot. I'm back, focused and ready to go, I didn't get touched. I think I confused him with my southpaw (stance), had him biting on the jab, and then I threw the high kick and it landed. I wanted to put on a good show for the fans because without them, I wouldn't be Anthony Pettis.”
Through possibly the most dominant showing of his career against a very dangerous opponent, the 25-year old is now in a very favorable position to resume his quest for a title shot. With the win, Pettis improved his professional MMA record to 13-2, while Lauzon fell to 20-7. Hear what "Showtime" had to say after the fight
Check out the Preliminary Card results for UFC 144