February 25, 2012
It’s Showtime in Japan for UFC 144
By JOSE RODRIGUEZ, QMI Agency
It wasn’t the pin-drop silence of Pride or the constant decibel attack of UFC in North America.
But the UFC stormed back to Japan to a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000 that was both boisterous at times and attentively silent at others.
A pair of top-ranked lightweights kicked off the pay-per-view portion of the event.
Joe ‘J-Lau’ Lauzon and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis took shots from the outside before Pettis caught Lauzon with a left-head kick that was shin-to-chin perfect at 1:21 of the first round. In a knockout victory that rivals some of Mirko ‘Cro-Cop’ Filipovic’s finest work, Pettis wasn’t shy about where he wants to go next.
“I know the UFC is where I’m supposed to be,” Pettis said after the highlight-reel finish. “I’m coming for that lightweight belt.”
UFC 144 was the first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun in nearly 12 years and the first since president Dana White and friends bought the company. The event featured a lightweight belt battle between champ Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson. It also marked the return of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to Japan to take on Ryan Bader. Jackson missed weight coming in five pounds over the 206-lb. limit. He will forfeit 20% of his purse to Bader.
Former Pride lightweight champ Takanori Gomi received the loudest nod from the fans in the early going, and was able to survive a tough first round and get the referee stoppage win due to punches over fellow Japanese fighter Eiji Mitsuoka.
The night began with a hearty ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ from cage announcer Bruce Buffer that sparked the crowd and ushered in the new era of UFC in Japan.
A pair of 145-pounders had the honours to kick things off. Japan’s Issei Tamura knocked out China’s Tiequan Zhang with a right cross at 32 seconds of the second round — much to the delight of the crowd that was just streaming into the Saitama Super Arena.
Bantamweights Chris Cariaso and Japan’s Takeya Mizugaki went next. Both fighters started tentatively before Mizugaki was able to take Cariaso down and apply some damage, avoiding some well-crafted submission attempts. Cariaso got the best of the standup game and got the judges’ unanimous nod, though many in the crowd thought he lost the fight.
Middleweights Riki Fukuda and Steve Cantwell were the heaviest fighters of the undercard. Fukuda got an early takedown but was able to stand back up and pepper the Japanese fighter with kicks and punches. Fukuda was able to get out of a Cantwell guillotine and was getting the better of the American. Cantwell continued to try the submissions in the third but the Japanese fighter was able to escape.
In an exciting lightning-paced bout, Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto landing a knockdown blow to Vaughan Lee. The Brit was able to get back up, and the Toronto-trained Yamamoto was able to land punches in bunches. The momentum changed in the second part of the round, with Lee eventually cinching in an armbar at 4:29.
“I’m disappointed. I really wanted to win in Japan,” Yamamoto told the crowd.