With the jumbo-sized UFC 144 card in the books, the time has come once again to take a look at the ripples the night’s fights left in the MMA pond. The main event saw “Smooth” Ben Henderson (15-2) capture lightweight gold from now former champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-2-1). In the co-main, an out of shape and seemingly lethargic “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-10) showed flashes of his old PRIDE hallmarks against “Darth” Ryan Bader (14-2) who showed up game and left with the win. “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (8-7) broke .500 and continued his career resurgence by knocking out Cheick Kongo (17-7-2) in just over two minutes. “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-6) impressed everyone but the judges in his welterweight debut against Jake Shields (27-6-1) while “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (15-4) continued his success as a 185er in a nail biting comeback against “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-7). Japanese superstar Hatsu Hioki (24-4-2) dominated WEC contender and IFL vet “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (35-15), and “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (15-2) opened the night with a bang by knocking “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (21-7) senseless early in the first round of their lightweight match-up. With 14 fighters to discuss, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” will need to expand into a three-part, jumbo addition, so to the victors go the honors, let’s start with the Good.
Ben Henderson: Ben Henderson is now the UFC Lightweight Champion. He came to the Octagon ready to perform and he outworked the hardest working man in the sport, plain and simple. When Edgar landed combos, “The Smooth One” shrugged them off and responded with very damaging, heavy blows. He used his size to bully the champ and his athleticism to pop right to his feet after every takedown attempt. He may have lost on many fans’ cards, but he won where it counted and in a fight like his duel with Edgar, no decision could truly be controversial. The supersized lightweight will likely hold the belt for a good long time.
Frankie Edgar: While Edgar could easily have been named the winner, this time Apollo Creed beat Rocky. Edgar was the superior fighter in the cage, but the difference in size and strength meant that Henderson’s one punch was doing more damage than Edgar’s three or four. It also meant that Edgar held control on the ground for less time in his multiple takedowns than Henderson did in his two. When the skill levels are close, the good big man beats the good small man. Edgar has proved his point – perhaps it’s time for “The Answer” to find his questions at 145lbs.
Ryan Bader: As cliché as it sounds, Ryan Bader improves with every bout and continues to impress every time he steps in the cage. Against “Rampage”, Bader gave up a lot of size and strength, especially considering that Jackson came in six pounds over weight, and a lot of experience and still managed to come out on top. Though the 30-27 scores were certainly questionable, Bader did survive all the best shots “Rampage” had to offer and dished them right back out. He even survived one of the brutal slams that made Jackson a star. Bader is tough, has cardio for days, and grows increasingly more skilled by the day. He will be a serious threat to any light heavyweight going forward in his UFC career.
Mark Hunt: From the ashes of a six-fight losing streak, the man Dana White once offered a sizable check to not finish his contract has risen and proven his worth to the organization. Mark Hunt has shown the work ethic to improve both his ground skills and his conditioning and has taken his opportunity with the UFC and made the most of it. The former K-1 champion rides a three-fight win streak that now includes a brutal first-round KO over a man who holds a 10-5-1 mark in the UFC and hadn’t been knocked out since 2004. His fights were always exciting, and now that he is winning them, even the top heavyweights will have to worry about facing the dangerous kickboxer.
Jake Shields: Jake Shields won his UFC 144 bout with good old fashioned hard work. He couldn’t hurt Yoshihiro Akiyama on the feet, he couldn’t take him down, and he couldn’t stop the Judoka from throwing him at will, so he did the only thing he could to win. He outworked his opponent by staying constantly on the offensive and landing a very high volume of strikes. Even though many fans and experts raised an eyebrow at the scores as they were read, Jake’s constant attacks made sure that “Sexyama” never had a real chance to capitalize on the damage his heavier hands had caused.
Tim Boetsch: “The Barbarian” was taking a truly savage beating from Yushin Okami. Headed into the third round, he was way down on the cards and absolutely had to finish. So he did. Tim Boetsch can out of the gate swinging for the fences and hit his home run ball early in the final round. It wasn’t game six of the World Series, or Kongo vs. Barry, or even Edgar vs. Maynard III, but it was a stellar come-from-behind TKO win that saved Boetsch’s undefeated middleweight record and proved that the man has the heart and work ethic to overcome the odds.
Hatsu Hioki: It is no secret that the majority of the Japanese stars who have come to the UFC have met with very little success. Even though Hioki won his debut, it was a lackluster decision over a very underwhelming opponent with a losing record in the promotion. Against Bart Palaszewski, Hioki showed the UFC fans that the JMMA elites deserve at least the lion’s share of the hype that brings them to the big show. He didn’t just beat the Team Curran fighter, he completely dominated him from bell to bell both standing and on the mat.
Anthony Pettis: Pettis has been trying to get back to the title fight he let slip away ever since he dropped his UFC debut. UFC 144 definitely helped further that cause. Pettis took just 1:21 seconds to put away a very dangerous submission fighter in brutal fashion. “Showtime” connected with the majority of his strikes, moved well, and left Joe Lauzon seeing stars in his most impressive performance since taking the WEC title from Ben Henderson.