MMA Access: The UFC Return to the Land of the Rising Sun




Some of Japan’s Illegitimate Sons return Home

By Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester



Japan, once the home of the now defunct organization Pride, will play host to the Ultimate Fighting Championship on February 26, 2012 at the Saitama Super Arena. Pride Fighting Championships had made household names out of the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Maurico ‘Shogun’ Rua, the Noguiera twins, and more. So returning back to Japan must elicit some form of ‘pride’, if you will, for some of the organization’s most celebrated fighters; some who are featured on the UFC 144 card. UFC 144 will be the first time the UFC has been back to Japan since UFC 29, which took place on December 16, 2000.


The co-main event features one of the Pride’s most notable fighters in Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. He was made famous for his highlight-reel slams, and his explosive offense. He has not fought in Japan since 2006, where he went to decision against Dong Sik Soon.


At UFC 144, ‘Rampage’ will take on Ryan Bader who after two submission losses to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz, bounced back with a thrilling knockout of Jason Brillz. Jackson and Bader are two of the Light-Heavyweight division’s heaviest hitters, and each will surely look for the knockout.


Elsewhere, Mark Hunt will look to take out Cheick Kongo in what should be an explosive heavyweight tilt. Mark Hunt, also a Pride veteran, is most known for being the man to remove Wanderlei Silva from his 4-year winning streak in Pride. The most intriguing thing about Mark Hunt is that after UFC bought out Pride, the UFC asked Hunt if they could buy out his contract, but instead Hunt wanted to fight out of the rest of his contract instead of sitting out. Since then, Hunt’s UFC debut saw him lose to Sean McCorkle, but he  has rattled off two wins against Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell since that lost. A win against Cheick Kongo should move him into the upper echelon of heavyweight rankings in the UFC.


A lightweight bout between Takanori Gomi and Eiji Mitsuoka welcomes home two former Pride fighters. Mitsuoka, a Pride vet of five fights, is a submission expert with 11 of his 18 wins coming by way of submission. He will look to put Gomi on his back and submit him. But he’ll have a rough time getting there as the heavy-handed Takanori Gomi will surely be looking to keep the fight standing.


The last and only Pride Lightweight champion, Gomi became famous for his quick and powerful knockouts. In Pride, he went on a ten fight winning streak before losing to Marcus Aurelio. He would later defeat Aurelio in a fight where he defended his Lightweight championship. His last fight in Pride was against Nick Diaz where he originally had lost by submitting to a gogoplata. However, because Diaz had tested positive for marijuana the decision was considered a No Contest. His last fight in the UFC was a loss to the younger Diaz brother, Nate, where he suffered an armbar submission loss. Six of Gomi’s eight losses have come by submission, and he will have to be careful when fighting the crafty submission finisher in Eiji Mitsuoka come UFC 144.


At UFC 144, Japan will welcome back home some of their native sons, while also welcoming new fighters to the Land of the Rising Son, such as Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson. This will mark the return of former Pride veterans such as ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mark Hunt. The UFC’s venture into Japan should mark a brave venture into another part of the world, rewarding fans from each hemisphere with great fights and a night full of action.


Other Notes:


* In the main event, Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar will put his title on the line against Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson, making it technically the first time the UFC’s Lightweight title has been in contention on Japanese soil. The first time the UFC Lightweight championship was on the line in Japan was at UFC 29, with Pat Miletech fighting Kenichi Yamamoto, but the Lightweight title then was actually the 170 lbs. Welterweight championship now. The Lightweight title didn’t become the Welterweight title until May 2001.


* In a welterweight scrap between Yoshiro Akiyama and Jake Shields, each is looking to get back in the win column. Both are coming off devastating knockouts, but this will be Akiyama’s UFC debut in the welterweight division, as he was originally fighting in the UFC’s middleweight division. Akiyama, a native of Japan, has lost three of four fights since his UFC debut. Highly popular in Japan, he was most criticized by Japanese MMA fans when he was accused of greasing during a fight with Kazushi Sakuraba. Jake Shields is not unfamiliar to Japanese fans either, as he fought for Shooto in an earlier part of his career. After losing to Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight championship, Shields was knocked out in the first round against rising prospect Jake Ellenberger. He will without a doubt look to outwrestle the Japanese native in their bout at UFC 144.


* Yushin Okami had two fights in Pride, but primarily fought in Japan from 2002 to 2006. This will mark the first time he has fought in Japan since June 11, 2006.  At UFC 144 he will fight Tim Boetsch.


* Hatsu Hioki, the former Shooto Champion, only had one fight in Pride. His lone fight in Pride was against Jeff Curran, a stable mate of Bart Palaszweski; who he will face at UFC 144. Ranked in the Top 3 of Featherweights in most media outlets, he fought in Japan for most of his career, and only fought outside his home on four occasions (three times in Canada, and once in America).


Other UFC 144 notable bouts include:


Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon

Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughn Lee

Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso




Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka


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