The UFC returns to Pay-Per-View this Saturday night with an expanded card featuring seven world-class bouts. At the top of the card is UFC’s Lightweight Champion, Frankie Edgar defending the title against “Smooth” Ben Henderson. In the co-main event, “Rampage” Jackson will battle fellow light heavyweight Ryan Bader, who has looked impressive following back to back losses. It’s a packed card, and should deliver.
1 – Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
This is my 2nd pick for Fight of the Night honors. Both these guys are explosive, exciting fighters and this has all the opportunity to steal the show. Pettis became an overnight sensation when he used his “Showtime Kick” at WEC 53 against Ben Henderson. Pettis is a former WEC Lightweight Champion, but he met difficulty once arriving in UFC when the mighty Gatekeeper of the Lightweights, Clay Guida, stopped any momentum he had going at The Ultimate Fighter Finale in his UFC debut.
Lauzon has always been a good fighter, but he can never piece together an impressive winning streak. He’s coming off an impressive submission victory over Melvin Guillard at UFC 136. Lauzon brings a solid overall game, and he may be trouble for Pettis. The trouble is Lauzon can’t seem to win the big one as he’s lost to Kenny Florian, Sam Stout, and others in big matches. I don’t see that changing on this night.
Winner: Pettis, 2nd round TKO
2 – Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Oh, the featherweights. In the land of UFC, these guys were unheard of until Zuffa bought out WEC and decided to use these guys for all their worth. The trouble is, I didn’t get into WEC until the latter months of the promotion so a lot of these guys are virtually unknown to me. Such is the case with these two fighters. Palaszewski has been around since the Jurassic Period it seems compiling a 36-14 record along the way. Breaking down his wins, 17 are by KO and 11 are by submission. He seems to have a really well rounded game. Likewise, he’s only been knocked out once in his career which leads me to believe he has a granite chin. In his last outing, he won “Knockout of the Night” honors.
Hatsu Hioki looks to be an exciting submission specialist winning nearly half his fights with a dangerous triangle choke. In his UFC debut, he won a split decision against George Roop. This one is tough to call. On one hand, you have a dangerous striker. On the other, you have a BJJ specialist who can easily submit anyone once the fight goes to the ground. In my eyes, I see this going the distanc.
Winner: Hioki via split decision.
3 – Yushin Okami vs. Tim Botesch
Yushin Okami is coming off his embarrassing defeat by Anderson Silva from almost a year ago. He looked bewildered in that fight, but to his defense, nearly anyone not named Chael Sonnen have looked bewildered fighting Silva. Okami is a judo fighter that mixes some sweet throws with a, at times, dominating ground game.
Boetesch has been around UFC a long time. He relies heavily on his wrestling and tries to grind out decisions. I’m not really a fan of either guy, and this has all the writing on the wall as a slow, boring affair with both guys attempting to control the ground game.
Winner: Okami by decision.
4 – Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
As much as I like the mystique of Akiyama, he is looking down the barrel of being the loser of three straight (and it was my opinion he lost the fight against Alan Belcher at UFC 100). The only reason he’s still around is because all his UFC fights with the exception of his last fight against Belfort have been exciting battles. He’s dropped down to welterweight for this one, and looks to snap this losing streak.
Across from Akiyama is Jake Shields. Like Akiyama, Shields just hasn’t looked good in UFC. He’s coming off two straight losses after dominating in Strikeforce and EliteXC. He does hold wins over Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, and others, but got destroyed by Jake Ellenberger in :53 seconds his last time out. Some argue that the loss of his father cast a shadow over his prep for that fight, but I think he just got caught by a far superior striker. And, that’s where the test will lie for Shields. He’s great on the ground, but lacks the striking game of Akiyama. Shields is a grinder, and has no problem following the “lay and pray” strategy. Sadly, I think that’s how this one is decided.
Winner: Shields by decision
5 – Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
Mark Hunt is a veteran who has fought all over including Pride FC, and he has an impressive kickboxing career in K-1 amassing a 30-13 record through the years. Kongo is a UFC vet that always gets near the top of the peaking order, but somehow finds a way to lose his big shot. This is a chance for both guys to try and make a name for themselves. I wouldn’t expect too much in this one, but it will have some fireworks.
Winner: Kongo by TKO (1st round)
6 – “Rampage” Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
“Rampage” is a popular draw for UFC, but after missing weight yesterday, one has to wonder if Dana White has had enough. As storied a career that he has had, the truth is the “Rampage” has been a different type of fighter since taking time off to film the A-Team. He’s no longer the explosive knockout artist of yesteryear, now he’s more likely to bore the hell out of anyone watching with endless clinches and cagework.
Bader was a star on the rise until he met up with Tito Ortiz last summer. No one blamed him for the loss to Jon Jones, but everyone thought he had the Ortiz fight all but secured. One guillotine choke later, and the Bader Express was derailed. I think that loss has motivated him, and the UFC is looking at this fight as a gatekeeper fight. Once Bader gets past Jackson, his rise to stardom will continue.
Winner: Bader by TKO (3rd)
Main Event – Frankie Edgar (Lightweight Champion) vs. Ben Henderson
After a long PPV, this fight will be worth the weight. Both guys have tremendous heart, and both guys are going to bring it all. This is a hard fight for me to pick, but I really like Ben Henderson’s chance for the upset. Edgar has been atop the Lightweights since turning away B.J. Penn and surviving the assault of Gray Maynard. Henderson has likewise been impressive since joining UFC.
I expect this to go to the judges, and the judges are never the best place for your future to go. I’m of the thought that Henderson’s standup and ground game will be just enough to win this in the eyes of the fickle judges. Whether this goes to the judges or not, this will still be the “Fight of the Night”. Expect an all-out war.
Winner: Henderson by split decision
Tonight should be an explosive night of action, and I do indeed predict a new Lightweight Champion.
The “Showtime Kick”