NORTH AMERICAN BROADCAST SCHEDULE
1st fight streaming LIVE on the UFC's Facebook page - 4:30pm PT / 7:30 ET
Remaining prelims LIVE on FX in the US / Sportsnet in Canada - 5pm PT / 8pm ET
Main Card LIVE on Pay-Per-View - 7pm PT / 10pm ET
NOTE: There are 7 fights on the Pay-Per-View portion of this event, usually there are 5. The PPV time block has been increased from 3 to 4 hours to accomodate for this.
Pay-Per-View options include:
Xbox Live via UFC app
UFC.tv (works internationally)
Your local cable or satellite provider
Weigh Ins will stream LIVE on UFC.tv, the XBL app and will be on Fuel TV as well on Friday, Feb 24 at 8pm PT / 11pm ET
UFC 144: Dancing On The Corpse's Ashes or, PRIDE
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has finally returned to Japan for the first time since 2000, and is putting on an event there for the first time under the current Zuffa ownership. This show is being held at the famed Saitama Super Arena, which was the effective Mecca for MMA back in PRIDE's heyday and the venue for some of their greatest moments. Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, purchased PRIDE back in 2007 with the original intent of keeping it running in Japan as an AFL to the UFC's NFL per Lorenzo Fertitta. Those plans quickly fell apart upon encountering incredibly stiff opposition from the Japanese TV networks who apparently didn't want to do a TV deal with the new American owners of the org. Not only did they have the whole "outsider" thing going against them, but PRIDE's reputation was seriously hurt by accusations of being connected to Yakuza prior to the purchase which made matters even worse. Zuffa eventually waved the white flag, folded the newly-purchased PRIDE and took the majority of its stars with them stateside to the UFC.
Japanese MMA never truly recovered from the fall of PRIDE. Former PRIDE employees joined forces with K-1's fledgling "Hero's" MMA promotion to become PRIDE's spiritual successor named DREAM in 2008 which, despite their valiant efforts never reached the same heights as its predecessor and has been getting worse by the year.
MMA (or "Kakutougi" as it's referred to in Japan) still has a large Japanese fan base, even if it's not as big as before. The problem is that they were spoiled for so many years, being able to watch all of PRIDE's events for free on network TV and they will never pay for PPV in the numbers that people in the US do. Also, PRIDE had many of the best fighters in the world, and DREAM is severely lacking in this department with their roster having been poached by the UFC and other orgs in the last few years. This is the state of MMA in Japan upon the UFC's foray into the country. They've arrived with a great looking lineup, 5 legitimate superstars from PRIDE and/or K-1 and overall just some great match ups. What their long term strategy is for Japan, if any is not known. At this time, no network TV deal has been announced for this event, and if that is the case then the only way to watch it in the country it is held is on the satellite channel WOWOW. It is a subscription channel with only approximately 2.5 million subscribers. EDIT: The UFC announced that they have now secured air time on Japanese network channel TV Tokyo to air the card, but it will not be live and will instead air at 3:15am Monday morning; the event actually starts on Sunday morning at 9:30am local time.
For the first time, the UFC has extended the PPV timeslot for this show from 3 to 4 hours and have put 7 fights on the main PPV card when there are normally 5 fights on it. In Japan, the first fight will actually occur early in the morning on Sunday so that it is still on PPV in the US at the regular time of 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern. Anyone interested in this event would be wise to tune into FX for the prelim fights that start at 5pm PT/8pm ET however, as this card is stacked from the top to bottom and looks to be chock full of great fights. Also, for those of you who own an Xbox 360 and have a good internet connection (most of you, considering this is GAF), the PPV is also available to be ordered on the console and will be streamed through the service. The picture quality rivals ordering it on cable/satellite, there are loads of cool interactive features and the only real drawback is the delay of approximately a minute or so and getting results spoiled for you if you're on twitter. I definitely recommend the Xbox streaming and it is how I will be watching this event myself.
Japanese Kakutougi audiences are well known for being very quiet during fights and also for being very educated about the ground game due to Judo being a required part a Japanese person's education in school and also due to PRIDE being so huge in its day. They don't boo when a fight goes to the ground. This is going to be a stark contrast to the usual alcohol-fueled UFC crowd with people going crazy in front of the camera and the whole "just bleed" mentality. It'll be interesting to see how this affects the show.
Without further ado, here's the fight card:
Main Card, LIVE on Pay Per View - 7pm Pacific / 10pm Eastern
World Lightweight Championship: Frankie "The Answer" Edgar (Champ) vs. Benson "Smooth" Henderson (Challenger)
This is a pretty interesting matchup and I have no idea of how it's going to play out. UFC Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar has been on a tear, defeating BJ Penn twice and then drawing and KOing Gray Maynard after that in his championship run. In his last fight with Gray Maynard he became the only fighter in the UFC to ever come back from being knocked down three times to knock his opponent out, and Maynard had never been beaten let alone KO'd (by someone other than himself) prior to that. He has proven himself to be one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC and still doesn't get enough respect from the general MMA fan base.
In December 2010, former WEC Champ Benson Henderson lost his championship in the very last WEC fight before the org folded into the UFC. He lost it to Anthony Pettis mostly by being on the receiving end of the most impressive kick of all time in MMA. This earned a title shot for Anthony Pettis and sent Henderson to the UFC going down towards the bottom of the ladder. Pettis was slated to fight the winner of the New Year's Day 2011 fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Unfortunately for Pettis, Edgar's 2nd fight with Maynard (first as champ) ended in a draw. Dana White decided to set up an immediate rematch between Edgar and Maynard which didn't end up happening until November of last year due to injuries and Pettis opted to take a tough fight with highly-ranked contender Clay Guida in order to stay active and lost by decision, blowing his shot at UFC gold. Meanwhile, Ben Henderson finally made his UFC debut in April 2011 with an impressive win over Mark Bocek and proceeded to run through top contenders Jim Miller and the aforementioned spoiler Clay Guida to secure the very title shot that slipped through the fingers of the last man to defeat him. Henderson appears to have improved immensely since being "Showtime Kicked" in the face and could very well leave Japan as the first fighter to hold championship titles in both the WEC and UFC organizations. Interim Titles won by Greg Jackson game planning notwithstanding
Light Heavyweight Bout: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Ryan Bader
IIRC, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is the only American MMA fighter without the last name of "Shamrock" who first gained his fame from fighting in Japan. He was initially brought into PRIDE as a can for Kazushi Sakuraba to crush, losing by submission. He then went on to beat everyone he faced in the organization who wasn't Wanderlei Silva or Shogun and was a legitimate superstar in the country in PRIDE's heyday. One thing Rampage was known for in PRIDE was his vicious slamming ability. He would slam the bodies of his opponents to the canvas and even knocked out Ricardo Arona with one of the most amazing KOs in the history of MMA. (This slam can be seen in their fight which is streaming for free on the UFC's XBL app right now). In his later years, Jackson has relied on his boxing more and more however and we haven't seen him slam anyone in quite some time. Rampage is coming off of a very disappointing loss in a Light Heavyweight Championship fight with current champ Jon Jones and is not necessarily looking to get back in the "win column" at all costs; he has been quoted as saying that his primary objective will be to put on an exciiting fight for the Japanese fans.
His opponent, Ryan Bader had a very rough 2011. He kicked off the year by fighting Jon Jones in February and getting choked out in the first round. Bader then decided to call out aging former champ Tito Ortiz, presumably hoping for an easy win over a big name who hadn't won a fight since defeating a shot Ken Shamrock in 2006. This ended up happening to him:
Luckily, Bader ended his 2011 on a positive note, rising from his grave to knock out Jason Brilz in the first round last November and since Shogun was way too beat up after his epic war in the Fight Of The Forever against Dan Henderson on the same night, Bader was matched against Rampage for this card.
So we have a veteran who is most likely going to end his career by the end of the year going up against a young fighter who had a bright future before his hype train completely derailed last year. There's no telling how this fight will play out.
Heavyweight Bout: Mark Hunt vs. Cheick Kongo
Like Rampage Jackson, Former K-1 World Grand Prix Champ Mark Hunt is a fighter mostly known for his exploits in Japan both as a kick boxer where he defeated greats like Jerome Le Banner, Stefan Leko and the late Mike Bernardo, and as a MMA fighter in PRIDE where he won 5 straight fights, including wins over Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop when they were still in their primes. He then faced and lost to Josh Barnett and Fedor Emilianenko and this turned into a 6 fight losing streak and all but one of those fights was lost due to an arm submission of some type. The last fight of this skid was his UFC debut against internet troll Sean McCorkle, and the only reason the UFC begrudgingly picked Hunt up was because they owed him a few fights due to his still active PRIDE contract. Hunt's 2nd UFC fight was a turning point for him and had one of the coolest post-KO celebration or non-celebrations ever:
Hunt followed this win up with a very tough decision win over Ben Rothwell. This fight took place in Denver and the elevation took a heavy toll on the endurance of every heavyweight on the card, and Hunt pulled through. He is now back in the country he made his name in and he faces a tough challenge in Cheick Kongo.
Kongo has been with the UFC since 2006 and has settled into his role as an upper tier gatekeeper in the heavyweight division. At his best, he is a powerful kickboxer with knockout power who came back from nearly being knocked out against Pat Barry to score a KO win in dramatic fashion. At his worst, he kicks guys in the balls and grabs their shorts repeatedly, always trying to stall in the clinch and being frustrating to watch. He gave former champ Cain Velasquez a run for his money and had him rocked a few times, yet got dropped and subsequently guillotined by Frank Mir with ease. Yeah, a French guy got the guillotine.
This matchup between two kickboxers could end up being an epic slugfest, or 15 minutes of hugging interspersed by groin shots. Only time will tell.
Welterweight Bout: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Yoshihiro Akiyama is easily the most well known fighter on this whole card to Japanese audiences, even more so than KID Yamamoto. Well known doesn't necessarily mean well liked however. The Japanese public was first introduced to Akiyama when he competed in Judo at the '02 Asian games and then the '03 World Judo Championships. In the World Judo Championships, Akiyama was accused multiple times of having a slippery Gi, as if he coated it with some kind of lubricant. Officials exonerated him of these accusations, but it wouldn't be the last time he would be haunted by "greasing" accusations in his combat sports career.
Akiyama decided to take up MMA, fighting for K-1's HERO'S promotion. He kicked off his career by submitting well known heavyweight boxer Francois Botha (weird, I know but hey it's Japan) and was then knocked out by heavyweight K-1 star Jerome Le Banner. Yes you read right, his first two MMA fights were against heavyweights when he weighed in just barely over 185 lbs... the guy has some balls. He went on to win his next 8 fights in a row including winning the HERO'S 2006 Light Heavyweight Grand Prix facing Melvin Manhoef in the final and winning by submission. Many of those wins did come via knockout though, so his KO power was apparent from early on.
New Years' Eve came around in '06 and it was Akiyama's time to shine. He was set to face Japanese demigod Kazushi Sakuraba in the main event of K-1's incredibly stacked Dynamite!! 2006 card. Akiyama's entrance for this fight was legendary; it was one of the most overdramatic, self indulgent and awesome moments of Japanese MMA. During the fight however, Sakuraba repeatedly complained to the referee that Akiyama was slippery. Akiyama ended up winning this fight by TKO stoppage, but then the controversy began. He ended up admitting to the public that he used lotion on his body prior to the fight and there was preflight video release that showed him using bottle after bottle of lotion on himself. The result of this fight was overturned to a No Contest and Japanese MMA fans had themselves a villain to root against. For his next 4 fights in Japan he was loudly booed and was laughing all the way to the bank with sponsorships from huge companies like Nike. Although he had a couple fights go to No Contest decisions, he still hadn't lost a fight since fighting Jerome Le Banner back in the day and was hotter than ever. In 2009, the UFC came calling and stole him away; he would make his debut as a middleweight in UFC 100's opening fight on pay-per-view against Alan Belcher. Akiyama ended up winning a controversial decision in a tough fight that earned "Fight Of The Night" honors on the UFC's highest selling PPV event to date. As I mentioned before, Akiyama's walk-around weight is just a little over 185 lbs, the middleweight limit and UFC fighters tend to cut a large amount of weight while Akiyama didn't. This led to him being absolutely dwarfed in the middleweight division and he ended up losing his next three fights. The UFC was going to release him from his contract unless he finally decided to cut down to 170 lbs at weigh in time for his next fight so he would go up against people more his size. The UFC has matched him against another former middleweight for his welterweight debut. This former middleweight happens to be a former Strikeforce champ who defeated Dan Henderson.
Jake Shields is coming into this fight with a 1-2 record in the UFC having suffered embarrassing losses to champ Georges St Pierre and top contender Jake Ellenberger, and he needs a win badly. His last fight against Jake Ellenberger took place about a week after his father, who was a pivotal figure in his MMA career on top of being one in his personal life, passed away. Jake's only win in the UFC is also a controversial decision over Martin Kampmann that landed him the shot at GSP in the first place.
Both fighters have high level grappling backgrounds; Akiyama in Judo and Shields in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Akiyama's striking is quite a bit better however, if not predictable at times with his head-hunting style. In this fight I see Shields getting Akiyama on his back with ease and securing a submission in the 2nd round, but maybe Akiyama will surprise us at welterweight. Hopefully he's worked on his cardio because his cardio is what failed him in the Leben fight and it has been an issue for his entire career.
Middleweight Bout: Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
Featherweight Bout: Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart "Bartimus" Palaszewski
Lightweight Bout: Anthony "Showtime" Pettis vs. Joe "J-Lau" Lauzon
Preliminary Card - 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern LIVE on FX in the US, Sportsnet in Canada
Lightweight Bout - "The Fireball Kid" Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka
Bantamweight Bout - Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee
Middleweight Bout - Riki Fukuda vs. Steve Cantwell
Bantamweight Bout - Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso
Prelim streamed LIVE from http://www.facebook.com/UFC:
Featherweight Bout: Zhang Tie Quan vs. Issei Tamura