Viewers' guide to UFC 144
The video clips will follow Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson forever.
Edgar's depicts him getting clipped by a Gray Maynard left hook about a minute-and-a-half into their January 2011 bout, Frankie's second defense of the UFC lightweight title. The punch sends the champion tumbling backward, head over heels. And as he tries to get up from the mat, Maynard charges in with more punches. Down goes Edgar, then up, then down amid another flurry, up and down, again and again. Fists are flying, fans are roaring, the referee hovering but allowing the beating to continue until the horn ends the round.
Henderson's highlight-reel perpetuity is a beatdown less sustained but no less breathtaking. It happened just two weeks earlier during Ben's WEC lightweight title defense against Anthony Pettis. There's just a minute remaining in a back-and-forth fight when the man known as "Showtime" demonstrates why he was given that nickname, charging not toward Henderson but toward the fence, then leaping at it, planting one foot on the chain links and springing off with a spinning kick that nails an unsuspecting Henderson in the head and, with the crowd in stunned upheaval, plants the champ on the canvas. Ninja stuff.
These are dramatic moments. These are damaging moments. These are not defining moments.
Edgar and Henderson, who meet Saturday night in the main event of UFC 144 (10 p.m. ET, PPV) in the suburbs of Tokyo, both went on from those video lowlights to later show what they're about as fighters on their own terms.
Edgar (14-1-1) might not enjoy watching the Maynard mauling, but the sting is lessened by the knowledge that he bounced back from that 10-8 round to earn a draw and keep his belt. And when he defended it again against the same guy in October, it was a déjà-vu experience in the first round, as he once again was caught with a big punch and nearly was finished. But in the end he was the one with the finishing touch, putting an eruption of punches on Gray's anatomy in the fourth round to score a heart-thumping knockout. Now
Henderson (15-2) also had to wait a while to show his essence as a fighter. He lost a decision -- and his title -- that night against Pettis, but he's won three straight since the WEC and its athletes were absorbed by the UFC. While Pettis went on to lose to Clay Guida and slip a few notches in the lightweight pecking order, Henderson opened a lot of eyes by beating top contender Jim Miller, then bettering Guida via unmistakable unanimous decision. That earned Henderson the title shot in Saturday's main event, while Pettis will be fighting this weekend, too, but buried deep in the undercard against Joe Lauzon.
But Henderson isn't dwelling on comparisons. For him, the past is the past ... although he can imagine it being his future, too. "I wouldn't say I have unfinished business with Pettis," he said during a conference call with MMA media that was held ostensibly to promote Edgar-Henderson but couldn't avoid delving into Henderson-Pettis as well. "I definitely want to avenge that loss, and I have a soft spot in my heart for that loss. Anthony is a great guy. I can't say enough good things about him. He'll work his way to the top. He had that loss to Clay Guida, and I'm sure I'll see him again. If he ever gets a shot at my belt, let's do it."
"It's definitely refreshing to train for someone new. With my injury, I had to train for Gray for quite a long time," said the champ, referencing a rib injury that delayed his Maynard rematch. "It's the excitement of having a new opponent, a fresh easel to paint on."
Both fighters in Saturday night's main event have shown themselves capable of a work of genius. And both have been the blank canvas for someone else's tour de force. There's potential here for a masterpiece.
The UFC is returning to Tokyo for the first time since UFC 29 on Dec. 16, 2000. The main event that night featured someone from the long-ago past named Tito Ortiz, who successfully defended his middleweight title with a submission win over Yuki Kondo. Other items from the time capsule:
• Pat Miletich, now a commentator on Strikeforce telecasts, also defended a UFC belt that night, choking out Kemichi Yamamoto to retain his lightweight strap.
• Future UFC champs fought in the card's first three bouts. Chuck Liddell opened the evening with a unanimous decision over Jeff Monson, Matt Hughes was submitted in 20 seconds by Dennis Hallman and the Evan Tanner TKO'd Lance Gibson.
• That same day, the film
• Speaking of "Godzilla," the man who earned that nickname on the baseball diamond, Hideki Matsui, was MVP of the Japan Series after leading the Yomiuri Giants over the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. Matsui's future team, the New York Yankees, were World Series champions, having gone crosstown to beat the Mets.
• UFC 29 was the fight promotion's last event before being bought by Zuffa.
• Saturday's event outside Tokyo will be the 166th UFC event since that last Japan event.