Frankie Edgar's reign atop the UFC lightweight division came to an end Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, when former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Benson Henderson did what B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard could not.
Henderson landed several powerful kicks and knees in a high-level fight to win the UFC lightweight championship via unanimous decision. Judges had it 49-46 twice and 48-47 for Henderson. Yahoo! Sports scored it 48-47 for Henderson.
Henderson broke Edgar's nose with an upkick late in the second round and closed Edgar's left eye with his strikes.
Edgar tried to use his boxing and movement, and he did a good job of that. However, Henderson was able to control the center of the cage and landed the more powerful blows.
Henderson, who is a huge lightweight, joked afterward that he cuts "two pounds and [that's] too much." But the move of the night was his upkick at the end of the second, which he admitted he stole from former WEC rival Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
"I've got to thank [Cerrone] for that one," Henderson said. "He landed that one on me and I told him, 'I'm going to land that on somebody else, because that hurt bad.' [Cerrone], thank you for that, man. I stole that from you."
It hurt Edgar badly, as well, and had there been more time, Henderson might have been able to finish. But, typical of Edgar, he was resilient.
He was boxing and moving in the fifth round and was shocked by the decision when it was announced. According to CompuStrike, Edgar outlanded Henderson 124-114.
"I thought I landed more strikes and I got more takedowns," Edgar said. "I don't know."
Ryan Bader dominated former light heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson in the co-main event, beating Jackson in all areas of the game to cruise to a one-sided 30-27 victory.
Jackson, who missed the 206-pound non-title light heavyweight limit on Friday by five pounds, seemed slow and lethargic in his return to the country where he built his reputation in the PRIDE Fighting Championship. He was a fearsome knockout puncher in his those days, though he showed only a shadow of that.
He slammed Bader, reminiscent of his early days, in the second round, but after that, it was all Bader. He outboxed Jackson, took him down several times and beat him in all phases of the game.
"It surpasses [winning Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter]," Bader said. "Beating Rampage here in Japan, it's an amazing experience, amazing feeling. … We were actually going to come in here and try some takedowns, throw the jab, move. I didn't want to get in a boxing battle in close. [I wanted] to use my range."
Whatever Bader wanted to do, he did and Jackson had no answer. The latter had begged to fight on the card in Japan, rather than appearing on FOX last month, but then came out with a dud of an effort.
Jackson's slam got the crowd excited, and Bader's right arm landed awkwardly. Bader said the arm was fine, though.
Heavyweight Mark Hunt knocked Cheick Kongo down with a left hand early in their fight and didn't bother to follow up on it. But it was apparently because he knew he could pretty much end it at any time.
Not much time passed before Hunt cracked Kongo with a right, dumping him on the ground and quickly finished the bout, earning the win at 2:11 of the first round.
"You've got to be ready for anything," Hunt said. "I caught him through the gloves and I knew it dazed him, before I went in for the finish."
Jake Shields snapped a two-fight losing streak with a close decision over Yoshihiro Akiyama. All three judges had it 30-27, as did Yahoo! Sports.
The bout was very close and much of it was spent with Akiyama, making his debut at welterweight, fending off Shields' takedown attempts. Akiyama had several good judo throws, but he didn't let his hands go and that turned out to be the difference in the bout.
Shields had a 120-58 edge in total strikes.
Akiyama won his UFC debut via a controversial split decision over Alan Belcher, but he's now lost four in a row.
"It was a tougher fight than I wanted at first and I have great respect for Akiyama," Shields said. "He has pretty heavy punches so fortunately, only about two landed. You never know what's going to happen."
Tim Boetsch pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history when he roared out of the corner in the third round after falling well behind Yushin Okami after the first two rounds and stopped the Japanese star at 54 seconds of the third of their middleweight fight.
Okami dominated each of the first rounds and seemed to be closing in on a one-sided win. But Boetsch caught Okami with a big shot early in the round and pounced quickly. He landed a head kick and several uppercuts.
Boetsch repeatedly drilled Okami with uppercuts as he was slumping against the cage. Finally, Okami collapsed in a heap and Boetsch had the improbable win. According to CompuStrike, Boetsch outstruck Okami 20-2 in the third.
"I knew nothing less than a knockout or a finish would win that fight for me," Boetsch said. "Yushin was beating me up for two rounds."
Featherweight Hatsu Hioki, widely regarded as the second-best featherweight in the world, showed a brilliant all-around game in out-grappling, out-punching and out-fighting Bart Palaszewski en route to a unanimous-decision victory.
Judges had it 29-28 twice and 30-27 for Hioki, who was masterful on the ground, particularly in the first round. Yahoo! Sports scored the first round 10-8 for Hioki and saw Hioki as the winner, 30-26.
"I was able to show my unique fighting style, although it wasn't perfect," Hioki said. "I was expecting a stand-up fight from Bart, so there was nothing that really surprised me."
In the pay-per-view opener, Anthony Pettis made waves with yet another highlight reel kick. Only 14 months after winning the WEC lightweight title with the "Showtime kick," Pettis pulled off a kick that was much more effective, if not as spectacular.
He blasted Joe Lauzon with a kick that landed squarely on the chin, forcing referee Marc Godard to jump in to stop it at just 1:21 of the first round.
Lauzon appeared to expect the kick to the body and went to block it. But Pettis brought it to the head and his shin landed squarely on Lauzon's chin. He was out cold upon impact.
"Winning that fight is an amazing feeling," Pettis said. "I was on a bit of a down streak in 2011, but 2012 is my year and I'm getting a title shot. I'm back, focused and ready to go. I didn't get touched. I think I confused him with my southpaw [stance], had him biting on the jab, then threw the high kick and it landed. I wanted to put on a good show for the fans because without them, I wouldn't be Anthony Pettis."
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