UFC 144: A Bettor’s Guide

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Written by: AJ Hoffman (@ajhoffmanjr)

 

UFC 144 has the UFC returning to Japan, the one place where MMA might be even bigger than it is here in the U.S. The card features some of the best fighters Japan has to offer, as well as an American who is an even bigger star in Japan than he is here in the States. The card also features a lightweight title matchup between Frankie Edgar and Ben “Smooth” Henderson. A lot of lopsided lines unfortunately equals a lot of favorites being picked. The card is handicapped below.

PRELIMINARIES

Tiequan Zhang
(-350)
VS Issei Tamura
(+250)

Zhang is coming off a disappointing performance against Darren Elkins at UFC 136 in Houston, but Issei Tamura is stepping into deep water here. The teammate of Kid Yamamoto, Tamura is a good wrestler who has gotten by controlling his opponents on the ground. Zhang will not be easy to take down or hold down, and he is constantly working for submissions. Look for an early finish. ZHANG DEF. TAMURA BY SUBMISSION (RD 1)

Takeya Mizugaki
(-210)
VS Chris Cariaso
(+165)
 

Mizugaki has alternated wins and losses in his last 9 fights. He is coming off a win over Cole Escovedo in his last fight. The 4 losses in that streak came against the cream of the division, however, and Cariaso doesn’t fit that mold. While he has gone 2-1 in the UFC, this is easily his biggest challenge. Mizugaki will control the fight with his boxing and avoid the takedown attempts en route to a finish. MIZUGAKI DEF. CARIASO BY TKO (RD 2)

Riki Fukuda
(-350)
VS Steve Cantwell
(+250)
 

Fukuda is a well known fighter in Japan, who was the middleweight champ with the Deep organization before coming to the UFC. Cantwell was a standout in the WEC, but has had an awful run in the UFC, losing his last 4. The fact that he is getting this chance is a bit surprising. Fukuda will probably be too much for him though. He controlled Nick Ring with takedowns before being shafted in a decision. Fukuda won’t be stopped this time, and Cantwell will be looking for something else to do. FUKUDA DEF. CANTWELL BY DECISION

Norifumi Yamamoto
(-350)
VS Vaughan Lee
(+250)

Yamamoto is a man in desperate need of a win. Once considered one of the best fighters outside the US, he has fallen on hard times, losing 4 of his last 5. He claims injury, and if that hasn’t been the problem it has to be age. Lee looks like a decent fighter, but he is fighting for the first time outside his home country of England in hostile territory. I don’t feel comfortable with this at all, but I will play “Kid” one last time. If he fails this test, it is probably time to walk away. YAMAMOTO DEF. LEE BY DECISION

  Takanori Gomi
(-220)
VS Eiji Mitsuoka
(+140)
 

Another all time great with his back against the wall, Gomi is really set up nicely to win this fight. Mitsuoka is a late injury replacement, and will be the least accomplished fighter that Gomi has met since coming to the UFC. Gomi still has great pop in his hands, and good (no longer great) takedown defense. Gomi will overwhelm Mitsuoka late in the fight.  GOMI DEF. MITSUOKA BY TKO (RD 3)

MAIN CARD

Anthony Pettis
(-220)
VS Joe Lauzon
(+175)
 

This is a tough fight for me to pick. Pettis is not going to be as careless as Melvin Guillard was against Lauzon. Joe has gotten better, but is he ready for someone as complete as Pettis. This is a huge fight for both guys. I am going to take the odds here and play Lauzon, but tread lightly. I could see Pettis keeping the fight standing up and picking him apart. This is a risky play. LAUZON DEF. PETTIS BY SUBMISSION (RD 2)

Hatsu Hioki
(-170)
VS Bart Palaszewski
(+140)
 

In a matchup of possible contenders for Jose Aldo, Hioki is looking to prove that he is really as good as everyone thought he was before coming to the UFC. He struggled in his first UFC match, but pulled out a win. Palaszewski is a solid fighter with knockout power. He is prone to submissions though, and Hioki can get them from top or bottom. Look for him to grab one late in the fight. HIOKI DEF. PALASZEWSKI BY SUBMISSION (RD 3)

Yushin Okami
(-375)
VS Tim Boetsch
(+275)

Okami is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC. All of his UFC losses have come to top tier fighters, and he holds wins over Nate Marquardt and Mark Munoz. His takedowns are great and he is big enough to bully almost anyone in the division. Boetsch is very strong, but just lacks the skill to challenge Okami in this fight. Look for Okami to toss him around the cage for 15 minutes en route to an easy decision win. OKAMI DEF. BOETSCH BY DECISION

Jake Shields
(-350)
VS Yoshihiro Akiyama
(+250)

Akiyama may be the biggest star of all the Japanese names on the card. He has also struggled to prove he is a good enough fighter since coming to the UFC to warrant the celebrity. Jake Shields is obviously a high level grappler. Both guys are desperate for wins here, but Shields is just better. Akiyama always puts on a show, and I think he will give Shields trouble for a while. Eventually the better fighter will prevail, and Shields will walk out with a submission win. SHIELDS DEF. AKIYAMA BY SUBMISSION (RD 3)

Cheick Kongo
(-350)
VS Mark Hunt
(+250)
 

This fight is exciting because someone is probably going to sleep. Hunt has seen better days, but this is the type of matchup he can win. Kongo is unlikely to have much interest in fighting on the ground, and trading with Hunt is dangerous stuff. Hunt has experience against better fighters, and will be the fan favorite. I am picking the upset here and taking Hunt by TKO. HUNT DEF. KONGO BY TKO (RD 2)

Rampage Jackson
(-260)
VS Ryan Bader
(+200)

On a card full of Japanese fighters, the biggest response from the Tokyo crowd may be for Rampage. He was beloved during his Pride days, and he is thrilled to be fighting in Japan. Bader is always a tough out, but his style doesn’t match up well with Rampage. If Bader kicks the legs, which I don’t ever recall seeing him do, he has a chance. The more likely scenario has Rampage catching Bader with a right hand and putting Bader out. JACKSON DEF. BADER BY KO (RD 3)

MAIN EVENT

Frank Edgar
(-135)
VS Ben Henderson
(+105)

Frank Edgar continues to be one of the most underrated guys in the sport. He has beaten the who’s-who of lightweights, including two wins over the greatest lightweight fighter ever in BJ Penn. Henderson is the better wrestler, but Edgar trains with great BJJ guys and will have a marked advantage on the feet. Edgar’s speed is something that can’t  be duplicated. His hands are incredible and if Henderson can’t put him down it will be a long night. Even if he does, it guarantees nothing. I like Edgar in a 4th round finish. EDGAR DEF. HENDERSON BY TKO (RD 4)

SAFEST PICKS OKAMI, ZHANG
RISKIEST PICKS LAUZON, YAMAMOTO
CONSERVATIVE PARLAY JACKSON, OKAMI, GOMI, ZHANG- PAYS 5/2
MODERATE PARLAY EDGAR, GOMI, OKAMI, HIOKI- PAYS 4/1
AGGRESSIVE PARLAY EDGAR, HUNT, MIZUGAKI, HIOKI- PAYS 13/1
LOTTERY TICKET PARLAY ALL 12 FIGHTS- PAYS 283/1

(all head shots used courtesy of UFC.com)