The UFC’s 12-year absence from Japan will end this Saturday, when the organization jams up the sold-out Saitama Super Arena with an explosive card from top to bottom.
UFC 144 will treat the Japanese audience with scrappy lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, as well as five former champions, and it will showcase a good amount of the country’s talent. Also—Dana White must have known it was coming—Rampage and Gomi will be there to satiate the Pride romantics.
The most exciting reason to watch on Saturday, though, is the guaranteed-as-guaranteed-gets barn burner of a fight between Joe Lauzon and Anthony Pettis, which will open up the main card. Consider yourself five reasons away from being convinced it has the chemistry for Fight of the Night, maybe even Fight of the Year.
Joe Lauzon has finished every single one of his 21 wins. Digest that.
Four of his finishes have come by KO; the remaining 17 are submission victories and demonstrate that he’s capable of expertly wrenching any and every limb with his furious ground game.
Today’s media demand for aggressive sound bites from fighters has resulted in phrases like “go to war” and “finish or be finished” meaning little outside of their quotation marks, but that isn’t the case with Lauzon. He might actually be incapable of coasting or playing it safe.
This approach may have caused him to wane in later rounds in his fights against Kenny Florian, Sam Stout, and George Sotiropoulos, but go back and watch his destruction of Jens Pulver, Jason Reinhardt, Gabe Ruediger, Curt Warburton, and Melvin Guillard and tell me it isn’t absolutely worth it.
Pettis has never been finished in his 16-fight career. He may prove to be enough of an immoveable object to counter Lauzon’s unstoppable force, but luckily for the fans, he’ll have a hell of a time doing it.
Though he’s just as exciting and frenetic as Lauzon at times, Pettis is more of a patient fighter who sometimes relies on the berth his opponents give him to calculate and land his strikes. He was very active off of his back and scrambled well against Guida, but what that fight showed more than anything was that he’s much less effective when constantly pressured.
Since Lauzon will look to close the distance in a similar way, Pettis will have to come with even more than he did against Guida. The difference this time is that he’ll have to contend with more than just takedowns, as Lauzon has the ability to transition from strikes to submissions in a blink.
Lauzon seems to have only setting, one which he dubbed “blind rage” in the UFC 144 Countdown show. Maybe it’s a problem, but from a fan’s perspective, it’s certainly a good problem.
In each of his UFC fights, he’s been able to take down or knock down every single one of his opponents. On the ground he’s as dangerous from the top position as any fighter in the UFC. He also has an excellent submission game off his back and might be the lightweight division’s best scrambler.
Ask Curt Warburton and Melvin Guillard about Lauzon’s blind rage and I’m sure they’ll say it isn’t so blind. Most fighters rely on a sloppy barrage of hammer fists to tip the scales of their opponent's consciousness, a tact which often exhausts them. But even when Lauzon’s killer instinct is activated, he makes smart, calculated decisions; he seems particular and violent at the same time as he unleashes a knee, elbow or rear-naked choke.
Admit it: you still have the .gif of Pettis springing off the cage and head-kicking Bensen Henderson saved on your desktop. It’s ok, you’re not alone—even Bob Arum can’t quite bring himself to move it to the recycling bin.
Is it just me, or did that kick make Tony Jaa and Jet Li suddenly seem less relevant?
Pettis’s kicking game is state of the art to be sure, but that’s not all that’s exciting about him. He’s fluent on the ground as well, snapping for submission attempts and flowing seamlessly into new ones. His legs factor as much into his ground game as they do into his stand up, as all of his submission victories have come by way of triangle choke.
His UFC debut may have disappointed fans who were eager for another wild kick, but on Saturday he’ll have the perfect chance to extend his highlight reel and make all of our jaws drop.
Joe Lauzon is an avid bonus collector, and Anthony Pettis has picked the habit up recently too. The fighters actually have nine post-fight bonuses between them in their last six fights! Lauzon specifically has been awarded a bonus in every fight he’s had in the last three years.
To put things in perspective, if you had the money both fighters have made from bonuses, you could fly to Japan, buy a front-row ticket to UFC 144, and instead of flying back home after the event, you could just buy a house and stay put.
If it were me, I’d bet the whole house on this fight being insane to watch.