UFC 144: What's Next for the Winners
For the first time in over 10 years, the UFC returned to Japan to put on one of its bigger events of the year, which included a seven-fight pay-per-view event headlined by UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar defending his title for the third time against former WEC champion Benson Henderson.
Also on the card, former PRIDE superstar Quinton "Rampage" Jackson took on Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Bader, who was looking to get a win over one of the biggest names in the sport.
Other bouts on the main card saw lightweight standouts Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon competing in a contender's matchup as well as middleweights Yushin Okami and Tim Boetsch.
Heavyweights Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo also fought while featherweights Hatsu Hioki and Bart Palaszewski battled for a chance at Jose Aldo's title.
This is what's next for the winners.
Anthony Pettis Defeats Joe Lauzon by KO in Round 1
Anthony "Showtime" Pettis claimed his second UFC victory in a row after he knocked out Joe Lauzon in the first round with a head kick and some follow-up strikes.
Lauzon entered the bout having claimed back-to-back victories over Melvin Guillard and Curt Warburton, but that didn't stop Pettis from attacking early and capitalizing on the openings.
The former WEC lightweight champion now sets himself up for a No. 1 contender's matchup with the winner of Jim Miller and Nate Diaz, which goes down at the third UFC on FOX event.
Hatsu Hioki Defeats Bart Palaszewski Via Unanimous Decision
A title shot may have just been on the line for featherweights Hatsu Hioki and Bart Palaszewski, and the Japanese fighter made a statement in beating his opponent over the course of three rounds to secure a dominant decision win.
In the end, the judges' scorecards read 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28 for Hioki, giving him his 26th victory overall.
Now, the 28-year-old makes a claim to being the top contender in the division. With Jose Aldo sitting at the top without many opponents left for him to fight, Hioki may find himself getting the title shot in his next fight, and it would be well-deserved.
Tim Boetsch Defeats Yushin Okami by TKO in Round 3
Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch had to pull out a knockout to win a fight he was losing against Yushin Okami, and he did just that when he stunned the Japanese fighter with a series of uppercuts in the third round of their middleweight bout.
For two rounds, Boetsch had been on the receiving end of Okami's offense, and it looked as if Okami was going to ride to a decision win. When Boetsch came back, he made his shots count and got the stoppage with four minutes left in the fight.
With the win, Boetsch now sees himself at 3-0 in the UFC's middleweight division with wins over Okami, Nick Ring and Kendall Grove.
If the UFC decides to put him into a contender's bout, it could come against Mark Munoz.
Jake Shields Defeats Yoshihiro Akiyama by Unanimous Decision
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In an intense cardio battle, former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields had to gather whatever strength he had left after three grueling rounds to pull out a victory against former middleweight standout Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Shields was looking to break a two-fight losing streak heading into the bout, while Akiyama had been on an even bigger losing streak at three.
Shields got his opponent down in the third round and momentarily had back control before the time ran out on the clock. The scorecards read 30-27 for him in a competitive fight.
An good fight for Shields could come against Rory MacDonald, who is taking on Che Mills at UFC 145 in April. MacDonald has a lot of momentum behind him and may only be two or three fights away from a title shot.
Mark Hunt Defeats Cheick Kongo by TKO in Round 1
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In a battle of former K1 strikers, Mark Hunt knocked out Cheick Kongo in the very first round to break his .500 win-loss record and extend his record to eight wins and seven losses.
With the victory, Hunt now finds himself advancing in the UFC ranks with a win over Ben Rothwell from his last fight.
A fight with Stefan Struve could provide some very exciting exchanges between the two and would show just where the maturity level of Struve is as he moves up in the division.
Ryan Bader Defeats Quinton Jackson by Unanimous Decision
Ryan Bader was able to pick up the biggest win of his career when he out-pointed former UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson over three rounds to win a unanimous decision.
It was a welcomed return to Japan for Jackson, but Bader was able to spoil the party and control Jackson for the majority of the bout. In the end, his strength and conditioning was just too much and it earned him the decision.
If Alexander Gustafsson is able to make it past a former Bader opponent in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in April, that could be a matchup that fans could get behind.
Benson Henderson Defeats Frankie Edgar by Unanimous Decision
For five competitive and entertaining rounds of lightweight action, former WEC champion Benson Henderson worked his way to becoming a UFC champion before defeating Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
The fight could have gone either way, and although Edgar landed more, Henderson was able to make his shots count and the damage showed. A brutal up-kick in the first round split the bridge of Edgar's nose open, and punches were able to bruise the left eye of Edgar.
With the UFC having granted two rematches for BJ Penn and Gray Maynard with Edgar, they should do the same here and give Edgar a rematch with Henderson.
The UFC's lightweight division is as stacked as it gets, and the only challenger for Henderson at the moment besides Edgar is Anthony Pettis, who already claimed a win over Henderson at the final WEC event.