A vicious upkick by Benson Henderson opened a nasty gash on the bridge of Frankie Edgar’s nose and changed the complexion of the fight Saturday as Henderson captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title with a unanimous decision over the champion.
Edgar, who was making his fourth defense of the belt, felt he had done enough to win the decision in the main event of UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan.
“Those are the breaks,” Edgar said. “Congrats to Ben.”
Edgar did well early, catching several of Henderson’s kicks and landing punches. He had Henderson down in the closing seconds of Round 2 when the upkick cut open his face.
Edgar’s face was bloody for the rest of the fight, and Henderson landed shots more freely. Henderson also got close to finishing with a guillotine in the fourth round, but he credited Edgar for avoiding being finished with the choke.
Henderson won 49-46 on two cards and 48-47 on the third.
Also, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s journey back to the country where he became a mixed martial arts star started poorly when he missed weight by 6 pounds at Friday’s weigh-ins.
Things got worse for Jackson once his fight against Ryan Bader began. Jackson looked sluggish and out of shape, allowing Bader to earn a unanimous decision over the former light heavyweight champion in the nation where he rose to prominence as one of the most popular fighters in the defunct Pride Fighting Championships.
Jackson slammed the Reno native in the second round, but it was about the only highlight Jackson produced.
Bader, the Season 8 champion from “The Ultimate Fighter,” said the victory was even bigger than his “TUF” title.
“Beating Rampage here in Japan is an amazing experience and amazing feeling,” he said.
The Japanese fighters on the main card had mixed results.
Hatsu Hioki solidified his status as a featherweight contender in his second UFC fight with a decision over Bart Palaszewski.
It was the second straight win for Hioki, one of the world’s top-ranked 145-pound fighters, and sixth straight win overall.
Yushin Okami and Yoshihiro Akiyama weren’t as successful in their homecomings.
Okami, fighting for the first time since losing a middleweight title bout against Anderson Silva, controlled Tim Boetsch for two rounds before Boetsch landed a barrage of right uppercuts early in the third round to knock out Okami.
Akiyama stuffed most of Jake Shields’ takedown attempts but was outstruck by Shields, who won all three rounds on all three scorecards.
The win snapped a two-fight skid for Shields and marked the fourth straight loss for Akiyama, who might have appeared in the UFC for the last time.
Also, Anthony Pettis re-established himself as a lightweight contender with a head-kick knockout of Joe Lauzon.
Heavyweight Mark Hunt took 2:11 to knock out Cheick Kongo. Hunt, a champion kickboxer, had lost six MMA fights in a row and hadn’t won an MMA bout since 2006 before his current three-fight winning steak.
Two Japanese superstars appeared on the undercard as lightweight Takanori Gomi snapped a two-fight skid with a second-round knockout of countryman Eiji Mitsuoka and Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto was submitted by Vaughan Lee late in the first round of a bantamweight bout.
Also, Riki Fukuda won a unanimous decision over Las Vegan Steve Cantwell in a middleweight bout, and bantamweight Chris Cariaso took a unanimous decision over Takeya Mizugaki.
In the only untelevised bout of the night, late replacement Issei Tamura stunned featherweight Zhang Tiequan with a highlight-reel knockout in the second round.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.