UFC 144 kicks off this Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. MMAFrenzy begins its coverage of UFC 144 with writers Chris Leslie and Bryan Robison taking a look at the preliminary card.
The preliminary card begins with a one fight Facebook card around 7:30pm ET and the rest of the prelims taking place on FX at 8pm ET.
Bryan Robison’s Things to Watch
Does Takanori Gomi have anything left?
The last time we saw Gomi, he was being dismantled by Nate Diaz at UFC 135 in September. Now he returns to the venue that made him a star over five years ago.
“The Fireball Kid” has been disappointing since making his way stateside in the UFC. At 1-3 in the organization, Gomi could very well be fighting a farewell fight on Saturday.
He faces an opponent in Eiji Mitsuoka, who stepped in for an injured George Sotiropolous with just a few weeks’ notice. Mitsuoka, a fellow former Japanese Pride fighter, has fought just twice over the last two years. His strength lies in Gomi’s weakness, and that is on the ground. Of Mitsuoka’s 18 career wins, 11 are by submission.
Even though he is a late-notice opponent, Gomi should not look pats Mitsuoka because of his strong submission game, and if he loses, it could be his last time entering the Octagon.
Can Steve Cantwell return to the win column?
Cantwell’s last victory was over three years ago. That came in December 2008 against Razak Al-Hassan, who has long been gone from the UFC.
Now Cantwell enters the cage on a four fight loss streak. This will be his second fight at middleweight, so if he is to lose, he will no longer have an excuse to fall back on concerning a new weight class.
Four years ago, Cantwell was transitioning to the UFC with the WEC light heavyweight championship belt around his waist. Unfortunately for Cantwell, everything has gone downhill for him since then.
Cantwell faces Riki Fukada, who last fought over a year ago at UFC 127. Much like Cantwell, the former Deep middleweight champion has suffered from injuries over the last few years.
With this fight, it seems apparent that the loser will certainly be fighting for the final time in the Octagon.
Chris Leslie’s Things to Watch
Can Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto stop the slide and stay relevant?
At one point in Kid’s career he was one of the most promising fighters in all of MMA. A Japanese fighter with an amazing wrestling family and impressive wrestling credentials of his own, if any Japanese fighter seem poised for success in the US it seemed to be him. Now at 1-4 in his last five, Yamamoto needs a win in a big way.
While there are rumors of a possible future at 125 for Kid, without a strong performance in Saitama he risks losing any relevance at both 135 and 125.
Is Takeya Mizugaki a gatekeeper or a true threat?
Takeya Mizugaki is one of the better Japanese fighters that people often forget. The reason people tend to forget him is that whenever he has fought top competition, he comes up short. In Chris Cariaso, Mizugaki faces a strong fighter who is poised for a run if he wins Saturday. Mizugaki’s skills are better than Cariaso’s but a loss Saturday could relegate him to being a gatekeeper in the UFC.
Bonus thing to watch: The Japanese and Chinese have long had a rather frosty, at best, history with each other. Meaning the ovation that Chinese fighter Tiequan Zhang when he faces Japanese fighter Issei Tamura could be rather harsh, even with it being the first fight of the night.
Stay tuned to MMAFrenzy for complete coverage of UFC 144.