So the gauntlet has been laid down. UFC is headed back to the Orient February 26. Alas, the card, you say between the crusty eye gunk!
Only one fight is for sure, but based on how the UFC booked Rio, I'm gonna take a stab at a combination of how I'd book it, and how the UFC will book it.
UFC Lightweight Championship: Frankie Edgar (c) vs. Ben Henderson: This one is for certain....but I'm not sure why. The fuck do the Japanese know or care about Frank Edgar or Benson Henderson? Poor Frankie Edgar. They can't give him a title defense in his home state? This will complete a five-fight cycle of Abu Dhabi, Boston, Las Vegas, Houston, and Tokyo. The UFC had a French-Canadian vs. a Brit for a title in New Jersey, but they can't get their Lightweight champ a shot in his home state? Edgar deserves better.
Light Heavyweight: Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton Jackson: Rampage demands a lot, but two things have stayed consistent. He wants to fight in Japan again, and he wants a rematch against Forrest. With both of these guys firmly entrenched in the senior circuit, it makes perfect sense. Plus Forrest can escape the American media after his mouth-farts.
Middleweight: Mark Munoz vs. Yushin Okami: Two birds with one stone, kids. We all agree Munoz isn't quite there yet. A win over Okami gets him that title shot. Yushin gets to rebound at home and gain a following.
Welterweight: Dan Hardy vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama: If you want to keep Dan Hardy around, this is exactly the kind of fight you keep him around for. This is a built-in FOTN candidate. Since the UFC is committed to keeping Hardy around, this is the type of fight he's bred for.
Middleweight: Winner of Wanderlei/Cung vs. Chris Leben: Either way it works out. Wanderlei has wanted to fight in Japan again. If he wins, he gets to bang it out with Leben again. Cung, while not Japanese, is still an Asian star, and will put on a fun striking show with Leben.
Heavyweight: Mark Hunt vs. Mirko Cro Cop: Why the fuck not?? Mirko hasn't officially hung the checkered shorts up yet and he's mentioned wanting to fight in Japan again, so let's set up a rematch. In this edition of things I never thought I'd ever say....Mark Hunt is on a UFC winning streak and this would be a step up...
Lightweight: George Sotiropolous vs. Takanori Gomi: Obviously, the UFC is keeping Gomi on life-support for the Japanese card. If they really want to feature Gomi, they'll put him against another striker, but after the gate money has been collected, they're going to dump him. Sot will outgrapple Gomi for a submission win, but those tickets are non-refundable...
Featherweight: Dustin Poirier vs. Hatsu Hioki: Besides the main event, this fight might have the biggest title implication. If Hioki is for real after the controversial win over George Roop, he gets to face one of the hottest featherweights in the world. This winner is one fight away from a title shot.
Bantamweight: Chris Cariaso vs. Kid Yamamoto: Kid has to be on this card, regardless of record. It's a win/win for the UFC. If Kid wins, he's redeemed. If Cariaso wins, he's now in the mix.