This Saturday, the 25th of February, marks the UFC's return to Japan for the first time in over a decade. Before the promotion was purchased by Zuffa, the SEG-owned league ventured to The Land of the Rising Sun on four different occasions: Ultimate Japan in 1997 (which staged the premiere of all-time great Kazushi Sakuraba), Ultimate Japan 2 and 3 in 1999 and 2000 and UFC 29: Defense of the Belts, also in 2000.
UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson will occupy the renowned Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo and treat the fans in attendance to the UFC's best and most popular Japanese fighters. The show is headlined by a lightweight championship bout pitting Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson and complemented by hometown favorite Quinton Jackson taking on Ryan Bader in the co-main. A monumental seven fights are pegged for the show's main card with four preliminary match ups slated to air on the FX channel and one on Facebook.
The lone Facebook bout will showcase Chinese standout Tiequan Zhang (15-2) vs. Issei Tamura (6-2). Tamura is replacing Leonard Garcia, who was originally paired with Zhang but forced to withdraw with an injury. He's been a staple in Shooto and won the longstanding feeder promotion's 2008 "Rookie Tournament." Tamura started off with a flawless record after five outings but has since dropped two of his last three; his best wins are over Australian bantamweight Gustavo Falciroli (9-3) and scrappy Japanese journeyman Katsuya Toida. Tamura reps Kid Yamamoto's Krazy Bee fight team and all but one of his six victories have come via decision.
More UFC 144 Dissections
Zhang came on to the stateside scene as an undefeated and highly touted Chinese prospect and lived up to the hype with a first-round submission of Pablo Garza at WEC 51, but suffered his first career defeat to Danny Downes by decision at WEC 53. "The Mongolian Wolf" has since split results in the UFC by tapping Jason Reinhardt with a guillotine at UFC 127 and losing a decision to tenacious wrestler Darren Elkins at UFC 136. Zhang has finished each of his fifteen wins with twelve submissions and three TKOs.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Now that we've seen more of Zhang against top-shelf competition, his overall skill-set is fairly commonplace except that he fearlessly hunts for submission attempts.
That tendency has panned out with a pile of catch-wins, yet was also his downfall in his last foray against Elkins. Zhang pursued the guillotine choke from the front headlock position when Elkins shot in for takedowns, which consistently led to him being put on his back . Zhang's inability to recognize the fruitless attempts and blissful persistence with them unfolded as a glaring mental error.
He snatched one guillotine per round and, although the first and third attempts were definitely threatening, they were ultimately stifled by Elkins, who went on to reverse position and take all three rounds on the score cards.
The exact level of Elkins' submission defense isn't quite clear: he was armbarred by Charles Oliveira but displayed excellent technique against Zhang and Michihiro Omigawa. Striking-wise, Zhang is a very basic boxer who throws simple one-twos, generally as a means to close distance and clinch up.
Zhang has progressed his grappling from blue to brown belt level since hooking up with Carlson Gracie student Ruy Menezes just before his North American tour began.
Issei Tamura first took up Jiu Jitsu at age nineteen. Now twenty-seven, Tamura is still in his fourth year as a professional fighter but will be seriously under-sized for a featherweight (5'5") and generally devoid of experience against relevant competition. On the Shooto circuit, Tamura, a decent wrestler, typically applied his Jiu Jitsu knowledge defensively, assuming the top position after a takedown and thwarting his opponent's activity with ground-and-pound and guard-passing attempts.
UFC newcomers always have their hands full and Tamura is even more encumbered in that he's lost two of his last three. This should be a nice showcase fight for Zhang, who I expect to take a convincing decision or win by submission.
My Prediction: Tiequan Zhang by submission.
Gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com