Frankie Edgar won the UFC lightweight championship by defeating the incumbent BJ Penn in April of 2010. Since then, Edgar has defended his belt three times. Now, in an ideal world, that would’ve meant three new opponents, each providing disparate pugilistic permutations that would entertain solely on the basis of us getting to see “The Answer” facing someone different. But the real world has proven less than ideal. In his first bout after snatching Penn’s belt, Edgar had to fight… Penn. After that, he took on top contender Gray Maynard. Again. And again. Once Edgar became the UFC champ and had to fight to retain his crown, it was against people he’d already fought before. That fact alone makes UFC 144’s main event – a pairing that pits Edgar against former WEC champ Benson Henderson – pretty damn special if you ask me. For the first time in years, we are finally getting see Edgar scrap with someone without the last name of Penn or Maynard! Never mind that UFC 144 is the promotion’s first return to Japan since UFC 29. Edgar gets to defend his belt against someone new! Hoo-frickin’-ray! Anyway, here’s a preview of the main card.

-Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson – Edgar has been in the cage with Maynard for so many rounds they would be considered married under common law in some cultures. I guess that makes what’s about to happen between the champ and challenger – and I’m talking about the impending knock down-drag out violence they’re sure to provide – the most torrid of affairs. What’s in store? We all know these gentlemen can go hard for five whole rounds, that they don’t go down easily and that they can duke it out on the feet or settle matters on the ground. What we don’t know, however, is if “Bendo” can deal with Edgar’s unwavering pace and ability to turn a transition into “Pow! I just TKO’d your ass!” I envision Henderson putting up a good fight, but eventually Edgar wears the poor guy down into a nub, and that’s all she wrote.

-Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader – “Rampage” is still one of the best in the world at light-heavyweight, regardless of how the superhuman Jon Jones handled him. Bader’s got great wrestling and can hit hard, but the TUF winner has flaws (as evidenced by how the very human Tito Ortiz handled him). Therefore, unless Jackson’s vast mileage has caught up with him between now and the last time we saw him (and again, don’t hold his performance against Jones against him; mortals fall to Jones, that’s just how it is), he should have little problem stuffing every one of Bader’s attempts to manhandle him, and out-boxing the heavy-handed TUFer. Rampage via decision.

-Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt – Kongo can be exciting when he’s forced to be. Or, he can hold dudes against the fence and knee them in the nuts relentlessly, which is not that exciting. Hunt was a striking stud back in the day, and made more than a few PRIDE and K-1 events interesting. Unfortunately, time has seen his ability and raw talent decline something fierce, so what we have competing in the Octagon now is someone who can pick off the scrubs, but who’ll have trouble with the tougher guys. And Kongo is one of the tougher guys in the UFC’s heavyweight division. I want to believe that Hunt will come out winging bolos and force Kongo to fight. I don’t see that happening, though. Kongo is going to mush Hunt against the fence, hold him there, and knee him where the sun doesn’t shine. Kongo via painful decision.

-Jake Shields vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama – Shields was the big man on campus when the school was Strikeforce, but since graduating to the University of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, his grades have plummeted. But that’s okay, because UFC 144 Akiyama has made a name for himself by fighting hard and losing even harder (other than a two-minute drubbing at the hands of Vitor Belfort, Akiyama left it all in the cage against Alan Belcher, Michael Bisping and Chris Leben, and did not look impressive at any time). Anyway, Shields’ wrestling and jiu-jitsu should prove to be the deciding factor here, with Japanese judoka getting put on his back, and regaining his feet only after the referee pulls Shields off of him.

-Tim Boetsch vs. Yushin Okami – Boetsch, who made tossing guys on the head cool again, has been kicking ass since dropping to middleweight. Meanwhile, in his last UFC outing, Okami looked absolutely horrific against champ Anderson Silva. Like, “Why did this guy even take up fighting?” horrific. Of course, in Okami, Boetsch is facing someone far tougher and accomplished than anyone else he’s ever faced, but still, watching someone get tossed on their head is fun. If Okami comes in as gun shy and craptastic as he did against Silva, he’s going to be taking a short flight to Sideofthecage Land. I’m picking the Japanese fighter to grind out the decision, but damn am I hoping we get to see Boetsch throw someone.

-Hatsu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski – Palaszewki was on the fast train to Suckville after a mottled stint in the WEC, but in his Octagon debut he wrecked Tyson Griffin as if Griffin was a chump. So here we are, with Palaszewski taking on Shooto and Sengoku champ Hioki in what should be a squash match for the Japanese fighter. Why? Because with the way Griffin’s been stinking up the joint as of late, defeating him doesn’t truly elevate Palaszewski to greatness, and Hioki has more skill in his stool than the American has in his whole body. Hioki via decision.

-Joe Lauzon vs. Anthony Pettis – Whenever you think Lauzon is going to lose, he spoils it by smashing his way to victory. Pettis, who won the WEC belt right when it was about to no longer mean anything, is fantastic on the feet and capable of some wondrous moves, and in theory should be able to TKO his way to victory, but… it’s Joe Lauzon we’re talking about here. Lauzon can explode and hit hard, and he can molest opponents on the ground. Is he able to out-strike Pettis in a protracted standup war? No, but he can surprise Pettis with a dose of knuckles to the grill and follow it up smoothly with some submission love. And that makes him dangerous as hell. I’m predicting Pettis to get the TKO, but damn could Lauzon pull another rabbit out of his hat. That’d be cool, too.