After twelve long years, the last hurdle to the UFC's return to Japan has been cleared.
Lightweight title challengers Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson both made weight during Friday's UFC 144 weigh-ins at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, rendering their championship tilt official.
Henderson, the former WEC titleholder, hit the crowded stage first, tipping the scales at 154 pounds. Edgar soon followed suit, measuring in at 154 pounds to a respectful round of applause from the Japanese audience.
Despite a tense staredown, both men remained gracious throughout the proceedings. "Ben's a tough dude. It was a good camp to prepare for him," said Edgar, the UFC's reigning champion. "Obviously a new face, a new name. Let's do it."
"Frankie's the man," Henderson replied. "He has a great chin, has a great heart. He has proved himself time and again. He's a great champion. It's going to be an honor for me to take a belt away from a champion like that."
Not surprisingly, light heavyweight co-headliner Quinton Jackson received the loudest ovation of the afternoon. A former star of PRIDE FC who doggedly lobbied to land on the card, "Rampage" somehow came in far overweight for his first Japanese contest since 2006, hitting 211 pounds on the official scale. Jackson agreed to forfeit 20-percent of his purse to Ryan Bader.
"I really wanted to fight here. You guys have no idea what I went through," Jackson said. "I had a lot of up and downs in my camp, and a lot of struggles to get here. Me and Dana (White) almost bumped heads again, but Dana's a cool man and he understood how badly I wanted to be here in Japan, so he allowed me to not fight in Chicago and be here to put on a show for you guys. I love you all."
Jackson further explained his failed cut on FUEL TV. "I thought I was going to make the weight, but I got injured in my camp and it kind of hindered me from doing a lot of running," he revealed. "I didn't want to miss this fight because this fight was so important to me and I fought so hard to get it... I cut 21 pounds. I just couldn't get the last six."
Bader, meanwhile, found his mark at 205 pounds. Hoping to notch the biggest victory of his young career, the TUF 8 winner appeared unfazed at his opponent's warm reception and size advantage.
"It's an honor to fight (Rampage), especially here in Japan," Bader said. "I (grew) up watching PRIDE and watching it here in Japan. I always dreamed of fighting here one day, so a dream came true."
Full weigh-in results are below.
Main card (Pay-Per-View):
Frankie Edgar (154) vs. Ben Henderson (154)
Quinton Jackson (211)* vs. Ryan Bader (205)
Mark Hunt (264) vs. Cheick Kongo (229)
Yoshihiro Akiyama (169) vs. Jake Shields (170)
Yushin Okami (185) vs. Tim Boetsch (186)
Hatsu Hioki (145) vs. Bart Palaszewski (146)
Anthony Pettis (155) vs. Joe Lauzon (156)
*Has agreed to forfeit 20% of his purse.