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UFC 144 set, Leben suspended

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship will return to Japan for the first time in more than 11 years when it lands at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on Feb. 26. This UFC 144 card is stacked with five high-profile matchups and two additional fights featuring the promotion’s best local talent.

Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar will put his lightweight belt on the line against Ben ‘Smooth’ Henderson in the main event. Edgar is coming off a thrilling fourth-round knockout of long-time nemesis Gray Maynard at UFC 136. Henderson, the former WEC champion, has won his first three fights in the Octagon, including a unanimous decision over Clay Guida at UFC on Fox 1.

Rampage Jackson will be looking to bounce back from his fourth-round TKO loss to Jon Jones when he collides with Ryan Bader in the co-main event. Jackson is a former staple of the fighting scene in Japan from his days of fighting in the PRIDE organization.

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Bader suffered the first two losses of his career in 2011, getting submitted by Jones and Tito Ortiz. But the former Arizona St. wrestler got back on track at UFC 139 last week, finishing Jason Brilz with a first-round KO.

Jake Shields went seven years without a loss but has gone down in his last two fights vs. Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger. The former Strikeforce middleweight champ will return to the Octagon to face Yoshihiro Akiyama in the latter’s debut in the welterweight division.

Joe Lauzon will take on Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis in another 155-pound showdown. Might the winner’s next fight be a contender matchup for the right at a title shot? That’s possible, but much more likely if Pettis wins. Also in the lightweight division, Takanori Gomi will face George Sotiropoulos, who is hoping to avoid a third straight loss after winning his first eight UFC fights.

Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo will collide in the heavyweight division, while Yushin Okami will take on Tim Boetsch in the Japanese fighter’s first outing since losing to Anderson Silva in Brazil.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The UFC announced Monday that it has suspended Chris ‘The Crippler’ Leben for one year after he tested positive for Oxycodone and Oxymorphone in a post-UFC 138 drug test. Leben is one of the UFC’s most exciting and popular fighters. Before losing to Mark Munoz a few weeks ago, Leben was on a 4-1 roll with victories over Akiyama and Wanderlei Silva.

--The UFC’s inaugural event on FX will be on Jan. 20 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The main event will feature lightweight contenders Melvin Guillard and Jim Miller, both of whom are coming off crushing losses when each appeared on the verge of getting a title shot.

--As of early Monday (11/28) night, I couldn’t find betting numbers for any UFC 144 fights. I checked BoDog, Sportsbook.com, BetUS.com and BetOnFighting.com.

--I’m thinking Guillard will be a favorite in the minus-160 range with Miller available at around +130.

--Most of the betting action is coming in on Alistair Overeem for his heavyweight bout against Brock Lesnar in the main event at UFC 141. Most books opened Overeem at around -130 or -140, but BetOnFighting has the former Strikeforce champ at -175 with Lesnar as a plus-145 underdog.

--According to Heavy.Com (per Bloody Elbow), Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Ellenberger is in the works, possibly as a part of UFC on Fox 2. Now that is a fight I want to see!

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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