Edgar fighting for respect (still) against Maynard at UFC 125
For some reason, Frankie Edgar doesn't get the respect typically afforded a champ
A native of Toms River, N.J., Edgar won the UFC lightweight title from B.J. Penn
Edgar's lone career loss came at the hands of Saturday opponent Gray Maynard
That's the word of the day for Saturday, as it is every January 1, when people the world over resolve to leave their excesses, weaknesses and misdeeds of the past year behind as they step lightly into a clean-slate future. Or they join a gym and work out three times a week through the end of the month, once a week in February, then never set foot in the place again. Just like last year.
There's no need for either Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard to renounce or improve upon 2010. It was a very good year, not just for small-town girls and soft summer nights, but also for the two fighters who'll square off Saturday night in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC 125: Resolution. Edgar's year was highlighted by him capturing the lightweight championship with a close but unanimous decision over B.J. Penn in April. He then defended the title -- and answered critics who claimed B.J. had really been the better man in that UFC 112 upset -- by dominating Penn in an August rematch. That same night, on the undercard of UFC 118, the first sanctioned mixed martial arts event in Boston, Maynard quieted the crowd by smothering hometown boy Kenny Florian to secure this shot at Edgar and the UFC belt. Maynard had taken a big step in that direction back in January, eking out a close split-decision win over the hard-to-solve puzzle that is Nate Diaz. Yes, it was a very good year for these two fighters.
But the word resolution also refers to the act of determining something, and much will be determined on Saturday night. The main event will determine who'll get to walk out of the octagon wearing UFC leather around his waist, of course, but there's something less tangible at stake as well, particularly for Edgar. Respect, or a lack thereof. Maybe it's because Frankie is a lightweight who's really a lightweight (as opposed to the heftier Maynard, who has to cut quite a few pounds to make weight). Maybe it's because Edgar is a man of few words, and the ones he chooses are not used to brag. Maybe it's simply because he's from Jersey. For whatever reason, Frankie Edgar does not receive the respect typically due a champion. Even after two victories over the legendary B.J. Penn, the champ will enter the cage as the underdog.
That's not exactly a slap in the face, though, because Edgar's only career loss was to Maynard, who is unbeaten ... and it's hard to bet against someone who's never been defeated. In their first meeting, at UFC Fight Night 13 back in April 2008, Maynard (10-0) lived up to his nickname -- "The Bully" -- by strong-arming Edgar (13-1) for three rounds, taking him to the mat, maintaining control, never giving Frankie room to operate. It was the perfect plan of attack against Edgar -- speed doesn't mean a thing when there's nowhere to go.
Maynard always is a man with a plan, and he always executes it with patience. Against Florian, for instance, he consistently waited for Kenny to make a move, negating his counterpunching prowess and eventually making him look impatient and confused. Gray will need a different plan for Edgar, who has no problem getting off first and will pick you apart if you sit back and let him bring the fight to you. Maynard will likely switch things up from the first fight with Edgar, too, because Frankie has established a frenetic pace in his last few bouts and Maynard will want to slow him down. Expect Gray to do his damndest to transform the cage into a phone booth (remember those?), and when he gets Edgar in a clinch against the cage, he's going to keep him there. Or take him down.
Edgar, meanwhile, cannot fight Maynard's fight again. Frankie has a wrestling background himself, and even though he had to know his best chance in their first fight was when he and Gray were on their feet, he allowed the fighting to remain on the ground for far too long. If Edgar has a role model for this fight, it's Cain Velasquez (not a bad role model), who like Frankie was far outsized by his last opponent and, as Frankie no doubt will be on Saturday, was taken down a couple of times. But both times his backside hit the canvas in that Brock Lesnar fight in October, Cain sprung right back to his feet. Frankie Edgar must do the same. He doesn't have to outwrestle Maynard; he just has to get out from underneath him and bring the bout to standing, where his quickness and precision punching make him the one who'll be scoring points with the judges.
I say it that way because this fight is going to the judges. Isn't that obvious? Between them in their last seven bouts apiece, Edgar and Maynard have had 13 decisions and just one stoppage. Frankie peppers you, Maynard smothers you, but neither finishes you. Don't yawn just yet, however. While we shouldn't expect Fight of the Night fireworks, this is going to be a compelling bout to watch. Who'll impose his will, fight his fight and walk away as champion?
That's the only fight at UFC 125 with a title belt at stake, but others on the card have something even more substantive on the line: careers. The deck is stacked with several bouts whose implications fall into a few categories:
Chris Leban vs. Brian Stann: That this bout is billed second on the card, right below the main event, tells you how Leben's stock has risen. He might have had the best 2010 of any UFC fighter who's not wearing a belt. "The Crippler" had three wins, including a pair of big ones -- a TKO of Aaron Simpson, a submission of Yoshihiro Akiyama -- within a two-week span over the summer. Another victory, Dana White has said, would put Leben in the mix for a middleweight title shot. But standing in his way is the powerful former light heavyweight Brian Stann -- and I do mean standing in his way. These guys both have some ground game, but their default button is set on stand and bang. They could put on a fireworks display more explosive than anything seen on New Year's Eve. Leben and Stann both tend to fight the kind of fight that White likes rewarding with bonus checks at the end of the night.
Clay Guida vs. Takanori Gomi: If Leben-Stann is to win Fight of the Night honors, it's going to have to surpass this runaway train. Neither Guida nor Gomi has a reverse gear or a brake pedal. And with one being a ground-and-pounder and the other being a knock-you-to-the-grounder, the stylistic contrast only adds to the appeal. Strap on your seatbelt.
Thiago Silva vs. Brandon Vera: After reeling off 13 straight victories to start his MMA career, Silva has lost two of three. Never mind that those losses came against Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans. The widely held perception is that Silva is on a downward spiral, and you know how perception and reality dance. As for Vera, his movement has been more up and down. When he TKO'd Frank Mir in just over a minute to run his record to 8-0 back in 2006, he looked like a man waiting to be fitted for a title belt. But he then dropped two straight to fall out of sight. He righted the sinking ship with a pair of 2009 wins, but since then has lost two in a row again. Like Silva, he didn't lose to pushovers (Randy Couture, Jon Jones). But like Silva, he now is a reclamation project. The winner here climbs a rung on the ladder. The loser? Freefall.
Mike Thomas Brown vs. Diego Nunes: A little over a year ago, Brown was the WEC featherweight champ, riding high after wins over Urijah Faber (twice), Leonard Garcia and Jeff Curran. But then he was wrecked in just over a minute by Jose Aldo, and it's been a roller coaster ride for him ever since: a couple of quick wins sandwiched around a KO loss to Manny Gamburyan. Now he steps in against the up-and-coming Nunes, who is 15-1 but has not faced anyone with the firepower of Brown. It's time for the ex-champ to take a stand. Now or never.
Nate Diaz vs. Dong Hyun Kim: The Nate Diaz who moved up from 155 last summer and picked apart Marcus Davis had the look of a title contender. But is that the Nate we'll see on Saturday night? He's had his ups and downs, but Nate had better be on an upward swing if he wants to down Kim, who at 13-0-1 is all upside. (Kim's unbeaten mark was preserved last year when a split-decision loss was changed to no contest after Karo Parisyan tested positive for a banned substance.) The loser here will not disappear, as long as it's a crowd-pleasing (and Dana-pleasing) three rounds of full-on engagement. But for the winner, the sky's the limit.
Josh Grispi vs. Dustin Poirer: Grispi was supposed to be challenging for the featherweight belt in the co-main event on Saturday night, but Jose Aldo hurt his neck in training and had to withdraw. So now Josh drops down on the card to face Poirier, a dangerous striker whose fists ended his last two wins within a minute. Grispi represents a big step up in competition, though, so when Poirier comes out firing, as he surely will, he'd be wise to act with caution. Does he have it in him?
There's even more on Saturday night's stacked card, which will be on pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET, with prelims on free TV at 9 via some network called ION Television. (Dana White insists that everyone in the country has access to it, but I checked and I don't.) Antonio McKee, who has used strong grappling to win 11 straight, makes his UFC debut against Jacob Volkmann. Marcus Davis, coming off a disheartening hometown loss to Nate Diaz in August, drops to lightweight to take on Jeremy Stephens. Greg Soto and Daniel Roberts, each with just one loss (Soto's via DQ), mix it up with much to gain for both guys. And then there's the always entertaining Phil Baroni, who'll bring in his WWE swagger against 6-0 TUF alum Brad Tavares. Not a bad evening at the fights.
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