What we learned from UFC 118
With two wins over B.J. Penn, Frankie Edgar has proven he's a better fighter
Once touted the 'best ever,' B.J. Penn's legacy now comes into question
The Couture-Toney debacle proved MMA and boxing have little in common
After 50 minutes spent together in a cage, we now know this to be true: Frankie Edgar is better than B.J. Penn. If he didn't prove that last April in Abu Dhabi, the scrappy wrestler from Toms River, N.J., undoubtedly did Saturday in Boston with a clean sheet against the 31-year-old Hawaiian.
Ironically, it was a 50-45 tally by judge Douglas Crosby that took so much of the attention away from Edgar's title-winning effort in the spring. Not this time. Now, as it should, the score, which was rendered by each of the three judges seated cage-side at TD Garden, represents the 28-year-old fighter's dominance against a man so many labeled to be best lightweight in mixed martial arts history.
1. How did Edgar do it?
He moved and danced as he has against everyone save Gray Maynard. He also wrestled and grappled and fought. That seems obvious. Of course he did those things. But they were key to his victory because, most importantly, they allowed Edgar (13-1) to be brilliant where Penn (15-7-1) wasn't: in being unpredictable. More to the point, being a mixed martial artist that successfully mixed things up -- types of takedowns, striking inside and out, feinting level changes, kicking and punching to the body and head. As a result, at the end of five rounds Penn was confused and deflated.
Not unlike their first fight, except Edgar fought like a man without any doubts.
Edgar landed 55 percent of his strikes (155/283) to Penn's 34 percent (53/154). The champion was also brilliant with his legs, connecting on 29 of 37 kicks. Penn, as he did in the first bout, failed to do any significant damage in that department, landing just 4 of 13. Edgar was relentless. He put Penn on his back and kept him there as well as anyone has. He won scrambles and generally found himself on top. As the fight wore on, Edgar improved, particularly in the championship rounds, which saw some of his best work.
Edgar proved his point. He's better than B.J. Penn. He's not the fighter who wilted under pressure. Just the opposite. Edgar left no room for debate: he's the UFC lightweight champion.
2. Penn's legacy
About that "best ever" tag that follows Penn wherever he goes, it needs to be reconsidered. Most talented? Hard to argue he wouldn't qualify. But did he get the most out of his gifts? I don't think so. And you don't need to look further than Penn's career and the choices he made to understand why.
For starters, he was fast-tracked. In just his fourth fight, Penn was given a title shot against Jens Pulver. He lost. There was no grooming the Hawaiian. Then, in his seventh fight, he received another title shot. This time a draw against Caol Uno. Two fights later -- after defeating Takanori Gomi in what remains his biggest win in the lightweight division -- Penn moved up a class to fight top welterweight Matt Hughes. That victory may have been the worst thing that happened to Penn. It fed into an obsession resulting in his multi-weight excursion. Two fights later he was at 185. Next, a bout at light heavyweight versus Lyoto Machida. Back to middleweight and then a return to 170, where he lost consecutively to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes.
B.J. Penn could have gone down as the best lightweight of all time, but that two-year journey away from 155 is the reason he won't. The decision to seek heavier challenges, which he claimed was in the spirit of MMA's early days when sumo wrestlers would fight slender jiu-jitsu men and no one considered it odd, was more a symptom of Penn's boredom than anything else.
Instead of focusing on a division in which he could be great, he willingly went elsewhere. And it's why, at the age of 31, Penn's future is dim.
3. Maynard-Edgar 2
With a three-round unanimous decision over Kenny Florian, Gray Maynard (10-0) guaranteed himself a shot at the UFC lightweight title. As it happens, Maynard, who relies on his strength and wrestling to stifle the opposition -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- is the only man with a win over Edgar. And he could very well do it again.
Maynard has won his last seven on points, and apparently sees no reason to do anything other than force his opponents to their back, where he's assured victory.
Edgar, one of the smallest lightweights in MMA, may look like a world beater against Penn, but the rematch with Maynard will offer a tremendous test.
4. No. 1 lightweight in the world?
With Penn clearly removed from the top of the 155-pound division, who can carry the class?
Edgar's two wins over Penn are hard to ignore. A case could be made for Maynard based on his victory over Edgar. (Their fight will likely determine No. 1 for the foreseeable future.) Third-ranked Gilbert Melendez, the current Strikeforce champion, would give either of the previously mentioned fighters a terrific scrap. Bellator titleholder Eddie Alvarez, a training partner of Edgar's, belongs in the discussion. And then there's the serious talent of Evan Dunham to consider.
They're all wrestlers first. All scrappers. All in their primes or about to be in their primes.
It's too bad, of course, that we won't see Melendez or Alvarez fight the UFC's. In the meantime, hopefully Strikeforce and Bellator will find a way to bring their champions together; Melendez-Alvarez is one of the most intriguing fights outside the UFC at the moment.
Lightweight is about to enter a new phase in its history.
5. Boxing vs. MMA
Boxing and mixed martial arts have very little in common outside the fact that their main objections remain the same -- render the opposition incapable of fighting back.
We didn't learn anything from Randy Couture's exploits in the cage with James Toney that we didn't figure out in 1993. A standup fighter lacking wrestling cannot compete in a mixed-style fight. Is this supposed to be some revelation? So what? Fans that bothered tuning in for the farce got exactly what they should have expected.
Neither sport was hurt. Neither benefited. And until there's a fighter capable of competing at the highest levels of boxing, wrestling, submission grappling and kickboxing, let's leave this kind of stuff for lesser promotions in need of a gimmick.
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