On a night of super fights, Aldo-Edgar superfight lived up to its billing
LAS VEGAS - So that's a superfight, eh?
That was the billing the UFC jumped through hoops to attach to Saturday night's championship fight between featherweight belt holder José Aldo and former lightweight king Frankie Edgar. The implication here -- and in the hype for a couple of champion-vs.-champion showdowns the promotion is hoping to put together -- is that this little bit of matchmaking is special.
But that's not necessarily so. Sure, it's a excellent day's work for the promoters when they can entice two indomitable champs into the cage together. (Even in this case, where Edgar came in off two losses, it's tantalizing for fans who recognize that his heart still beats with a champion's thunder.) But in concept these fights are no more special than when some dynamo who's wasted everyone in his path as he's worked his way up the ranks finally has his moment of truth against the owner of the belt. A big fight is a big fight.
A superfight? It's super only when the fighters make it super. And Aldo and Edgar delivered a super fight that had the crowd of 10,275 rocking the Mandalay Bay Events Center, transforming the building into what can only be described as a superatmosphere for what turned out to be a unanimous decision victory for the champion.
It was unanimous but not easy. In fact, the unanimity was only among the judges, two of whom scored the fight 49-46, the other one 48-47. Press row was divided on the scoring, and the crowd booed the decision. Or at least that was the response of half of the building, which seemed pretty evenly divided between Aldo fans and Edgar fans.
As the main event began, the chant of "Frankie! Frankie!" filled the building. It didn't seem possible that so much noise could be produced by anything less than the whole arena. But then came an "Aldo! Aldo!" chant that was no less earsplitting. Soon the Brazilian fans began singing. Eventually we got the requisite "USA! USA!" chant.
What kept the crowd going was the nonstop action inside the cage. Aldo (22-1) usually is the aggressor in his fights, but on this night Edgar (15-4-1) took that role for the most part and the champion settled into being an elusive defender. He was masterful at it, especially early in the fight. According to FightMetric statistics, Edgar landed just 5-of-34 strikes in the first round, 7-of-51 in the second. Aldo also fended off two of three takedown attempts in the second, and the one time Edgar did put him on the mat, he bounced right back up.
Aldo, meanwhile, was connecting at a better clip, mostly with distance-creating jabs. Before the second round was over, Edgar had blood streaming out of his nose. Of course, that's par for the course for Frankie. He always seems to sustain more visible damage than his opponents. No doubt when the guy's at home and gets down on the living room rug with his kids, he's the one with the bruises and bloody nose when playtime is over. That's Frankie being Frankie.
Another part of being Frankie Edgar is the relentless comeback, and he didn't cheat the fans on this night. His pace never slowed and he seemed to find his punching range in the third, with his momentum carrying into the championship rounds. While the judges' cards said otherwise, the vibe in the building as the fifth round began was that this was for all the marbles. And both fighters sure fought like it was. Frankie stayed on the pursuit, and José remained elusive to the end. When the horn sounded, each fighter raised his arms in exultation, and Aldo took off on what he hoped would be a victory lap. One of his handlers grabbed him and hoisted the champ on his shoulders, whereupon one of Edgar's guys did the same for Frankie.
But only one victory celebration was validated when the decision was read. Aldo had his 15th straight victory, Edgar his third straight loss. Frankie stood along the cage, downcast, as the Brazilians celebrated across the octagon, but even though he confessed afterward that he thought he'd won -- just as he'd said following both losses to Benson Henderson -- he was gracious in defeat. "He left with the belt," Edgar said of his opponent. "He's the champion."
And the winner of a superfight ... or just a super fight?
It actually was a night of super fights. Antônio Rogério Nogueira pulling off an upset over a sluggish Rashad Evans. Bigfoot Silva using his Bigfists to crush Alistair Overeem and the latter's promise of a shot at the heavyweight belt. Demian Maia wiping up the mat with a longtime king of the canvas, Jon Fitch. Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall keeping their 125-pound motors whirring for 15 high-speed and high-impact minutes.
To wit ...
• Bittersweet for Suga: Nogueira was the biggest underdog on the card, while Evans was practically being anointed the next challenger for middleweight champion Anderson Silva. There were whispers questioning the commitment of "Little Nog," who'd lost two of his last three fights. Rashad was going to be too fast, to versatile.
That's not the way the fight unfolded, though. Nogueira didn't put on the flashiest performance, but his boxing skills kept Evans at a distance and Rashad never seemed to get his engine revved up. You might attribute that to his nine months out of the cage, but Nogueira hadn't fought in 14. It was just a bad night for "Suga Rashad" and a good one for "Little Nog."
• Bigfoot takes a stand: Herb Dean had a fight on his hands. He'd just waved off the heavyweight bout after watching Antonio Silva deliver an unanswered flurry of vicious lefts and rights to the face that collapsed Alistair Overeem to the mat in the opening moments of the third round. But even as the referee intervened, "Bigfoot" wasn't ready to back off. He didn't appear to be looking to continue the physical assault, but he sure had a few words he wanted the fallen Reem to be within range of hearing.
Dean finally succeeded in redirecting Silva's energy from chastisement to celebration, but after the result was announced - knockout at 25 seconds - the winner delivered his message via the post-fight interview in the cage. "Fights win inside the cage, no outside," the big Brazilian said in broken English, referencing the animosity between the two that nearly boiled over during a Thursday faceoff for photographers. "I told him at the press conference, 'I will make you respect me, brother.'"
Overeem will have plenty of time to work on that, now that he doesn't have to occupy his mind with strategy sessions for the shot at champion Cain Velasquez that he'd been promised a win would earn him. Oh, well, maybe he and ex-champ Junior dos Santos now can settle their beef the way "Bigfoot" says it should be done: in the cage. As for Silva, he might get a rematch with Velasquez, even though Cain mauled him last May. "I'm open to that," UFC president Dana White said afterward.
• Grounds for a promotion: Nice of the UFC to offer a grappling clinic right in the middle of the main card. But who was that poor tackling dummy Demian Maia took down at will and controlled on the mat after slickly gaining dominant position, round after round? That sure didn't look like Jon Fitch, the guy who's usually in charge of ground control. Fitch did avoid getting choked out, despite having the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace on his back, hooks in, for practically the whole fight. And as much as that's an accomplishment against the likes of Maia, it was small consolation on a night when whatever momentum Fitch had gained with his demolition of up-and-coming Erick Silva back in October was fully smothered by Maia's dominant decision win.
• Little things mean a lot: Joseph Benavidez is big. Ian McCall is big. The two 125-pounders were all big punches, big kicks, and big entertainment in opening the main card in style, getting the crowd going -- what, fans cheering for flyweights? -- with three rounds of heart-thumping evidence that half of these guys' body weight is made up of gas tank. Benavidez got the nod on all three judges' scorecards, and the announcement did to McCall what Joe couldn't: It sent him collapsing to the mat. Not in exhaustion but in disappointment, a double dose of it. A loss on the record and an opportunity lost, as the victory likely will propel Benavidez into a rematch with Demetrious Johnson, who beat him in the UFC's first flyweight title fight. That's big.