Frankie Edgar wants another crack at featherweight gold. | Getty Images AsiaPac
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touches down for a long-awaited show in the Philippines with a solid offering on Fox Sports 1. In the main event, Frankie Edgar takes on Urijah Faber in a dream matchup of lighter-weight fighters that has been discussed and desired for years. That fight alone makes the card worth watching.
Underneath the main event, things drop off, but the card still contains a number of intriguing fights. Gegard Mousasi meets Costa Philippou in an intriguing middleweight co-headliner; Mark Munoz draws Luke Barnatt in the former NCAA wrestling champion’s retirement fight; and the bout between Neil Magny and Hyun Gyu Lim is a “Fight of the Night” waiting to happen. The rest of the card features a few intriguing prospects, namely Levan Makashvili and Yui Chul Nam, but only the most dedicated fans will find much of interest on the undercard.
Let us take a look at each UFC Fight Night “Edgar vs. Faber” matchup:
FEATHERWEIGHTSFrankie Edgar (18-4-1, 13-4-1 UFC) vs. Urijah Faber (32-7, 8-3 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: East coast meets west coast as two of the UFC’s most accomplished lighter-weight fighters clash in an exceptional pairing. Edgar, the former lightweight champion and featherweight title challenger, has been on a solid run of late. Since losing to pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo in February 2013, victories over Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn and Cub Swanson have put him back in title contention. Faber was the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion and has had three cracks at the UFC bantamweight strap but has come up short each time, most recently losing to Renan Barao for the second time in February 2014.
This is likely the last chance for both fighters to stake their claim at a championship, as age and decline will likely set in before the loser can make another go.
Faber is perhaps the finest transitional fighter in MMA history, a true innovator who has passed down what he has learned by trial and error to a new generation at Team Alpha Male. Those spaces between the defined phases of the sport -- striking, the clinch, wrestling and ground grappling -- are where Faber thrives. Mixing level changes with strikes, throwing strikes on clinch breaks, snagging dominant positions in scrambles and jumping on submissions from wrestling positions like the front headlock are the meat of his game. If forced to fight in a single phase for extended periods of time, Faber has a tendency to struggle except against overmatched opponents, but if he can mix up things, few can compete with him.
Faber relies almost exclusively on single strikes at range. The overhand right, left hook and front kick are his specialties, and he throws them all with potentially fight-ending power. Explosive doubles, the occasional single and trips from the clinch are Faber’s favored takedowns, and he chains his attempts beautifully while still finishing with great authority. His front headlock series is excellent, with a lethal guillotine and a lightning-fast move to the back; the bulldog choke he used to finish Francisco Rivera hints at his still-growing arsenal of submissions. Vicious ground strikes are another specialty. Despite his age at 35 and long tenure in the sport, he remains a plus athlete with great quickness and brutal strength.
Like Faber, Edgar is an exceptional transitional fighter. Few blend their striking and takedowns together as well as the former lightweight kingpin, and aside from Demetrious Johnson, nobody has learned to layer his or her game over a 25-minute period more effectively. Movement has always been Edgar’s strength, but he has never been more efficient or more effective than in his last several outings. The angles he shows early in the fight while throwing two- to five-punch combinations punctuated with kicks and level changes look the same as those that lead to his signature knee tap or single-legs later. Power has never been his strong suit, but his volume and activity wear down opponents. His consistent targeting of the legs and body contributes to this attrition-based approach.
At 155 pounds, Edgar struggled to hold down his larger opponents, but that has not been a problem at featherweight. His top game is suffocating; he passes smoothly; and his posture is drastically improved, which allows him to drop bombs without fear of giving up position. Whether age has caught up with him or he is simply facing much faster opponents at 145 pounds is hard to tell, but his signature quickness is a bit diminished from a few years back. Nevertheless, he is surprisingly strong, still quite fast and more skilled than ever.
BETTING ODDS: Edgar -380, Faber +315
THE PICK: The betting odds are wider than I expected, though I would still peg Edgar as a substantial favorite. He throws more volume, shows better angles and is likely a competent-enough grappler and scrambler to avoid Faber’s transitional traps on the mat should he be able to get the fight to the ground. Those factors should be the difference in this fight. When Faber throws a shot or two at a time at range, Edgar will be throwing three or four, and the 25-minute duration drastically favors the former lightweight champ. Faber has only one victory in a fight that made it to the championship rounds in the last six years, while Edgar was made for that kind of fight. In a close, back-and-forth but slower-than-expected bout, the pick is Edgar by decision.
Next Fight » Gegard Mousasi vs. Costas Philippou