Frankie Edgar (top) | Sherdog.com
Rare is it when a champion goes into a title defense as an underdog, but UFC lightweight boss Frankie Edgar is used to defying the odds. Facing Gray Maynard at UFC 125 “Resolution” on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the bookmakers have made the New Jersey scrapper an 8-5 underdog against the man who beat him two years ago.
Edgar -- whose UFC debut was a thrilling decision win over Tyson Griffin -- was not supposed to beat B.J. Penn, either, much less twice in a row, but he did. Now, he finds himself atop a lightweight division that is a veritable dog pile of talent. With Maynard coming to knock him off, WEC champion Anthony Pettis waits in the wings for the winner.
It seems fitting that lightweights, once a forgotten weight class in stateside MMA, headline a show that does not feature a heavyweight match. Heavyweights provide mainstream allure as main card matches and likely highlight fodder when staged on the prelims. How quickly the world changes, and Edgar knows it as well as anyone. For him to continue his string of impressive and inspiring wins, he will have to present a better version than the one Maynard schooled in their first match.
UFC Lightweight Championship
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
The Matchup: If their first bout and track records are any indication, this one probably goes the distance. That’s because neither man has built a reputation as a finisher -- and deservedly so. With 23 wins between them, and 16 of those by decision, whoever emerges as UFC lightweight champion will probably suffer from a lot more criticism than even George St. Pierre deals with these days. That said, with a five-round bout on tap that is almost certain to go deep, strategy and round-winning tactics are at a premium here.
In their April 2008 match, Maynard was simply too big and strong, using that to pull down Edgar into his game. While Edgar is exciting to watch even when he is not stopping people, Maynard relies on a reductive style that sucks people into the kind of fight he likes.
Maynard has proven too good a wrestler for almost any lightweight to have a realistic chance of taking and keeping him down, and he has adapted his stand-up to play to those strengths, firing off right hands, moving his head to avoid blows and rarely throwing kicks. He keeps his feet in proper position should wrestling opportunities develop but, at times, seems too willing to stand. Against Roger Huerta, he nearly frittered away the match until coming to his senses and taking down Huerta in the third, dominating the round and sealing the decision.
For Edgar to win, he has to bring exceptional speed and striking decisions into the equation. In his two wins over Penn, you could never guess what he was going to do next, which is why he was able to win. To achieve victory here, Edgar will have to outwork Maynard, knowing full well he is going to have to go five rounds to do it. It is critical that he score an equal amount of takedowns to get the decision and not get stuck in defensive positions.
Maynard must have been tickled pink when Edgar won the rematch against Penn. An on-point Penn seems the perfect guy to beat Maynard, but Edgar appears to play right into his hands.
Maynard should concentrate on clinching whenever possible and countering Edgar when the champion flits in and out. Instead of battling to take the spry Edgar to the floor -- he is incredibly hard to keep there -- Maynard should just push him against the fence early on, dirty box, rinse and repeat. It is a very tiring kind of match to fight, especially for the guy getting shoved against the fence, and Edgar is not going to win this one if he lacks the room necessary to apply his superior speed.
If and when Maynard does take down the champion and establish a base of operations there, there is nothing wrong with hitting a guy 20 times in a row in the ribs while he works to get out from under you. It may not be pretty or rousing but, then again, neither was college football in the 1960s, when Ohio State was running the ball 60 times a game. Whatever wins.
This bout will probably spark some strong discussions about how MMA should be scored, as Edgar has improved enough to be more effective standing than in the first fight; Maynard has five rounds to impose his superior wrestling and size.
The Pick: Whether fast, glancing combinations count more than a takedown and ho-hum ground work from the top remains a matter of opinion, but that is where I see Maynard driving this one. He just seems to be a bad style matchup for the champion. Maynard by unanimous decision.
Continue Reading » Page Two: Leben vs. Stann