Jose Aldo burst onto the scene with a highlight reel of striking finishes. | Nick Laham/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
UFC President Dana White is promoting a semi-super fight by giving former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar a title shot in his featherweight debut against current 145-pound boss Jose Aldo in the UFC 156 main event on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Although Edgar lost his belt to Benson Henderson, as well as a rematch, that does not detract from the intrigue of seeing him compete against fighters his own size for the first time. Edgar finished Gray Maynard, a beast among lightweights, and twice handled B.J. Penn for five rounds -- the same Penn who held UFC gold at 155 and 170 pounds. So, yes, bringing an overachieving, undersized lightweight to a featherweight division where the current champion has yet to be truly threatened makes for an interesting matchup. Plus, the potential for Edgar to join the short and prestigious list of UFC fighters to hold belts in two divisions raises the stakes.
Let us see how these guys really stack up.
Edgar has made a career of facing -- and mostly defeating -- taller, heavier opponents. This time around, he will face his shortest opponent in years, one over whom he will have a slight reach advantage. Edgar is still on the tail end of his physical peak age range, though the five-year Youth Advantage Aldo will have is not insignificant.
Stylistically, the two fighters have excelled in very different ways. Aldo burst onto the scene in World Extreme Cagefighting with a highlight reel of striking finishes. Since then, he has seen more fights go the distance in the larger UFC Octagon but has also stepped up his level of competition, defeating the likes of Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes. His 73-percent finish rate is certainly buoyed by his WEC tenure, but it also reflects his combination of versatile and vicious striking skills, combined with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and well-rounded ground game. Whether he is firing flying knees or destroying someone’s lead leg with nasty kicks, Aldo possesses the kind of multi-pronged attack that exemplifies champions.
At just 26 years old, Aldo has already been fighting for nearly a decade. His only loss came at the age of 19 when he stepped up to lightweight for a bout in Brazil. Since then, he has dominated competition non-stop, with the notable exception of the last 12 months. It was not that he finally faltered in the Octagon and lost; a series of poorly timed injuries have kept him out of the cage since UFC 142 in January 2012.
Contrast that with Edgar, who has finished only three foes in his 13-fight UFC career dating back to 2007. He has remained active, fighting roughly twice a year, including six straight UFC title fights. What defines him is not his highlight reel of flashy finishes but rather his relentless determination, resiliency in danger and tireless, pressing attack with sound fundamentals. The “heart” everyone credits in his two fights against Maynard also gives him better chances when competing for five rounds instead of three. While larger fighters around him were cutting weight to make 155, Edgar walked in smaller and lighter but with a much better ability to go the distance while keeping his foot on the gas.
These profiles add another layer of interest to this matchup. Aldo has excelled in fights with quick finishes, while Edgar has absorbed punishment and kept coming with a well-rounded attack combining strike-and-fade standup and wrestling control to win hard-fought decisions.
The wild card here is Aldo’s year-long layoff, the longest of his career. Overall, he has been quite active in competition, with more total fights than Edgar despite being five years younger. However, a long layoff, combined with a few injuries makes for unpredictable effects on his conditioning. On occasion, he has faded towards the end of title fights. Perhaps one can chalk that up to illness when he fought Mark Hominick at UFC 129, but, at least according to the judges, Aldo has not been perfect in several of his five-round victories.
Can Edgar capitalize on this opportunity, shocking the MMA world yet again, or will Aldo pick up right where he left off and extend his title run even further? There is no shortage of data on these two veterans, so I have crunched through more than 15,000 data points to assess them on key metrics of striking and grappling. Let us get to it.
While the key boxing-related metrics of head striking accuracy show a slight edge for Aldo, both fighters have been above average for their weight classes. The main difference has been in how hard those strikes connect. The advantage there also goes to Aldo, who has scored seven knockdowns in his Zuffa career as a featherweight. That is impressive in any weight class, even more so at 145 pounds. His knockdown-per-landed-head-strike rate is on par with heavyweights and is actually higher than that of Alistair Overeem and Antonio “Bigfoot Silva,” two giants who will collide earlier on the same fight card.
Another difference is on defense, where Aldo has been nearly impossible to hit. His opponents only land eight percent of their power head strikes, so it is no surprise Aldo has never been knocked out -- or even knocked down -- in the Octagon. Edgar’s striking defense is just above average, barely, and that has not been enough to prevent him from being knocked down on four separate occasions. He has been rocked in recent fights against Maynard and Henderson, though, impressively, he has never been finished.
Aldo’s striking advantage becomes even more impressive in the clinch. Again, both fighters are above average, but Aldo is superior in terms of accuracy and defense against the cage. Generally, these two fighters evenly match the overall striking pace of their opponents, so Aldo should be getting the better of exchanges as long as the fight remains standing. When it comes to mixing up the standup striking, Aldo will be the one attacking with leg kicks, while Edgar is more likely to throw in body shots.
Both fighters also bring grappling credentials to mat, so let us examine who has the advantages there.
There is more of a mixed message in the grappling stats. Edgar has a great wrestling base, and he uses it to mix up his offense and win rounds. He averages 2.5 takedown attempts per round, which is high for any weight class. However, not only are opponents getting better at defending those takedowns, as seen by his below average 37-percent success rate, but his ground attack is limited primarily to striking. Once on the ground, Edgar has not advanced position often, achieved dominant position control or attempted many submissions. Instead, he has outstruck opponents by a two-to-one ratio.
Aldo has not gone for many submissions, either, despite his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt credentials. While he does not attempt many takedowns, he advances often and uses dominant positions for his own striking attack when he does.
While it is unlikely that either of these fighters will get submitted, it is clear that both of them are capable of using top control to win rounds. However, Aldo’s impressive 95 percent takedown defense suggests Edgar may take longer than usual to secure control. Aldo has kept prior fights standing, even against dynamic strikers like Cub Swanson and also made wrestlers like Chad Mendes pay dearly for overly ambitious takedown attempts. What will be interesting is if Aldo decides to put Edgar on his back to test his submission game. The more wrestling we see, the more stamina will become a factor in later rounds, and that could favor Edgar.
The Final Word
The betting line here has “Scarface” as a -250 favorite, implying a 71-percent chance of victory. This makes Aldo a slightly bigger favorite than Demetrious Johnson (-225) was over John Dodson at UFC on Fox 6, but less of a favorite than Georges St. Pierre (-350) was over Carlos Condit at UFC 154. Truly exceptional fighters of their time (Penn, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva) have transcended weight classes before. On paper, the defending featherweight champion has a variety of advantages, but Edgar has made a career of disappointing favored opponents.
Which of these two gladiators will go down as the superior pound-for-pound fighter? If Edgar joins the ranks of two-division titleholders, he will certainly cement his legacy, but Aldo, already on a remarkable 11-fight winning streak under the Zuffa umbrella, is poised to carve out his own niche in the history books with a win over the former lightweight champion. The short game says Aldo has advantages in plenty of the skill metrics and is more likely to hurt Edgar early, but the long game says Edgar is well-positioned to win rounds once he is in deeper water.
What do you think? Who wins this high stakes, potential legacy-building fight? Any particular stats reveal the critical difference in this matchup?
Note: Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric. All analysis was performed by Reed Kuhn. Reed Kuhn, Fightnomics, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.
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