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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas with essentially a one-fight show.
UFC on ESPN 15 looked like a strong event just a few weeks out, but Yoel Romero’s encounter with Uriah Hall and Michelle Waterson’s battle with Angela Hill were both scrapped. That leaves Frankie Edgar’s long-awaited bantamweight debut against Pedro Munhoz to shoulder the load in terms of star power. On the plus side, while there is nothing much else in terms of Q-rating, this should be a fun five-fight slate. Mike Rodriguez-Marcin Prachnio, in particular, should provide some guaranteed violence. Add in the presence of promising women’s flyweight prospect Mariya Agapova and an under-the-radar welterweight scrap pitting Daniel Rodriguez against Takashi Sato, and it might be more worth your time than it appears.
Now to the preview for the UFC on ESPN 15 ‘Munhoz vs. Edgar’ main card:
BantamweightsPedro Munhoz (18-4) vs. Frankie Edgar (23-8-1)
ODDS: Munhoz (-255), Edgar (+215)
It has taken all of 2020 to get to this point, but Edgar is finally making his bantamweight debut. Back when Edgar reigned as the UFC’s lightweight champion, it was almost a running joke that people would ask him when he was dropping down to featherweight. After all, Edgar was consistently undersized at 155 pounds, and the UFC had just absorbed World Extreme Cagefighting’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions. However, given his success, Edgar never had much of a reason to change what was already working until two controversial losses to Benson Henderson eventually forced his hand. Edgar got an immediate title shot upon dropping to featherweight, losing a close fight to Jose Aldo. What followed showed that there was something to the idea of Edgar competing at a lighter weight. He never got quite to championship glory, but “The Answer” was able to rely on a wrestling game that was now more powerful than ever, along with developing some knockout power on the feet. A 2017 win over Yair Rodriguez looked to be a reminder that Edgar was still among the featherweight elite, but in retrospect, that may wind up being the last great performance of his career. The Rodriguez win set up Edgar for a title shot that never came due to injuries, both to himself and to then-champion Max Holloway, so he instead faced Brian Ortega, who accomplished the unthinkable. Edgar has made a career of overcoming tough beatings, so it was a shock when Ortega put his lights out in the first round, marking the submission expert as the first man to knock out “The Answer” in his long career. Edgar rebounded with a win over fellow fading peer Cub Swanson, but that led into a flat 2019 campaign. First, Edgar got his title shot against Holloway but did not accomplish much, and shortly thereafter, the former lightweight champ announced his intended move down to bantamweight. Edgar was booked to face Cory Sandhagen at 135 pounds in January, but the UFC needed a late-notice replacement at featherweight in December, so Edgar stepped in against Chan Sung Jung. Edgar announced that he intended to still take the Sandhagen fight after beating Jung, but that was all scuttled quickly. Jung stunned Edgar within the first minute of their fight, sending things careening towards an eventual finish a shade over three minutes into the bout. Edgar’s bantamweight would have to wait until July, at which point he was matched with Munhoz; and after getting pushed back three times due to various issues, the fourth time is the charm, as that fight finally takes place here.
Munhoz came into the UFC as a top prospect back in 2014 and was met with a surprisingly tough start to his career inside the Octagon. Owing to some tough matchmaking and some irregular drug tests, “The Young Punisher” won only one of his first four UFC bouts. However, come 2016, the Brazilian finally hit the ground running, winning seven of his next eight fights while affirming his status as one of the most feared bringers of violence in the bantamweight division. Munhoz applies constant pressure, and any discussion of his skills needs to start with his signature guillotine choke. Whenever opponents slip up, it only takes a second for Munhoz to find their necks, and once he clamps the guillotine, the fight is over more often than not. In recent years, Munhoz has grown more fearsome as a striker. He ran through Bryan Caraway with surprisingly little effort, and his signature 2019 victory over Cody Garbrandt was an awe-inspiring display of machismo and durability, as Munhoz went wild blow for wild blow with one of the division’s hardest hitters and emerged no worse for wear. Indeed, Munhoz cannot be stopped so much as only avoided. John Dodson and Aljamain Sterling are Munhoz’s only recent losses, and both got by via staying mobile and staying out of trouble rather than trying to meet him head on. How Edgar will look at bantamweight remains an open question, but the UFC has done him no favors by making Munhoz his first test.
The vibes around Edgar’s move to bantamweight certainly are not good. The former lightweight champ is a pound-for-pound great, but he is nearing his 39th birthday; and heading down a weight class to fight quicker fighters does not seem to be ideal for someone who looks increasingly vulnerable in terms of durability. There are some potential positives, however. Edgar’s wrestling game looked crushing at times during his run at featherweight, and there is the outside chance that he can once again rely on those skills to control and get by against smaller opponents. Of course, that all goes out the window against Munhoz, who is an especially cruel matchup in that regard. Unless Edgar’s strength advantage is much more than it appears on paper, Munhoz’s ability to find an opponent’s neck should dissuade “The Answer” from pursuing takedowns all that often. Without that, everything for Edgar just falls apart. In the later stages of his career, Edgar has been reliant on testing out his opponents with feints, gauging their reactions and eventually mixing things up enough to keep them off-guard. Without Munhoz feeling threatened by Edgar’s wrestling game, there is not much for the New Jersey native to play off of; and even worse, Munhoz is the type of wildman who is not going to offer much in the way of reactions at all, as he has disregarded the offense of much more dangerous opponents. Munhoz has gotten more measured in his aggression, so he may not blow Edgar immediately out of the water, but once the Brazilian can take over this fight, things figure to go off the rails in quite sudden fashion. This could be another opportunity for Munhoz to get a club-and-sub win. The pick is Munhoz via second-round submission.
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