I’m insanely excited for tonight’s UFC 156 card from top to bottom, as aside from the main event we have top level matches, between massive names with potential title implications in four divisions. However, the main event Featherweight title match between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar is standing out as something special.
Ill admit to being one of those who poked fun at the marketing of it as a superfight, on account of Frankie Edgar coming off two losses, but the more I think about it, the more I think that Frankie really could be the man to take the 145lb belt from Jose Aldo.
First, lets address those losses that Frankie had to Benson Henderson.
Coming off a 3-0-1 streak in title matches against the markedly larger BJ Penn and Gray Maynard in which he took a pile of damage, Frankie again stepped into the Octagon opposite a man who walks around a good 20 or more pounds heavier than him. The difference in height and reach was tangible.
In the first fight, it was a sudden upkick and the effect that it had on Frankie that made the difference and in the end, it was a wafer thin decision that gave the belt to Benson.
So close was the decision, that the UFC awarded a rematch for the Lightweight belt for the THIRD TIME IN SUCCESSION. In that rematch at UFC 150 in August, Frankie avoided an upkick, avoided any semi-concussions that resulted in half a round of scrambling, as he had in his previous three fights and as a result, the eventual decision was split.
Benson got the nod from two judges, much to Frankie’s evident frustration and the great wailing and gnashing of teeth from many folks who thought he’d won. Indeed, there’s compelling evidence to say that the judges got it wrong, as the FightMetric stats for the bout show that it should have been a draw or a win for Edgar as he landed more significant strikes and had more grappling success as well.
The moral of the story is that over six fights and three years, Frankie Edgar assembled a 3-2-1 record that could easily have been 5-0-1 (even I’m not gonna claim that the comeback to a draw in the first Maynard fight was anything but a miracle) against the very best that Lightweight has to offer.
He achieved this against men who were significantly larger than him, and in the end it took a truly exceptional competitor in the shale of Benson Henderson to take him to the edge of two razor thin, microscopically fine decisions.
It must be remembered that Henderson combines the body mass of a welterweight with the quickness and flexibility of the taekwondo, wrestling and jiujitsu disciplines which shaped his skill-set, giving him the size advantage over Edgar, but also parity in terms of mobility.
So what we have to conclude, is that all 0-2 streaks are not equal and Frankie basically went 50 minutes with a much larger athlete of the same standard, and arguably deserved a draw…
Second, lets look at what makes Jose Aldo so unbeatable, so special.
In a word, Aldo is explosive. He’s a fighter that can finish with his fists, his knees, his legs or with his considerable jiujitsu skills. His rise to prominence, started by his still highlight-reel staple jumping knee knockout of Cub Swanson has shown that unlike so many knockout artists who have come into the UFC with big names only to be ground out by the resident cadre of wrestlers, Jose Aldo, like Anderson Silva has a solution.
Aldo’s leg kicks are a thing of legend and a nightmare for the classic American mixed martial artist who combines a wrestling base with striking skills. The tendency of wrestlers such as Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Mark Hominick and Chad Mendes to have a prominent lead leg, the better to propel them into deep double leg takedowns has left them seeing that leg chopped down by inside leg kicks and Aldo stepping inside to punish his unbalanced opponent with knees and punches.
That’s not to say Aldo is a one trick pony as his submission game is top notch, (he’s a BJJ black belt who rolls with the likes of Marlon Sandro, Anderson Silva and Big Nog) and his killer instinct striking is immense. This was best shown against Mendes last year where he escaped a grapple against the cage, and knowing Mendes would attempt to resecure the grappling advantage, Aldo spun and aimed a knee where he expected Chad’s head to be. Lights out, cue celebration.
On the surface, Frankie Edgar is just such a wrestler-boxer and should present no new or significant threat to Aldo’s already established dominance of this division. It’s also worth noting that Frankie is STILL smaller than his opponent, as Aldo walks around heavier than Frankie’s normal weight and still has a noticeable height advantage.
Except… here’s why I think Frankie is different.
For a start, Frankie is used to fighter much bigger guys and having secured regular takedowns against Penn, Maynard and Henderson, all of whom were between 165-180lbs on fight night and survived their hardest shots, the 160lb (ish) Aldo shouldn’t seem all that threatening.
Of course, Aldo presents an entirely different kickboxing assault from anything Frankie faced at Lightweight, but by the same token Frankie’s boxing is a far more evolved beast than what Aldo has faced at Featherweight.
Even more than that, Frankie combines his boxing and wrestling into a seamless whole that merges clever angles and effective combinations to close distance, cause damage and either move away before a counter strike, OR to suddenly change level and secure a takedown.
Frankie doesn’t stand still, he doesn’t plant his lead leg and his takedowns are fast, explosive and rarely telegraphed. Suddenly, Aldo’s leg kicks may not be the deciding factor in this match.
Of course, taking Aldo down isn’t necessarily the best idea, but Frankie is a Brown Belt in BJJ under Renzo Gracie, so he’s no slouch on the mat.
There’s also the question of cardio and experience. Frankie has gone into the championship rounds of his last six fights, while Aldo has hit the time limit in only three of his six previous bouts. Sure, that’s a testament to his finishing ability but it does give Frankie a considerable experience advantage in the fourth and fifth rounds, as well as the fact that he’s fought twice since Aldo last competed. Look at their fighting time in 2012 – Aldo 4:59 compared to Edgar’s 50:00.
For all that the betting odds put Frankie at an almost 2/1 outsider, I can’t help but think that his particular blend of wrestling and boxing, so much smoother and more refined than most of his compatriots, combined with his speed, heart and the fact that Aldo hasn’t fought in a year thanks to a foot injury (which may further compromise his mobility) means that Frankie could really do something special tonight.
Of course, Aldo is the favourite to end that match by KO especially in the early rounds, but the longer it goes on the better Frankie’s chances of a late TKO or decision victory become.
Either way, tonight almost feels like the Featherweight Division’s coming out party in the UFC, the first time there has been a truly special buzz around one of the 145lb title’s defences. For my money, I wouldn’t bet against Frankie. As he says, he’s heard this ‘unbeatable champion’ story before…
If you’re not fired up already, check out the UFC’s short and to the point preview video, making excellent use of one of my favourite 90s alternative tunes here.