Few fans gave Frankie Edgar much of a chance when he squared off with longtime division king B.J. Penn, with Edgar the underdog in both bouts. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
The main event of the evening tonight promises to be a fast-paced thriller as current UFC lightweight champion defends his belt for the fourth time against former WEC champion Benson Henderson. A successful defense for Edgar would see him take sole possession of the record for most successful defenses of the UFC lightweight title.
Edgar is called underrated by sports writers so frequently that you'd think it had to be untrue by now, and yet somehow, still never seems to get the love he deserves from a healthy portion of the MMA world. As recently as this very bout pros have gone on the record as saying they still consider Penn, a man Edgar beat then thoroughly dominated beyond a shadow of a doubt, is still the best lightweight in the world. With another win Edgar will likely still have his doubters, but perhaps they will at least be fewer in number.
Edgar earned his title shot on a modest three fight winning streak, and while it included a win over former champion Sean Sherk, culminated with a win over Matt Veach, leaving many to question if he deserved a shot at the lightweight GOAT. Edgar responded convincingly to those questions by defeating Penn, then when fans clamored for a re-match, sure that the upset victory was a fluke, Edgar came back and did it again in resounding fashion. For his next defense Edgar was paired with the only man to ever beat him, Gray Maynard. Edgar was nearly finished multiple times in the fight before roaring back to earn a split draw and another rematch. Deja vu set in as again Maynard had Edgar badly hurt, and yet again Edgar made it back to his stool and came out from the second on like the savage beating had never occurred. By the fourth round Edgar had completely taken over and, ultimately, found Maynard's off switch with strikes.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Edgar came into the sport as a wrestler who used his speed and grappling experience to wear away on opponents. After years of working his boxing with Mark Henry, however, Edgar has developed into a dominant striker which was never more on display than in picking apart Penn, long considered the division's best striker at the top of the division. Edgar uses his speed to pop in and out of range, hitting his opponents then exiting the pocket before there is any time for counter-fire. The biggest flaw Edgar has experienced in his time on the feet is a tendency to drop his hands at times when circling, leading to the troubling times in both Maynard fights. Although Edgar has not used his wrestling offensively much of late, he remains the only man to ever take Penn down at lightweight, and scored takedowns on Maynard as well, while defending shots from the latter. Many view Edgar's size as a disadvantage in grappling, however in fighting a massive Maynard it showed little sign of serving as a detriment.
Although the fantasy books are more or less in line with the Vegas odds here, I love a play on Edgar who continues to be undervalued in my opinion. The big concern for Edgar is dealing with the size of Henderson when the fighters clinch up, that being if Henderson is able to force a clinch. While Edgar is the smaller man, his grappling strength is off the charts and he's proven they hold up even against much bigger men. The speed edge for Edgar on the feet will ultimately be the difference in the fight as he continually picks Henderson apart from range until Henderson is too worn out to take anymore in the third round.
Ben Henderson analysis after the jump.
As the former WEC lightweight champion, Henderson made a name for himself, like many WEC fighters, as a guy who brings it in every bout and never puts on a clunker. Henderson was within one fight of a shot at the UFC title before dropping his final defense, wherein the winner was to be offered a unification bout with the winner of Edgar-Maynard II. As luck would have it, a combination of a draw and injuries for the UFC fighters, a Pettis loss to Clay Guida and a Henderson winning streak has seen the "Smooth" one beat Pettis to a title shot after all.
Henderson entered his title defense against Pettis on a ten-fight winning streak, but it all came crashing down in the fifth round when Henderson found himself on the wrong side of an ESPN top play of the year. With the fight close in its closing minutes, Pettis launched himself off the cage then threw a flying kick all in one motion, dropping Henderson to put a stamp on the decisive round and the fight, and sending Henderson back to the drawing board as he was brought into the UFC. While the belt hold up proved brutal for Pettis, however, it opened the door for Henderson. After a decision victory over Mark Bocek, Henderson picked up consecutive wins over then top-contenders simply left waiting for the on-hold belt in Jim Miller and Clay Guida. Coupled with an upset win by Joe Lauzon over Melvin Guillard, when all the dust settled at the long-overdue conclusion to the Edgar-Maynard saga, only Henderson was left standing with any kind of winning streak against top competition in order to earn a title shot.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Henderson is a well-rounded fighter who can muster threatening offense wherever the fight goes. Additionally, he is a very large lightweight who is often able to out-muscle his opponents in order to impose his will. What Henderson is most noted for is his resiliency, having been put into threatening situations many times in his Zuffa career, but never once being stopped. Of course, the flip-side of that coin is that in order to show you have great escapes or recovery you must be getting caught and hit a lot. Most troubling in this bout is his hitability on the feet. In the Miller fight Henderson had opened up a large cardio lead heading into the third round as he spent the majority of the second on top and pounding on an already ill opponent, yet a dog-tired and slow Miller still managed to drop Henderson. Against a fighter like Edgar who hits fast and accurate, this could prove to be a fatal flaw.
Much of the talk around a potential Henderson victory stems from the belief he will submit Edgar, most likely with Henderson's ever-dangerous guillotine choke. While this is by no means beyond the realm of possibility, it doesn't strike me as likely. Edgar is an underrated grappler who has spent nearly half a decade training under Ricard Almeida, who is known for having a bit of a terrifying guillotine himself. Instead the most likely scenario where Henderson comes out on top is if his size is too much for Edgar after all, and he is able to wear on the champion en route to a decision win.