Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn: Early Head-to-Toe Breakdown
It's time for a good ol' fashioned fight that no one asked for, but people are definitely interested in.
Well, not literally time for one. It's going to happen in a couple of months. But figuratively, and for the purposes of what you're about to read, we're going to say it's time for one.
That fight? BJ Penn vs. Frankie Edgar III on July 6.
Break out all the taglines you want. "The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out" and is taken, and stuff like "This Time It's Personal" is kind of unimaginative, but call it whatever you want.
Penn and Edgar are going to war one last time, and it's hard not to be a little enthused by that.
The first two fights are underrated in their own ways. Their lightweight title bout at UFC 112 crowned a shocking champion in Edgar, and their return engagement at UFC 118 was even more stunning for how dominant he was in retaining his belt.
For pure surprise, there may not be 10 consecutive rounds of combat to ever be more underrated, actually.
Now, mutually reinvented as 145-pounders, they'll do it again. Penn is looking to slay an old demon that's never quite sat right with him, while Edgar is seeking to remind people that he won those fights because he's very good, not very lucky.
Seeing as there's plenty of reason to be excited by those motivations, we can agree that it's never too early to break down their third bout. So that's what we'll do.
Should it play out like the first two, much of this fight will be contested on the feet in a highly entertaining clash of styles: Edgar's movement and volume against Penn's pocket punching and power edge.
In the first fight, Penn was content to hit Edgar in flurries and exchanges when he'd approach to score. In the second, it was like he couldn't, and Edgar trounced him.
There's no reason to think that Edgar, who is still in his prime, has become more hittable—especially for an aging Penn who hasn't fought since 2012 and only four times since they last met.
Still, Gray Maynard repeatedly showed that Edgar is easily damaged in tight, and Penn will look to do the same. He doesn't have Maynard's raw power, but his technical acumen is through the roof, and he's every bit as capable of damage with his hands.
It's an interesting component of the bout, particularly considering neither man is known for prowess outside of boxing, but the edge has to go to Edgar until proved otherwise.
When it comes to grappling, there's only one argument to apply to this bout: He's BJ Penn.
With all due respect to Frankie Edgar, a skilled brown belt who has trained years under Renzo Gracie and also wrestled at the collegiate level, the argument above is all that's needed here.
BJ Penn is BJ Penn. He's an icon, a jiu-jitsu monster who would be on the Mount Rushmore of the sport in North America. He's a legend in the gi, and he's taken those credentials to MMA in a way few before him did, or few after him will.
And that's to say nothing of the Hawaiian's criminally underrated wrestling or his borderline unreasonable takedown defense.
Simply put, in terms of grappling there's Penn, and then there's everybody else.
Interestingly, Edgar has proved his own durability time and again since his bouts with Penn. Going into their initial fights, people likely would have given the edge to Penn in this area—he of the granite chin and un-knockdown-able will.
Now it's not so clear.
Penn spent his time after Edgar fighting at welterweight and taking the best those behemoths could throw at him, still refusing to wilt at times when the world was begging him to lie down for his own good. That's admirable, and it's a safe bet Edgar won't hit him so hard, but it's hard to know how it affects their third meeting.
For his part, Edgar has become an icon in his own right for his refusal to go away in any fight, no matter how bad the beating. Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson nearly killed the diminutive Jersey boy, only to have him either come back and win or come back and be robbed of a win on bad judging.
Not to be noncommittal, but all things considered this is probably a wash.
In terms of a comparison of pure athleticism, Penn and Edgar pair off interestingly. Actually that applies to basically everything about them, but their ample athletic gifts couldn't be more different.
Penn is so bizarrely flexible that his actions can turn one's stomach sometimes. He's a contortionist in the cage in ways that no one has ever been, and he's deceptively strong for someone of a relatively ordinary build.
Edgar's athleticism comes in his endless gas tank. No one can point to the last time they saw him gasping for air as a tired sitting duck across the cage from a killer. That's because it's never happened, which is made more remarkable by the number of times we've seen him with his face smashed in, still dancing around for 25 minutes.
The X-factor here is Penn's age and inactivity, which could play a degenerative role in those athletic gifts. He's nearly 36 years old, and men that age don't often look like they did in their prime.
Still, you'd have to give the edge to Penn until he shows signs of losing those natural gifts, because they are so astounding when he showcases them.
When it comes to intangibles, there are two major influences on the third bout between Penn and Edgar: Penn's motivation versus Edgar's heart and tenacity.
For years now, it's been a question leading into every BJ Penn appearance: Is he motivated? Does he want to go out and do the things he has to do to be great? The answer is not always yes, and when it's not, he can do lethargy with the best of them.
For his part, Edgar is going to give you the same thing every time out. He's going to come in, fight like every breath is his last, do everything he can to snatch a W and establish one way or another that you'll have to annihilate him to take that away from him.
In terms of the mental side of the game, you pretty much can't get two more different individuals.
Penn begged for this fight and has physically looked as good as ever in the lead-up, so it might be unfair to question his motivation, but he's wavered too many times in the past not to be leery.
For any faults Edgar has, performance consistency isn't one of them, so you have to go with him over the fickle stylings of his nemesis.
At this stage in their careers, this fight basically makes no sense.
Penn is retired for all intents and purposes, while Edgar is in the middle of an attempted renaissance for a career that was guttered more controversially than any the sport has ever seen.
But you know something? People want to see this bout. It's the craziest thing, but it speaks to the magnetism of Penn and the great things that happen when he's paired with Edgar. Something about the two just get people talking, and their feud is really the last time that people loved the lightweight title picture.
So why not? Why not let them do it one more time? It's mostly about bragging rights and making a fun fight after a season of The Ultimate Fighter, and there are worse things in the world than that.
Don't look for any crazy outcomes, though. Edgar beat Penn twice when they were both in their prime, and nothing has changed to suggest it won't happen again.
Prediction: Edgar beats Penn.