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Frankie Edgar’s unanimous decision victory over BJ Penn for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 112 remains the worst decision I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing this year, possibly this lifetime. How a single judge, let alone all three, could watch that fight and agree Frankie was the better man is beyond me. Luckily I’ve cooled down since my last post on the subject.
Luckily, the rematch will be held this Saturday at UFC 118 in Boston. It’s a great opportunity for both men. For Edgar, it’s a chance to prove his victory wasn’t a fluke. For Penn, it’s an opportunity to reclaim his rightful throne at the top of the Lightweight division.
During the first fight, there is no question that BJ Penn was not performing at the top of his ability. Reports surfaced of BJ missing training camp, recovering from a sinus infection, and battling knee injury. Whatever the reasons may be, Frankie fought a great fight, and BJ didn’t.
This Saturday, BJ should be healthy and has a lot more motivation. It is my humble opinion that he will decimate Frankie Edgar, refusing to leave this one up to the judges. But there’s always a chance the kid from New Jersey surprises me again. There’s always a chance that Edgar just happens to be that lucky fighter who has BJ Penn’s number.
Every so often a fighter comes along who brings an arsenal of tools to the cage that nobody can figure out how to deal with. They are riddles. And until someone solves them, there’s not a whole lot of tape out there to help you prepare for them.
When Tim Sylvia first hit the scene nobody had an answer for his long frame, hard to read stance, and powerful boxing. There was a time when he was one of the most feared men in the Heavyweight division. Now he’s barely relevant and fighting circus freaks like strongman Mariusz Pudzianowski.
Lyoto Machida arrived in the UFC with an undefeated record and an elusive Shotokan Karate style that seemed impossible to figure out. When he knocked out Rashad Evans, scooping up the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and increasing his record to 15-0 in the process, it was the dawn of “The Machida Era," an era which lasted either one or zero fights depending on who you ask. His riddle was cracked by the pressure and aggression of Shogun Rua.
You can even look as far back to the origins of the UFC and the Gracie family to find the sport’s first riddle. When Royce Gracie started competing in the UFC nobody had an answer for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Nobody. His family’s fighting style helped him defeat a slew of fighters, some nearly twice his size, for seven years before he was handed his first loss. The only way to solve the BJJ riddle was to train extensively in it. Now BJJ isn’t just a discipline it’s a vital stat.
Edgar is not one of those riddles. He certainly brings top-flight speed, cardio, and movement to the cage. He can outpace most fighters in his division and has shown he can last a full 25 minutes. But his performance against BJ Penn seemed less like true greatness and more like fortuitous timing.
Gray Maynard, who is a top 10 Lightweight for sure, but who has never really impressed me, already solved any riddle Edgar may have posed. Their fight in 2008 showed Edgar doesn’t have the size or strength to stop solid takedowns. Edgar has also never possessed the grappling prowess to really be dangerous off his back. Maynard even did a pretty good job standing with Edgar in that fight. There is no riddle. Frankie Edgar is good but he’s not that good. He is, however, very, very lucky.
He has been in the right place at the right time, time and time again. The winner of Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz at Ultimate Fight Night 20 in January was originally supposed to get a shot at the Lightweight title. However, their bought was marred by poor performances by both fighters. Maynard got the victory in an unimpressive split decision, but the real winner of that fight was Frankie Edgar.
He was coming off a victory over Matt Veach (who?... exactly), a last minute replacement for Kurt Pellegrino. Maynard-Diaz was such a bad fight that it earned Frankie Edgar a title shot by default.
He was in the right place at the right time again when he just so happened to step into the cage with BJ Penn at his absolute worst. Penn was listless, sluggish, and clearly not 100 percent for that fight. And even still, Penn appeared be outperforming Edgar and winning the fight on the scorecards. Frankie’s hot streak continued, however, as three of the only people in the world who would score that fight for Edgar happened to be sitting at the judges table. Lightning struck, all the planets aligned, and a new Lightweight Champion was crowned.
The gods smiled down on young Frankie that day. And there’s just no way it can happen again. He has no ways to win this fight.
While I’m tossing out predictions, Kenny Florian will stop Gray Maynard at UFC 118 to earn another shot at the title. Florian has been finishing off legends and Maynard, while still undefeated, has been eking out lackluster decisions against far worse competition. They are simply in different classes.
Before his bout with BJ Penn four months ago at UFC 112, Frankie Edgar wasn’t even widely regarded as a top 10 Lightweight. One fluke victory later and he’s ranked No. 1 by Sherdog.com. I understand the logic behind the ranking, but for the past four months he has seemed a little out of place sitting atop BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, Eddie Alvarez, Gil Melendez, Shinya Aoki, and even Gray Maynard.
Frankie Edgar does not have the size, strength, or ability to stay at the top of the Lightweight division for much longer. In fact, by my count, he’s got about one day left to enjoy his time there before his rematch with Penn at UFC 118. Frankie Edgar is not a riddle that remains to be solved. He’s a solid fighter, a hard worker, and has tons of heart, but what got him that title was dumb luck.
His luck runs out tomorrow at UFC 118.