When Frankie Edgar stepped into the Octagon at Ultimate Fighting Championship 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2, he sought to defend his UFC Lightweight Championship belt from a challenger many never accepted as such.
When Randy Couture entered the cage against James Toney minutes earlier, he sought to defend the very sport he helped revolutionize.
And both used the same, age-old recipe to successfully accomplish each mission.
Namely, "The Answer" and "The Natural" used a well-rounded attack fortified by vastly superior cardio to prove why the best mixed martial artist generally wins an MMA fight.
It might not be as sexy as a knockout or a savage salvo that sends the victim reeling across the canvas into a TKO, but staying busy and effective in multiple facets tends to trump even a superlative one-dimensional approach.
"The Answer" Beats "The Prodigy" to the Punch, But Penn Keeps Punching
Let's start with the title fight, which shared main-event honors with Couture and Toney yet seemed like the lesser of the two bouts despite the hardware on the line.
Many (myself included) thought the New Jersey native was Matt Serra 2.0 when he signed up for a rematch against the Hawaiian—the guy who had that one in a million night and would prove it now that he had the full attention of the real champ.
After all, "The Prodigy" had been right near the top of most world pound-for-pound lists before Edgar pried the belt away from him at UFC 112: Invincible and he'd been there for quite some time.
Baby J was no flash-in-the-pan mirage at the top of the division. It's no great slight to the reigning 155-pound king to chalk up his upset to an off night by Penn on the other side of the globe.
Of course, try convincing Frankie Edgar of that.
Because, in the wake of a second victory and a thoroughly dominating one, there is no doubting the UFC Lightweight Champion.
On Saturday night, "The Answer" blurred his way in and out of Penn's grasp while using his constantly unpredictable movement to avoid the challenger's atomic hands.
But this was nothing new—the shocking thing is that, just like in the United Arab Emirates, B.J. just kept jabbing and throwing.
He was having success with his kicks and takedowns, yet he seemed intent on winning the scrap from his feet.
Which is never a wise move, even with the talent of a B.J. Penn.
It also wasn't happening, not at all.
Edgar was happy to oblige the standup when it suited him because his speed was giving him the better of most exchanges, but he kept the attack varied and dumped Penn on his noggin from time to time just to keep things fresh.
Edgar's Tank Stays Near "F," Penn's Tank Hits "E"
This was obviously the key to his capture of the lightweight belt and Frankie's first defense of it.
His energy reserves gave him the ability to come bouncing into the Octagon and stay active for all 25 minutes of the bout.
On the other hand, Baby J looked like he was consciously trying to conserve his strength as he crept into the cage and stayed almost motionless during the pre-fight pomp.
It was really kind of eerie.
The defending champ was the more aggressive fighter in Round 1 and the margin only increased as the tussle wore on into the Boston night. By the time Rounds 4 and 5 unfolded, even desperation couldn't make up the difference for "The Hilo Kid."
In an unsettling realization for long-time fans of B.J. Penn (again, myself included), the rematch was a foregone conclusion by the third.
The only question was whether Edgar would finish the MMA legend or coast to another unanimous decision.
It was the latter and that's arguably more impressive, given the utter ownership of the five rounds.
Couture Proves MMA Is Superior to Boxing...in an MMA Bout
Anyone who thought "Lights Out" would come into a multi-disciplinary athletic contest as an expert in one discipline, a total novice in the other areas, and fare any differently, then he was kidding himself.
Or possibly standing too close to Toney's yapping mouth.
Regardless, the boxing legend had very little chance against a seasoned MMA practitioner and he was locked in the eight sides with a UFC Hall-of-Famer in Randy Couture.
Not only that, "Captain America" is a guy who's absolutely comfortable walking into big names and even bigger men, i.e., he wasn't going to be starstruck or intimidated by James' punching prowess or career bling.
Nor was the 47-year-old icon going to be conned into standing and banging in an ill-advised contest involving a bodily function.
In other words, James Toney couldn't have picked a worse opponent. Literally. It's impossible.
Brock Lesnar might've been brash enough to charge right into a Hail Mary that earned "Lights Out" his moniker. Cain Velasquez might've been a little awed by the specter of former glory. Junior dos Santos might have tried to beat Toney at his own game.
But there was no way "The Natural" would be anything but patient, methodical, and measured in using mixed martial arts to emerge triumphant.
That's exactly what he did—according to the post-fight interview, Couture knew a low single-leg takedown would be there and he didn't hurry in shooting for it.
Instead, he calmly set up an easy tackle, secured it, and gave the boxer no room to breathe as he slowly improved his position.
Inevitably, "Lights Out" was forced to tap before his nickname took on a decidedly less intimidating aura.
At the End of the Day, the More Versatile Fighter Won
It sometimes gets lost in the chaos of the hype reels, stare downs, and promotional machine, but it's generally the fundamentals that win at the highest level in the UFC—the ability to strike, wrestle, grapple, and defend, plus the cardio and noodle to apply the effective approach.
The big punch is what brings everyone off their seats and a toe-to-toe slugfest sucks the air out of the room, but the wayward souls who embrace either strategy with both arms often need assistance to leave the arena.
Both B.J. Penn and James Toney walked out of the TD Garden under their own power, but they did so in defeat because one seemed to choose to be one-dimensional and the other had no option.
Meanwhile, "The Answer" and "The Natural" showed again why the first "M" stands for "mixed."
For Frankie Edgar, the reward was another chance to defend his title and the blissful silence from his skeptics.
For Randy Couture and the world of mixed martial arts, the reward goes without saying.