UFC 130: 5 Reasons Frankie Edgar Will Retain His Title Against Gray Maynard
When Frankie Edgar and Grey Maynard first met, it was on the under card of a “UFC Fight Night.” There wasn’t any fanfare, slick promotional videos or “Countdown” specials or even much media attention.
Maynard out-wrestled Edgar to a unanimous decision that night while Kenny Florian and Joe Lauzon fought in the main event (just think about that for a moment).
When they met again, it was in the main event of UFC 125. This time, Edgar was the reigning, defending UFC lightweight champion, having just dethroned longtime LW kingpin BJ Penn in back-to-back fights. Maynard was the unstoppable juggernaut/lay n’ pray artist of the LW division, plus he held that earlier win over the champ.
While their title fight was undoubtedly significant, it was viewed as something of a “dud” UFC PPV. Fans and media wondered if the taciturn Frankie and the unexciting Grey would generate enough interest to keep UFC 125 from bombing on PPV.
What a difference a fight makes.
When Frankie Edgar and Grey Maynard meet at UFC 130 for the third and presumably final time, it will be in one of the biggest UFC PPVs and most-anticipated title matches of 2011.
Their second fight—and first battle for the UFC LW crown—at UFC 125 was an early contender for Fight of the Year (really early when you consider it happened on January 1st).
In my opinion, that’s an honor it still holds. No fight so far this year has delivered as much drama and excitement as their five-round war, which fittingly (some would say disappointingly) ended in a split draw, about as inconclusive a finish as one can have in an MMA contest short of a doctor’s stoppage.
Luckily for fans, we get to see them do it one more time. The question for LW champion Frankie Edgar remains the same, however: Can he find a way to overcome the only man to ever best him inside the Octagon?
Now, the stakes are even higher, as Frankie’s record vs. Grey is 0-1-1.
For Frankie, this fight is everything. It’s his whole legacy, even more so then the Penn fights. Win, and he’s firmly planted at the No. 1 LW and one of the top fighters in all MMA. Lose, and he’s ejected from the LW title picture, possibly forever.
Can Frankie find “The Answer” to Grey Maynard when the men square off for the “three-match” in Las Vegas?
Here are five reasons why the pride of Toms River, New Jersey could surprise fans and critics, as he frequently does, and walk out of UFC 130 with five pounds of gold still strapped around his waist.
He’s Stronger with Every Outing
It’s become something of an MMA announcing cliché to say that a fighter “gets better every time we see him.”
In Frankie’s case, however, that’s absolutely the truth. No one in the game epitomizes “better with each outing” then the reigning UFC LW champion of the world.
Just look at Edgar’s progression since losing to Grey Maynard the first time. He began his comeback with a dominant win over proven vet Hermes Franca. Next, he was matched up with former champ Sean Sherk in a fight in which Edgar was a significant underdog.
Instead, Edgar smoothly outboxed Sherk over three rounds, showing the beginnings of his trademark in-and-out boxing style.
Edgar then faced Matt Hughes' protégé, Matt Veach, and displayed two more attributes he would come to be known for: a champion’s heart and an underrated grappling game. Edgar overcame early adversity to put away Veach with a slick rear naked choke.
Edgar then faced reigning UFC Champion BJ Penn in a fight most were calling a mismatch. Some complained that Maynard, not Edgar, should have gotten the shot, and that this was nothing but a “keep busy” fight for Penn. Instead, over the course of a close five-round fight, Edgar slowly but surely took the fight away from BJ—and took his UFC lightweight world championship, too.
Of course, no one gets away from BJ Penn that easily in the UFC, and Edgar’s first title defense was a rematch with the fighting Hawaiian at UFC 118.
Once again, fans largely wrote off Edgar, and once again, he proved them all wrong. Their first fight was controversial. Their second one was not. Plainly speaking, Edgar kicked BJ’s a** in every realm of the fight, solidifying his place atop the 155-lb division.
Then came the rematch with Grey, a fighter who many said was Frankie’s kryptonite. He had proved to be this for every other fighter at LW, after all.
After a first round that would have broken a lesser man, Frankie kicked, scratched and clawed his way back into the fight, earning a draw (though some argued he had done enough to warrant the decision) and the respect of fans everywhere.
Edgar gets better each and every time we see him. Noticeably so. Sleep on him in this fight at your peril.
He’s Taken Maynard’s Best: And Come Back
With the exception of GSP vs. Serra (and possibly Silva vs. Sonnen), I don’t remember an opening frame ever going so poorly for a UFC champion.
Grey Maynard caught Frankie with an overhand right and didn’t let up. For the next five minutes, “The Bully” hit Frankie with everything but the kitchen sink. Then he hit him with the kitchen sink, too. Maynard connected on lefts, rights, jabs, crossed, uppercuts, the “Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique,” you name it.
Frankie somersaulted backwards, flopped to the mat like a carp and basically spent the whole time trying to figure out which of the many Maynards he was seeing was socking him so hard in the face.
When the round ended, you could almost see the buzzards circling over Frankie Edgar as he stumbled back to his corner. There was just one problem: No one told Frankie he was screwed. When Round 2 began, he came bouncing out of his corner like nothing was wrong. It was almost like the first round hadn’t happened.
In fact, it was Grey who seemed visibly slowed and fatigued from kicking Frankie’s butt only a couple seconds previous. For the rest of the fight, Edgar took it to Maynard, doing (in my mind, at least) enough to win the fight and doing (in the judges mind) enough to get a Draw and keep the UFC title around his waist, at least for one more night.
And therein lies one of the best psychological advantages for the champion in this third fight. He literally got EVERYTHING Grey Maynard could throw at him thrown at him in that first stanza. He took the worst possible beating Grey Maynard is capable of dishing out, and not only did he not succumb, he roared back and gave Maynard as good as he was given.
There are no surprises for Edgar in this fight. He knows the very worst that Grey is capable of—and he knows it is not enough to put him away.
His Vastly Underrated Wrestling
In a UFC full of the likes of GSP, Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones, can we take a moment to appreciate just how good a wrestler Frankie Edgar really is?
We already know he was a decorated (though not exceptional) high school and collegiate wrestler. But those basic facts fail to appreciate just what a proficient MMA grappler Edgar has evolved into.
Tyson Griffin, Jim Miller and Sean Sherk are all acknowledged as solid, high-level MMA wrestlers. Frankie handled them all, despite giving up size and weight to each of them. That would be impressive enough; however, it’s his accomplishments as champion that really elevate him to the elite level of MMA wrestling.
In his first fight with BJ, he shocked many by taking down Penn not once, but twice. For many years, we had heard of the Hawaiian’s vaunted, well-nigh unstoppable takedown defense. Randy Couture himself had trouble taking and holding Penn down when they trained together.
That the much smaller Edgar managed the feat is a considerable accomplishment.
In the rematch, he elevated his game yet again. Not only did he take Penn down, he did it with impunity and authority. He tossed BJ around like he was a sack of hammers (why hammers? Why not?), planting the BJJ Black Belt to the mat whenever he felt like it. It was a virtuoso display of offensive MMA wrestling. Only GSP at welterweight has looked more impressive in muscling BJ Penn to the canvas.
Yet, in the Maynard rematch, he raised the bar yet again.
In the second round, rocked from five minutes of hell in the first, the much smaller Edgar managed to not only take Maynard down, but slam him in a move straight out of the WWE.
Maynard has for a long time been considered the nightmare wrestler of the UFC’s LW division. Yet, Edgar was able to score several impressive takedowns on him and conceded only one in return.
Frankie Edgar is a top-level MMA wrestler, folks, and it’s long past time he got his due as such.
He Has the Cardio of a Kenyan Marathon Runner
In case anyone is wondering, that’s not an attempt to be racist or stereotypical in this slide title. Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya currently holds the world record for fastest ever marathon at 2 hours, 3 minutes and 2 seconds.
And he did it the same way Frankie usually wins most of his fights: by never slowing down. Ever.
Frankie’s unbelievable cardio and pace in fights isn’t just an asset for him, it’s a visible, notable detriment to his opponents. We watched as cardio machines like Sean Sherk and Grey Maynard became discouraged against him, wondering just how a guy can fight in the fifth round as good—if not better—than he can in the first.
Take the BJ Penn fights, for example. Penn has always been knocked for his lackadaisical cardio, but most would acknowledge that at 155 lbs, he is usually in shape and ready. He had no problem keeping up with Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez for five rounds, two men who are known for their work rate and inexhaustible gas tanks.
Yet, against Frankie, we saw Penn become more and more discouraged as the fight went on. Frankie’s pace, more than his offensive output, sapped Penn’s will to win with each passing round. By the final rounds of both their fights, Penn was back on his heels, almost disbelieving, as Frankie was still bouncing around, moving in and out, throwing combinations with the same speed and snap he had in the opening round.
Sure, he slowed a step in the second Grey Maynard fight, but c’mon, people, wouldn’t you? He had been given the beating of his life in the opening round, yet showed no signs of it after just 60 seconds rest on the stool.
By the final round of their tooth-and-nail struggle, Frankie was still light on his toes, still moving, still throwing combinations with snap, power and accuracy.
Frankie’s cardio is beyond question, and no one—bar none—can outwork him anymore.
He Has Excellent Coaches and Training Partners
Finally, Frankie’s best chances in this fight may come down to the people he surrounds himself with on a day-to-day basis.
First of all, there’s his primary BJJ coach and close friend Ricardo Almeida. “Big Dog” may have had a mixed run of success in his UFC tenure, but no one would deny this man’s serious BJJ skills.
Through Almeida, Edgar has access to the vaunted Renzo Gracie fight team, just a short drive away in New York City. Here, he can train alongside such BJJ notables as Matt Serra, John Danaher, Gunnar Nelson and, oh yeah, Renzo freakin’ Gracie himself.
That’s as solid a group of guys as any to keep your BJJ skills sharp and ready to go.
It’s also through team Renzo Gracie (and through their formerly shared manager, Shari Spencer) that Edgar has trained with Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, a man who Edgar mimics in many respects. No one would be a better influence on Edgar at this point of his career than the hardest-working, most cerebral champion in MMA today.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his boxing coach Mark Henry, who must shoulder much of the credit for transforming Edgar’s stand-up game from “functional” to “world class.” Yes, Frankie is a world-class striker (at least in MMA), and I stand by that assertion. No one makes BJ Penn look foolish on the feet for nearly an hour without being a top-notch MMA striker.
And rounding out Edgar’s skill set is his time spent as coach of the Rutgers University wrestling team.
Spending hours on the mats at a collegiate wrestling room, both teaching and learning from top amateur wrestlers and respected collegiate coaches, ensures Frankie’s wrestling stays sharp and on point.
In other words, “The Answer” has all the right tools to ensure a long run atop the UFC’s LW division.