Going into his second lightweight title defense at UFC 125, Frankie Edgar didn't have championship levels of respect. The oddsmakers all favored challenger Gray Maynard to beat Edgar for the second time. Many pundits questioned Edgar's fighting style, criticizing him for "point fighting" and "decision hunting". All this despite Edgar having soundly beaten B.J. Penn, the most dominant lightweight in UFC history twice.
But Maynard was bigger, stronger, the more credentialed collegiate wrestler. Most importantly he'd easily won their first match using his size and wrestling to overwhelm Edgar.
In the first round it looked like the doubters were right as Maynard nailed Edgar with a left hook that staggered the champ then spent the rest of the round battering the desperate floundering champ. But Maynard, despite outlanding the champ 44-11 (CompuStrike) or 47-10 (FightMetric) in the first round couldn't land that final coffin nail strike to finish Edgar.
From there Frankie's technical advantages came into play, CompuStrike summarized the stats in an email release:
Edgar had a 107-55 edge in strikes landed in rounds two thru five. Edgar also hit on 4 of 7 takedowns while stuffing 10 of Maynard's 12 attempts. Maynard hit on 8 of 10 takedowns in their first fight.
The pundits are now singing Edgar's praises. I know I am. The champ has mad heart, deep skills and the brains to put it all together in a way that baffles even the best opponents.
Mike Chiappetta joins the chorus:
Edgar didn't beat Maynard, but in some senses, what he did at UFC 125 was just as impressive. Edgar survived a first-round thrashing that would have finished most fighters, and fought back from a two-point deficit to force a draw, allowing him to retain his UFC lightweight belt.
And with that, the final doubters and questioners should be silenced.
Edgar didn't leave with the victory, but he left with the belt, as the title does not change hands on a draw.
He should also leave with the respect of the masses. After all, Maynard has been unbeaten throughout his career and Edgar fought him tooth and nail for five grueling rounds to even things up. Maynard is the bigger fighter, walking around at about 185 pounds between fights (Edgar's more around the 165-pound range). He's also 5-foot-8 to Edgar's 5-foot-6.
Time after time, Edgar walks in against the favorite and gives him the fight of his life. He's always undersized and sometimes outgunned. But overlooked or underappreciated? That should never happen again.
Anton Gurevich of Lowkick.com joins in:
UFC Lightweight Champ did everything necessary to get some respect from the fans before defending his title against Gray Maynard. But this fight against Gray Maynard was surely a turning point. Frankie Edgar showed a tremendous heart, and ability to bounce back from what was basically a "no way out" situation. I don't understand how anyone can say now Frankie Edgar is not deserving his belt. Edgar's "Fe" T-Shirt means "Iron", a perfect slogan for what was nothing but an Ironman performance.
Challenger Gray Maynard is the lone dissenting voice, from the post-fight press conference (per Sherdog):
"F--k no, I don't want a loss. I want the belt. I thought I had it. I thought the belt was mine.
"It could have been stopped easily, I thought. He was all over the place. I think it was a left hook. I caught him. It was a clean one. I tried to put him away.
"I dropped him...how many times? Five? He didn't land a punch. [The first was] at least a 10-8. Maybe even a 10-7.
"Yeah, I was swinging for the fences [in the first period]. I was trying to knock him out that whole round. That's a lot of work. That's like a sprint. I felt a little tired, and I had to ease back a bit. Then I got going again in round three. He's a tough kid, but I thought that was my fight.
"I thought I won the third for sure. The last round, we landed about even. I was going hard to the last, and I thought he backed up a lot.
"Obviously it doesn't feel good. I thought that was my fight. I thought I had the belt. I worked my ass off for this. I don't know. I guess it kind of hurts."
Fortunately UFC president Dana White is a reasonable man and changed his mind after initially insisting that the UFC would stick with their pre-draw plans for an immediate title challenge by WEC champ Anthony Pettis.
Pettis may be the flashiest most promising rising star in the division, but Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard put on a classic. In fight terms, Pettis is still a youth, Edgar and Maynard are grizzled men, veterans of a war. I've said in the past that MMA, for all its more varied excitement, rarely matches the best boxing bouts for sheer drama and the amount of heart shown in an epic fight.
Edgar vs Maynard 2 was the rare MMA fight that can stand tall in the legendary company of fights like Ali-Frazier, Corrales-Castillo or Ward-Gatti. The rematch is a must and I for one can't wait. My money's on the champ.