It's arrived. The trilogy will conclude in the headliner of tonight's UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III event, a blockbuster pitting the two best lightweights in the world in a sure-fire dogfight.
For all the hoopla surrounding this match up, anyone who's watched their previous collisions should know what variables are at play here. Frankie Edgar will wield his hyperspace agility and abstract cage flux to combat the sheer power Gray Maynard packs in his monster punches and enveloping takedowns.
It's no secret that Edgar will be fixated on averting Maynard's rocket-fueled left hook, which robbed him of his faculties in their last encounter and burdened him with climbing back from a 10-8 round right off the bat.
While Maynard's crushing meathooks put him in the driver's seat early, the siren call of his killer instinct was almost too loud, as he overzealously pounced with an extreme level of aggression that left his defenses exposed in later rounds.
The see-saw affair resulted in a very clear list of successes and failures scribbled on the drawing board for the rubber match. Edgar is the superior technician standing who must "box the brawler" and finesse his takedowns; Maynard is a ravenous gorilla who must intelligently create scenarios where he can impose his overwhelming will.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
What makes this a great match up is that even though Edgar's edge is his speed and Maynard's is power, neither are weak by any means where their opponent excels.
Maynard uses nothing but basic boxing backed with skull-splitting heft to rock Frankie.
In both fights, Maynard connected with his biggest blows while lunging forward and leading rather than waiting to counter Edgar's incoming combinations.
Therefore, "getting off first" becomes a priority for Maynard. Edgar's poetic explosion of crisp combinations from unexpected angles is better left defended than attempted to pick apart.
Maynard's bread and butter punches are his lunging left hook and uppercut, both of which are anchored by his absolutely devastating short right hand.
The flip side is that Edgar excels in counter punching, especially against the more basic combinations that Maynard throws.
The fuse that sparks his comeback is the laser-straight one-two he responds with to the right. You can see that Maynard is much more of a stationary target with his hands low, playing right into Edgar's warp-speed "in and out" strategy.
Like Maynard, Edgar is successful when he's leading the exchanges.
Notice how Maynard is now on his heels and forced to react, both defensively (dodging the strikes with footwork and head movement) and offensively (trying to get a bead on some of the fastest hands and best head-work in the division).
It's also worth mentioning that Edgar tones down the volume and breadth of his strikes, relying on just one- and two-punch combinations thrown straight and long.
Abstaining from hooks, uppercuts and kicks keeps his chin vigorously protected and his strikes highly accurate with his feet underneath him to skate away from danger.
Edgar secures his takedowns one of two ways.
His absence of significant striking power gives his adversaries the confidence that they can absorb the blows. They relent on reacting with urgent motion, enabling the surprise double leg (like vs. Penn).
Or, his endlessly elusive tendencies are so unbearably annoying that his opponents barrel forward. This allows him to rapid-shift from reverse to high gear and use their own momentum to get ultra-deep with a simple and precise level drop, as we see to the right.
Between two high level and prestigious wrestlers like this, I can't hammer on the importance of penetration enough for the takedown battles.
Re-examine the gif above with this in mind. Facilitated by timing, Edgar gets so deep on the double leg that Gray's entire waist and torso are draped perfectly across Edgar's lowered shoulders. It's the perfect fulcrum to topple someone over.
It's also the exact reason why Gray doesn't succeed on this attempt above.
The ideal ploy for Gray is something I was surprised he didn't do more.
Since Frankie doesn't elude the attempt entirely, makes contact and uses a little muscle to shuck him off, Maynard should play the game of dropping levels and then bashing hooks when Edgar lowers his hands to sprawl.
Kevin Randleman executed the technique flawlessly in his knockout upset of Mirko Filipovic. While Edgar's motion alternates between in and out, Maynard's should be up and down from striking to takedowns.
All in all, these two are incredibly even-matched and I expect another razor-thin decision.
The overwhelming consensus seems to be that Edgar will prevail. I agree.
Please insert all the recycled but truthful disclaimers about this statement, but a broad brush stroke on the last fight might be that Edgar "got caught" and was merely delayed on implementing his bulletproof gameplan.
My feeling is just that it will be easier for Edgar to fine-tune and replicate his performance than it will be for Maynard. Frankie's chin has been phenomenal and, although Gray obviously broke it down, the big first round scare last time will probably give Frankie the right amount of confidence that he can trudge through Maynard's best punches and a spike in caution to avoid it, knowing that eating one punch can end his night and his title run.
I expect Edgar to start out overly hesitant -- much to the chagrin of the bloodthirsty audience -- and methodically needle straight punches for the first few rounds. I think a painfully safe onset to avoid any of Maynard's haymakers or takedown attempts will boost his confidence and bait the challenger into upping his aggression.
Mid-fight, I imagine Maynard will get antsy and succumb to the pressure to make something dramatic happen, which will open the door for Edgar to prey on openings and methodically pick him apart with pinpoint punches and evasive movement.
My Prediction: Frankie Edgar by decision
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com