If UFC 144 in Japan scintillated for the across the board quality of the fights, the stand-out main event provided the intrigue, controversy and talking points only a championship fight can deliver. After five fiercely contested rounds, Ben Henderson emerged the new UFC Lightweight Champion. And while there are many who would have given the win to incumbent Frankie Edgar, there aren’t many who argue against a unanimous judges’ decision.
That in itself is an almost unheard of outcome of such a closely fought match going unanimously against the champion. But that’s because the only lingering questions are how the judges scored the match, and not the quality of the judging itself. Whether it was based on the technical brilliance, tenacity and the takedowns Edgar meted out throughout the match: or the sheer damage and relentless offence from Henderson.
Edgar certainly looked sharp, countering effectively and seemingly catching every kick Bendo could throw. But those kicks did damage, and the up-kick which shattered Edgar’s nose was the start of a turnaround which left the champion a bloody mess by the end.
Still, the close-call was enough for Edgar to waste no time in demanding a rematch. He reminded Dana White of all those times he fought his opponents twice and “what is right” is to give him another shot at Henderson.
This leaves the UFC president with a predicament. The lightweight division is stacked. There are many fights that would make logical sense.
On the night, another star, Anthony Pettis, showcased his credentials after making short work of Joe Lauzon. Pettis is the last man to have defeated Henderson back in the WEC days and was himself being lined up for a shot at Edgar if he hadn’t been so ignominiously defeated by Clay Guida during his run. That match would be the logical one to make, and Dana wasted no time in the crowded press conference announcing that that is the fight the UFC will put on.
But then Edgar walked into the room.
What followed was a back and forth between reporters and Dana discussing the merits of Edgar dropping down a weight class to potentially face Jose Aldo, and Edgar continuing to argue his conviction that he won the match and has no problem at 155.
The fact that Dana thinks he should drop down, despite thinking he won the match, is telling. In the Octagon, it looked as though the two fighters were separated by two weight classes let alone one. Edgar took Henderson down five times but could do no damage to the bigger man. Edgar was lightning quick and seemed to be able to catch Henderson’s kicks all day long but Henderson didn’t care. He threw kicks against a wrestler regardless, and they hurt before they were caught. That’s the confidence of a bigger man against a smaller fighter.
It’s unlikely we’ll see Edgar drop down a weight class, not yet anyway. The fighter still feels he has something left to prove and losing such a close match doesn’t drop him too far down the rankings. One win against any potential contender will see him lined up for another shot. And with that you can take your pick: there are so many great matchups in the division you can pick anybody from Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon, Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida, Jim Millar or Donald Cerrone.
Pettis and Henderson, on the other hand, have unfinished business. Pettis’ famous Matrix-style kick off the cage, the “Showtime kick”, was an embarrassing exclamation point for Henderson in an enthralling match he ultimately lost. There’s no doubt they would produce another exciting bout.
As compelling as that match is, Edgar has one thing on his side: he can play the “what is right” card. Edgar had to give immediate rematches twice while champ. Why shouldn’t Henderson do the same?