The nucleus of tonight's UFC 150 pay-per-view from The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, is the semi-anticipated rematch between current UFC lightweight champion Ben Henderson and former champion Frankie Edgar. The duo threw down back in February at UFC 144 and the surging Henderson dethroned Edgar in a 5-round decision that some wholeheartedly agreed with; others did not. Include Dana White in the latter category, as the UFC prez voiced a dissenting opinion and tonight's do-over was announced shortly after.
The Jedi-like "Showtime Kick" that Anthony Pettis uncorked in the WEC's final 5 minutes might have been the most momentous single strike in MMA history. It alone probably tilted the balanced score cards in Pettis' favor and subsequently earned him the promotion's lightweight title while shoving the former WEC champion out of the spotlight.
That man was Ben Henderson (16-2). Amidst the buzz about the fresh and intriguing match-up possibilities for the WEC lightweights in the Octagon, Henderson took a backseat to Pettis and fan-favorite Donald Cerrone in the discussion. But lo and behold: Pettis was soundly defeated by Clay Guida in his UFC debut, Cerrone, who'd dropped 3 title shots in the WEC, was successful but started off farther down the ladder, and Henderson convincingly dismantled a mid-tier gamer (Mark Bocek) and a pair of perennial contenders (Jim Miller and Guida) to surpass his WEC counterparts. The electric streak earned "Smooth" the title shot that consummated his meteoric rise and chiseled him in as the undisputed #1 lightweight in the world.
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Frankie "The Answer" Edgar (14-2) rose to power with less emphasis. The undersized lightweight battled through a hotly debated decision with B.J. Penn to become champion and then another with Gray Maynard in his first title defense, but resolved any and all questions with commanding performances in the rematches that followed. Seemingly justifying his alpha-status with Penn and Maynard in his rear-view mirror, Edgar's relief was short-lived. The continuously under-rated wrestle-boxer was immediately embroiled in a new struggle with a new challenger, but this time found himself on the wrong end of the championship decision.
Even if you're convinced that Henderson deserved the nod at UFC 144 in Japan, there's no question that Edgar had his moments, mounted effective offense on Henderson and proved that he has the potential to retake the throne in tonight's UFC 150 rematch.
Continued in the full entry.
When analyzing their second go-around, there's no better baseline of information than the video of their first -- which is available for free viewing on BloodyElbow.com right now. The salient factors of their initial encounter were: 1) how shockingly effective Edgar's signature in-and-out motion was, 2) how much quicker than Henderson he was and 3) the unique strategies that Edgar was able to capitalize on.
Edgar's Signature In-and-Out Movement
Make no mistake about it: Frankie Edgar has some of the best -- if not the best -- overall cage motion in MMA. He uses every angle in the book to stay extremely unpredictable and he constantly throws different looks with his footwork, head movement, stance, advances, retreats, tempos, punching combinations and counter-attacks. Realizing that dictating the pace and enforcing control on the feet can be highly subjective, I'd say there's no question that Edgar's slicing movement gave him the momentum and opened up a considerable amount of striking opportunities in their first go.
While the bulk of Edgar's confusing assault involves 3- and 4-piece punching combinations, the New Jersey native also hit 5 takedowns on Henderson throughout the fight and put him on the canvas in every round but the 4th. In all 5 rounds, Henderson secured a single takedown on Edgar. Before their UFC 144 clash, the aspect of who would better impose their takedown prowess was pivotal and widely assumed to favor Henderson.
The point is that Edgar's atypical motion was not only highly successful, but flowered opportunities in every facet of combat: free-movement (striking), clinching and grappling, while also lending Edgar ownership of the fight's tempo. If he can repeat that performance, he'll have a similar amount of opportunities in the rematch while Henderson will be forced to react more often than lead with his own offense.
Edgar's Shocking Quickness Advantage
I didn't notice this at all when watching their first encounter live but it was glaringly obvious when I reviewed the footage. Some may have suspected that Edgar would have a slight quickness advantage, but he consistently beat Henderson to the punch, disrupted his rhythm and nullified the gist of his offense. To clarify: Henderson's moments were more memorable -- such as the streaking up-kick he planted on Edgar's face from his back at the end of the 2nd -- but fewer and farther between.
Edgar had more control of the pace and momentum, but his gradual accumulation of moderately effective offense faced a tough challenge in the more significant and memorable moments in which Henderson established himself. That's the trade-off with Edgar's style: the advantage lies in his helmsmanship and high-volume output while the disadvantage is that it results in a steady stream of average offense, whereas Henderson's violent eruptions, albeit fewer in occurrence, leave a stronger impression on the judges.
Edgar's Unique Strategies
A guffawing stat from UFC 144 was that Edgar caught 5 of Henderson's kicks in the 1st round and had already caught another 2 shortly into the 2nd round. While this might seem like an ineffectual accomplishment, Edgar exploited having a leg cradled to his ribs while Henderson hopped around on one foot; mostly by putting Henderson into defense-mode and taking him out of his offense, but also by peppering with crisp punches while he was vulnerable or pressuring Henderson into a scramble that Edgar anticipated well with intelligent counters.
The way Edgar accomplished this was fairly fascinating. It's always wise to throw out probing strikes that are intended to elicit a reaction to key off rather than cause damage or make an impact. The jab is the classic example, which is the best tool to stay busy with and keep flinging in your opponent's face in order to coordinate follow-up attacks and discompose your opponent. In Henderson vs. Edgar 1, Edgar exemplified effective use of the jab while Henderson flicked out probing strikes -- jabs and lazy kicks -- that were obviously half-hearted filler and offered no gains.
Though both fighters regularly doubled and tripled up their jabs, Edgar plunged his when he was in the proper range, cutting an angle and poised to tailor his follow up based on Henderson's reaction and defensive strategy. Henderson, however, unwound jabs before he was even within striking range and seemed to use it just to stay busy rather than as a strategic enhancement. Henderson's mis-application of the jab simply resulted in it not being effective but his perfunctory kicks -- which only sailed low to the legs or mid-range to the body, with no set up -- were expertly countered by Edgar. He trapped the leg, lifted it just high enough to disrupt Henderson's balance and mounted offense while Henderson was fixated on regaining his footing.
Edgar seemed to have carefully planned for this. He often pumped an attention-grabbing left jab while cutting an angle to his left, but dropped his right hand down toward his waist, and Henderson's counter-kick from the southpaw stance found its way directly into Edgar's grasp immediately after. Edgar was able to get away with dropping his right hand because of his sharp pivots, which put him just outside and off-center of Henderson's punching range. The ploy undoubtedly paid off but also presents enormous risk, as his head was entirely unprotected on the right side.
To address this in the rematch, Henderson must at least relent on unlatching so many mid-power and haphazard body kicks and/or consider relying on his TKD background to pinpoint Edgar's head with a high kick instead of targeting only the low and mid ranges. This was an odd and miniscule aspect but one that largely influenced the opening 10 minutes and kept Edgar close in the fight.
Even though Henderson won the last match, my opinion of it changed after watching it again. The aforementioned characteristics from Edgar were thoroughly productive and thus have an influence on the rematch -- whether they're exploited again or even further by Edgar or shut down by Henderson to his advantage.
Another result of Edgar's game-plan was that it enabled him to dictate most of the exchanges. He plugged away relentlessly and inched ahead on my score card up until Henderson got his hands on him and imposed the more significant and effective offense, despite creating fewer opportunities to do so. Considering how vivacious and dynamic the lighter-weight fighters are, dictating the ebb and flow of the action is often what determines the offensive output that decides the outcome. That's why it's worth noting that Henderson ended up mounting more significant offense but Edgar's creativity was more productive in creating opportunities.
Because of that, I expect Henderson to either up his movement and use of angles or be more determined to contain Edgar in cage corners or in the clinch. That's where Edgar's smaller size and superior quickness is nullified and Henderson's freakish strength leads to drastic momentum swings. Beyond the striking encounters, I was somewhat baffled that Henderson only attempted and succeeded with one takedown. Jousting on the feet with the most unpredictable, elusive and the fastest lightweight is just unwise, especially considering that Henderson's true venom lies in his robust clinch tactics and frenetic grappling.
Edgar is also a master game-planner and has always reinforced his strategy to pay dividends in rematches. Additionally, despite being 3" shorter in height (5'6" vs. 5'9"), Edgar imposes a 2" reach advantage, which perfectly complements his dizzying attack patterns, blinding quickness and explosive combinations.
I was thinking all Henderson for the rematch but walking through the step-by-step mechanics of their first encounter has me confident that Edgar has the potential to pull off the upset in the under-dog role he's thrived in. The outcome should hinge on how each fighter adjusts their strategies and, while that's Edgar's specialty, he has to drum up more innovative methods while Henderson just has to cut out some excess and eliminate mistakes. This one could go either way but the fact that Henderson endured those strategic flaws last time and still came out victorious gives him my nod.
My Prediction: Ben Henderson by decision.