Like the majority of the Bloody Elbow community (it would appear), I read Nate's editorial on last night's main event. While I may not agree with it, the article got the community talking (which is always a good thing), and it also made me realize something. In the history of the UFC LW title, Frankie Edgar is the only person not named BJ Penn to finish a title fight. Ever.
Many people have been critical over the years regarding Edgar's "point fighting" style. Being one of, if not the smallest fighter at 155, Edgar has relied on footwork, quickness, and a solid boxing and wrestling game to outwork, and often outpoint his opponents. While this has been an effective strategy, it has not endeared to him to a large segment of fans that want to see definitive finishes. Personally, I love to watch Frankie fight, but I can see why others would not care for his style. To each his/her own.
Whee I will take issue is with the contention that Edgar is a boring fighter who does not try to finish, and that the division is better off without him. To make my point, I'm going to go over the history of the UFC LW championship, its champions, and let the results speak for themselves.On February 23, 2001, Jens Pulver won the inaugural UFC lightweight title at UFC 30, defeating Coal Uno by unanimous decision. Pulver would go onto to become a legend of the sport, despite the downward turn in the later years of his career. Jens successfully defended the title twice, beating Dennis Hallman on 9/28/01 at UFC 33, and BJ Penn at UFC 35 on 1/11/02. Both of these wins came via unanimous decision, with the win over Penn considered a massive upset at the time.
Pulver's title reign ended not because he was defeated, but after he was stripped of the title March 23, 2002, upon leaving the UFC in the midst of a contract dispute. Almost one year later, 2/28/03, the finals of a four man tournament occurred to determine a new champion, but BJ Penn and Caol Uno fought to a draw, and no champion was declared.
The title would remain vacant until 2006, when Shawn Sherk defeated Kenny Florian via unanimous decision on October 14 at UFC 64. Sherk would have one successful defense, defeating Hermes Franca via unanimous decision at UFC 73 on 7/7/07. His reign would end without a defeat, however, as Sherk was stripped of the title on December 8, 2007 for failing a post fight drug test from his fight with Franca (Hermes tested positive for a banned substance post fight as well, also garnering a suspension).
On January 19, 2008 the UFC LW title gained its first champion to finish a title fight, and the first to eventually lose the belt in a fight, rather than getting stripped of it. BJ Penn defeated Joe "Daddy" Stevenson in a bloodbath, eventually winning the bout via rear naked choke, and licking Stevenson's blood from his gloves. A new era of dominance had descended upon the division, with Penn defending the title successfully 3 times, against Shawn Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez, all by extremely impressive stoppage.
When Penn was booked against Frankie "The Answer" Edgar, fans (including myself) scoffed at the idea of the fight even being booked. Despite Edgar coming off wins over Franca, Sherk, and Matt Veach, he was deemed unworthy as a title challenger, with many people campaigning for Gray Maynard to get the shot instead. Edgar went on to prove the doubters wrong, defeating Penn via unanimous decision at UFC 112. This fight was not without its controversy, as many felt that Penn should have won the decision.
An immediate rematch was booked, and at UFC 118 on August 28, 2010, Penn/Edgar II took place, and there was no dispute about the winner this time. Edgar was able to use superior footwork and boxing to clearly outpoint the former champion (even taking Penn down, which had never been done at LW), retaining the title with a unanimous decision once again.
At UFC 125 on New Year's Day 2011, Edgar met the only person in MMA he had lost to, "The Bully" Gray Maynard. Maynard has outwrestled his way to a decision over Edgar in 2008, and the same was to be expected here. Instead, fans were treated to one of the greatest displays of heart in the Octagon. Maynard dropped Edgar on more than one occasion in the first round, breaking the champion's nose and leaving him a bloody mess. Edgar found his composure in between rounds, and recovered to fight back to a highly contested draw. With nothing settled and Anthony Pettis waiting for the winner (as the final WEC LW champion), another immediate rematch was declared.
In the rematch, Maynard started the fight the same way, destroying Edgar in the first round, but never quite able to put him away. Once again, the smaller champion hung around in the fight until he could regain his senses, but he did not allow the judges to render a decision this time. In the fourth round, Edgar rocked Maynard badly, and followed with a series of concussive right hands, leaving Maynard crumpled in an unconscious heap at the base of the cage. This was the first, and thus far only finish in a LW title fight by anyone other than BJ Penn in UFC history (whom Edgar beat twice).
Edgar would go on to lose his belt in somewhat controversial fashion to Benson "Smooth" Henderson, although the majority of pundits (and myself, not that my opinion counts for anything) though the right man's hand was raised. In their rematch last night, the two evenly matched fighters battled it out again, in an even closer fight that the majority of the MMA world seems to think Edgar won. Either way, Ben Henderson is still the UFC LW champion, and, barring unforseen circumstances, will fight Nate Diaz later this year.
Now that I am done with the history part of the piece, I will interject a little bit of opinion. I think Frankie Edgar is being held to a higher standard that other LW's in the past, because he followed the most devastating champion (and a legend of the sport) in BJ Penn. Defeating Penn twice and being the only other person to score a KO in a LW title fight is good enough for me, but it is not enough for some. That is fine. Debating the sport is one of the most fun things about being a fan, in my opinion. We can all agree to disagree, and that's cool. But 2 FOTY contenders in one calendar year combined with one of the best come from behind KO's in recent memory speak for themselves.
Good luck at Featherweight Frankie, fans of the Lightweight division won't miss you.
This was the final line of Nate's editorial earlier today, and the only part of it I will speak out against (No disrespect intended whatsoever to Nate, and I hope it is not interpreted that way). Some fans may not miss Frankie at LW if he moves down, but he has fought like a warrior against larger opponents, rising to the best in the world at one point. He was never stripped of his title, and has conducted himself as a professional at all times. I doubt he will ever read this, but in case he does, Frankie, you fight with heart like no one else. If you leave the LW division, at least this one fan will really, really miss you.