Wow. It has been seven fights and almost four years, stemming back to Matt Veach at the TUF 10 Finale in 2009, since "The Answer" has fought in a standard three-round fight with no championship gold on the line. But those circumstances will govern the Frankie Edgar vs. Charles Oliveira match on the main card of this Saturday's UFC 162 blockbuster from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout is one of five slated for the pay-per-view card, which is headlined by Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman and begins at 10:00 p.m. ET after the preliminary cards run through on Facebook and FX.
Just like the consensus opinion of fans and bettors, my first inclination was that Frankie Edgar (15-4-1) will roll through the talented but inconsistent Charles Oliveira (16-3). And why wouldn't he, just based on the intro about Edgar's unreal succession of title defenses and challenges at both lightweight and featherweight? Additionally, Edgar is ruggedly durable, coldly calculating and admirably intelligent, and Oliveira is known just as much for his sketchy Fight I.Q. and hot-and-cold performances as he is for his electrically effective combination of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
But a few realizations have cast this match up in a slightly different light.
Edgar has never encountered an opponent as tall as Oliveira at 5'10", nor one with a spidery reach of 73". Along with that factual note, I'd subjectively hazard that the only adversary Edgar's faced with striking as dynamic, explosive, and blindingly fast as Oliveira's is featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Of course, I'm not putting Aldo and "Do Bronx" on equal footing but their striking venom and overall styles are definitely comparable, and Oliveira still has three more inches of height and reach than Aldo. And absolutely nothing to lose.
Yes ... I realize you're not dumping your piggy bank on the underdog as a result of that last paragraph, but hopefully it's a decent and semi-intriguing start.
After hearing the official news last year, I opined that Edgar's decision to drop to featherweight might be a mistake. That conclusion was based mostly on the way Edgar's quickness -- with his hands, feet and confusing motion in general -- wouldn't stand out as much against the faster-paced featherweights. And, really, the myriad advantages of his cryptic attack patterns and knifing footwork are what distinguishes Edgar as a top-level fighter and are largely responsible for his success. Therefore, it's logical to surmise that a quickness and motion-based puzzle won't be as difficult to solve for a fighter with equal or greater speed.
The end result of Edgar's dazzling movement is the ability to dictate key factors like range and pace. With the note about the effect of Oliveira's quickness being made, the Brazilian's exceptional height and length should also take a bite out of Edgar's frustrating command of range. Another salient advantage of Edgar's range game is his takedown ability -- after he's cut a minute's worth of backward and elusive angles, he'll change gears, lower his level and spring forward for a deep double leg. Oliveira's guard game is vastly more complex and effective than the bulk of Edgar's past opponents, and the 23-year-old phenom is fearless in generating technical offense from his back.
Not since B.J. Penn has Edgar had to think twice about the perils of succeeding with a takedown, but he should here, as Oliveira's guard is active enough to put the top-player in defensive mode in order to stave off an endless and frenetic chain of sweep and submission attempts. Extra length shakes out as extra leverage in the grappling aspect too.
Oliveira's unpredictability has been a compliment and a curse. That tendency could unfold in a ballsy risk that costs him the fight or uncorking something deadly that Edgar doesn't expect or see coming. Frankie's movement is paralyzing because he seems to be in several different spots at once. Everything is set up with a feint or a decoy angle, and that process often repeats two or three more times before Edgar is actually in hittable range. The downside of that type of erratic movement is that it somewhat increases your chances of eating an errant strike; it's not unlike how hooks or roundhouse kicks, due to the sweeping arc of their trajectory, have a better chance of catching an opponent with busy head movement than straight punches do, which travel forward and back on one reciprocating plane.
Even though I casually quipped that Oliveira has nothing to lose above, that state of mind can be unexpectedly empowering. He's been considered phenom-ish with loads of future potential since his first UFC outing. There's no question that he needs to mold himself into a more calculating, consistent and effectively technical fighter, so I don't think anyone believes he can beat one of the most calculating, consistent and technical fighters alive at his own game.
I feel this is a rare opportunity for Oliveira. No one expects him to win nor match Edgar's unfailing composure and high-level experience. If I were Oliveira, I'd draw from the limitless wealth of raw talent and let the guns blaze with unwavering confidence. It hasn't been often, but we have seen Edgar rocked by strikes or falter, albeit briefly, under relentless waves of swarming pressure.
Since I've really dug deep in making a case for Oliveira, or making his chances seem more viable, there's no reason to hold back the flimsiest one: match ups that would appear to yield an obvious winner are often the ones that bite us in the ass. I'm sure we can all recall a dramatic upset that was initially written off as a gimme for the favorite, and that memory is strengthened by wondering, in retrospect, how we could have overlooked the underdog so severely. Part of Edgar's well deserved mystique is how consistently he's performed throughout his career, and that's rare because everyone eventually has an off-night or uncharacteristic loss.
Could Saturday be that night for Edgar? Yes, it could.
I'd be happy if just a few of you revisited your line of thinking on this match up and reconsidered some of the under-pronounced variables. We've seen what Edgar has to offer, and I think it's fair to assume that Oliveira has the better chance to show significant improvement in every fight, and there's no question that the kid's instincts and god-given potential are truly remarkable.
Though I'd suggest that the chance-bettors or those who get off on low-risk/high-reward wagers to give Oliveira a glance here (like wagering ten bones to win fifty), I spent this entire article on behalf of Oliveira because the advantages for Edgar are so numerous and substantial. I am, however, quite open to the possibility of an upset and expect a much closer fight than most. This is close to a lose/lose for Frankie and a great opportunity for Oliveira to rejuvenate his status as a potential future contender or champion, which he can even accomplish with a valiant showing in defeat.
My Prediction: Frankie Edgar by decision.