Aldo and Edgar fight for interim gold this July 9, 2016 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
One sentence summary:
Phil: Two of the best ever put their legacies on the line in the promotional vacuum left by Conor McGregor.
David: One of the best fights of the year struggles to find attention in a post Jon Jones world.
Record: Jose Aldo 25-2 Frankie Edgar 20-4-1
Odds: Jose Aldo -105 Frankie Edgar -115
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
Phil: I've always enjoyed watching Jose Aldo. The evolution from Jungle Fights wildman to one of the cleanest technicians in the UFC was genuinely inspiring. I also liked the way he was willing to discuss things like fighter pay, or unionizing, or how dumb the Reebok uniforms looked. I found it desperately sad that he got knocked out in 13 seconds, in the biggest fight of his career, even aside from the way it deprived us all of what we were hoping would be a fantastic fight.
David: It's funny how we all crave finishes, but a finish too early (no matter how clean and definitive) is a robbery of metaphysical proportions. Aldo's status is mostly unchanged despite the 13 seconds of inaction he managed against McGregor. After all, we didn't learn much. Aldo got careless and paid for it. And? I'm not even sure I'd pick Conor in a rematch, not because Conor isn't amazing, but because I think Aldo is very much in his prime. Settling for Frankie Edgar is quite alright.
Phil: Frankie Edgar has made his way through every roadblock put in front of him recently, and there have been a lot of them. He probably should have gotten a title shot after beating Cub Swanson. He definitely should have gotten one after beating Chad Mendes. Yet, here he is. I mean, this is a more meaningful "interim championship" than most, but it's hard to escape the impression that Edgar is getting screwed over.
David: Edgar was basically chased out of lightweight. He lost a questionable decision to Henderson, and all Dana could ever talk about was how he needed to move down because he was too small. When all is said and done, he'll have a greater career than history will ever give him credit for.
What's at stake?
Phil: Couple of things: firstly, I think most people agree that the chances of McGregor coming back to featherweight are low. The weight cut is murderous and I don't think it fits with his "onwards and upwards / bigger and better" mentality at all. Thus, this is likely to only be the interim belt for a short amount of time.
That said, though, there's also a solid chance that this fight will tell us: who's the greatest fighter ever at 155 lbs or under? It's not DJ, yet, nor is Cruz really in the running. My pick is the winner of this one.
David: Seems like reputation more than the actual title. An Edgar win further cements his "underdog secretly the alpha dog" legacy. An Aldo win goes a long way in allowing people to stop using 13 seconds as a punchline for a career that has spanned many many successful moons.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Two amazingly well-rounded fighters who can basically do everything. Aldo definitely wants to fight from the outside, however, keeping the fight at his relatively slow pace. He thrives as a counter fighter, spearing takedowns and strikes alike with the jab. Like the other famously jab-centric fighter, GSP, his right hand isn't as polished as his left, and he does tend to wing it slightly, and is slow to retract. However, given time to work he can open opponents up with classic Dutch head-body-leg kickboxing combinations. He's primarily all defense in the clinch, choosing to shove away rather than land offense, but the sheer complexity and depth of his grappling game, both offensively and defensively, can't be overstated.
David: I've always been most impressed with Aldo's ability to pivot in ways that allow him to stay poised for a counter attack, or keep himself protected from his opponent's attack. His footwork is spectacular, and not just because he once played soccer. His grappling is kind of other wordly. I'm always kind of confused over why he doesn't go to it more often. His wrestling is more than adequate, especially when combined with his speed at closing distance. He passes guard with the kind of deft ease you see at amatuer tournaments when the black belt wanting to consider a career in prizefighting takes on a local kid who goes to the dojo in between his job at the comic book shop.
Phil: I think what we're seeing from Edgar is the Old Man Strength phase, as evinced by fighters like Bisping or Henderson. Less movement, more economy of motion, but when that motion is put into play he makes sure that it counts. This emphasis on power over speed hasn't even adversely affected Edgar's defense that much- he visibly jukes and jives less, but has been more defensively sound than he was in his days as a lightweight.
Aside from the better power, Edgar has always been an underrated body puncher, and while his leg kicks lack the coiled-spring power of Aldo's, he has a very good sense of when to land them when an opponent is off balanced.
David: Or Old Man Fear, rather. Early on in Edgar's career, he was all about phase shifting. Throwing combinations to set up some of the best takedowns in MMA. It's incredibly how quick he closes distance, and then shifts his weight for maximum leverage. Lately he's less concerned with phase shifting and more concerned with sustained attacks. He's anything but less versatile. He lost ditched formula for formatting. I still believe he's one of the better boxers in MMA. Defensively he's not great, but offensively he streamlines the most competent sequences of punches in MMA. In addition, he's grown as a top control wrestler, taking cues from fighters like Cain Velasquez, aggressively seeking positional dominance to land more violent ground and pound.
Insight from Past Fights:
David: It's been three years since they last fought, so their bout won't tell us a whole lot. Edgar has had five fights since, winning each one, while Aldo has had four, losing only one.
Phil: I'd look at Edgar's fight with Mendes. While he knocked out Mendes in the first, the actual finish was produced more by a single defensive error from Mendes than by Edgar having a noticeable technical advantage in the exchanges- Mendes simply didn't move his head in the pocket as Edgar did, and was cracked and went down. In terms of pure speed, it looked as though the former lightweight was a step behind Chad, which may not play well against the blisteringly fast Aldo. That said, the knockout punch was a left hook, which may prove to be potent if Aldo over-commits to his right hand, as he is wont to.
David: Mark Henry. He's always been a fantastic coach. Unlike most coaches who either scream, vomit platitudes, or actively sabotage their fighter (just kidding Miesha), Henry offers technical advice in between rounds, and is able to quickly identify adjustments.
Phil: Rematch factor. Edgar has proven that he is great at adjusting to opponents he fights more than once, doing much better every time against Maynard and Penn. Aldo's sole rematch is against Mendes- here it's difficult to ascertain much, due to Mendes' improvements and the slightly low-percentage nature of the first knockout.
The final X-factor is, obviously, that Aldo was on the tail-end of one of the biggest and most embarrassing knockouts in recent memory. Does he come back over-aggressive? Too timid? Or the same Aldo as he ever was?
David: Aldo's takedown defense is next level. Limp legging has never been a great technical way of defending takedowns, but it is a tactical way, and he's great at it. More than that, he knows how to position himself so that opponents have to track extra hard to close the gap. I don't see Edgar able to do this with consistency, leaving them both to dual on the feet. Edgar can hold his own on the feet, but I don't see him edging Aldo out for five rounds. Jose Aldo by Decision.
Phil: This is the problem for Edgar. While he's a brilliant adaptive fighter and has made tangible improvements, it's hard to see those improvements significantly impacting the fight. More power may not matter all that much when the problem was that he simply couldn't land on Aldo last time. More devastating top control isn't very useful when you're fighting the best counter-wrestler of all time. Edgar and Henry are a formidable team, so perhaps they can come up with a solution to the pivot-jab-leg kick triple threat, but I don't think Frankie has shown us what that would be yet. Jose Aldo by unanimous decision.