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By: Jason Amadi, MMATorch Columnist
When athletes are able to consistently overcome the odds, fans tend to lose sight of the reason that the odds were stacked against them in the first place. The fact is, when the athletes in question are prizefighters, the price one has to pay in order to overcome odds is often quite high.
While it's fun to talk up former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar as some sort of Rocky Balboa figure in mixed martial arts, it's important to remember that this isn't a movie; Frankie Edgar isn't a character, his opponents aren't pulling any of their punches and the damage that he takes in order to overcome the odds couldn't be any more real.
At UFC 144, Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson couldn't have had any more of a competitive fight. Because neither man could hold each other down, takedowns were basically a wash and all striking stats show them landing roughly the same amount of strikes. What cost Edgar his championship last night was his inability to do damage to a bigger, stronger fighter.
Being the smaller man in a fight gives Frankie Edgar a set amount of advantages and disadvantages heading into every fight. He's generally going to be faster and better conditioned than most lightweights, but he'll also give up size and punching power in return. Unfortunately for "The Answer" last night, his speed and conditioning were matched by a bigger fighter who not only matched his output, but was simply doing more damage.
Obviously, damage isn't a criterion under the Unified Rules (nor do I think it should be) but the efficacy of Henderson's strikes just couldn't be denied.
Edgar's gameplan from the start was to catch the kicks of Benson Henderson, neutralize that part of his game and turn the fight into a boxing match. Not only was Edgar unable to catch the kicks before they landed, but when he did grab Henderson's leg, he was simply unable to capitalize because of the size difference.
Usually when fighters get a hold of their opponent's leg, we see a takedown get completed or an Anderson Silva-James Irvin type finish. Edgar could do nothing and was arguably out-struck during all of those types of exchanges.
Frankie Edgar's conditioning advantage over Gray Maynard saved him from going down in flames twice in his 2011 campaign against "The Bully." When both fighters were fresh we saw Edgar knocked around the Octagon and severely damaged. The fact that Edgar was able to outlast Maynard in both fights and eventually finish him doesn't undo the damage done.
Considering Frankie Edgar's last three fights in the lightweight division, you can't help but wonder how much more effective he could be competing in his natural weight class. At 155 most of Edgar's punches fail to catch the attention of his opponent and he hasn't been able to hold a fighter down in forever.
While I won't go as far as to say that Frankie Edgar needs to move down to featherweight in order to be competitive, I do think it's important to look at the athletic tradeoffs you have to accept when competing a weight class above where you should be in mixed martial arts.
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