The turn of the new year has been a fantastic time for MMA for over a decade now. Pride started the tradition of ending the year with a bang by instituting the Shockwave shows to close out the end of the year starting in 2003, and the UFC picked up the tradition a few years later to close out 2006 with the second meeting between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz at UFC 66. Titles have traditionally been on the line as well, with the only exception being the historically injury-riddled UFC 108. So what do I choose for this week?
I decided to give into my bias and choose one of my all-time favorite fights (if not my favorite… depending on the day) and take a look back on the epic showdown between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard at UFC 125 on New Years Day 2011. The pay-per-view itself ended up being one of the lower selling New Year shows produced by the UFC, as Edgar wasn’t exactly a box office draw (unfortunately still true for him now as he lobbies to fight Conor McGregor for the Featherweight Title) and neither was Maynard, but they put on a show for the ages.
The story heading into the fight was an intriguing one. Edgar had won the Lightweight Title less than a year before this fight from legendary B.J. Penn in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport, and defended the belt successfully against Penn in the rematch, eliminating any controversy from the decision rendered in the first fight as Penn was unable to win a single round. Maynard was supposed to have received the title shot that Edgar received, but had defeated Nate Diaz in such an unconvincing manner that Edgar received the shot instead despite the fact that Maynard had handed Edgar his lone loss in April of 2008. Maynard would convincingly beat perennial contender Kenny Florian on the same card on which Edgar beat Penn for the second time to solidify the title shot he felt should have been his earlier. For his part, Edgar was anxious to avenge his lone career loss.
No time was wasted, as the excitement began almost immediately. Maynard landed a hard left hook in the first round that dropped Edgar. He would swarm Edgar looking for the finish with a barrage of punches, and dropped the champ two more times in the process as Edgar continued to get to his feet, refusing to go out! The referee, Yves Lavigne, had justification to stop the fight a couple of times, but didn’t do so despite Edgar being more than a little bit wobbly.
To put into account just how dominant that round was for Maynard, Fight Metric hasn’t recorded another fight in which a fighter has been dropped three times, let alone within a single round as Edgar was… and he somehow managed to survive! Maynard scored a 10-8 round on all three judge’s scorecards, but many felt it could have just as easily been a 10-7.
As the second round started, it was clear that Edgar had somewhat recovered in between rounds. He seemed to be going off of instinct more than anything, but he was scoring effective offense as Maynard had expended all of his energy in the first round looking for the finish. Edgar gained strength as the round went on, even picking up and slamming Maynard before the round was over, leaving no doubt Edgar had won the round.
Maynard had found his wind by the third round, leaving that frame up for debate as Edgar out-struck Maynard by a slim margin and had a late guillotine attempt interrupted by the end of the round; meanwhile, Maynard landed a couple of takedowns and controlled Edgar on the ground for a good chunk of the round. No could blame the judges for picking one way or the other.
The fourth round was all Edgar, as he became the aggressor in looking for takedowns and landing a few of them. Even when he wasn’t able to finish them, he stalled Maynard against the fence and scored some good punches from there, as the pace to the fight slowed before Edgar scored a couple of late combinations.
The fight was completely up in the air heading into the fifth round and both fighters knew they needed it to secure a win. The first bit of the round started slow as they looked for openings, with Edgar dancing around poking his jab without a lot of success. Maynard started looking for takedowns without success, as he didn’t have the energy to finish the drive. In between those attempts both started scoring some offense, with Maynard’s having a bit more mustard on them as opposed to the greater volume by Edgar. Just as the third round was, it was a difficult round to score that could have gone either way.
Watching the fight live, I remember looking directly at my friend and telling him “Dude, I think it’s going to be a draw.” He started laughing at me thinking it couldn’t possibly be considering how rare those are, but I was steadfast having scored the first and third round for Maynard with the opening round a 10-8 for Maynard, with Edgar taking the second, fourth, and fifth for a 47-47 score in my eyes. While only one of the judges scored it like I did, the fight did end up a split draw with each fighter getting a 48-46 score in their favor, in addition to that 47-47 score from the deciding judge. My buddy looked at me after the decision was announced and told me I had cursed the fight in believing it was a draw.
Whether they scored it that way or not, most of the MMA world agreed that a draw was appropriate, with a rematch being the logical course of action. This screwed over reigning WEC Champion Anthony Pettis who was to have a unification match with whomever had won this fight, but that would be postponed as Edgar and Maynard settled their differences once and for all. Originally scheduled to meet at UFC 130 in May, both suffered injuries and had to push back their third encounter to UFC 136 in October. The fight started out eerily similar to the second affair as Maynard had Edgar on the ropes in the first round only for the champ to survive. Edgar would again come storming back, and do so in emphatic fashion as he scored the KO over Maynard in the fourth round to keep his belt and end the rivalry.
Five years removed from their epic clash, it is amazing to look at the different directions that their careers have gone. Maynard has won just one fight since then, an un-entertaining bout with Clay Guida a year and a half later. His ability to take a punch vanished, and he lost all but one of his remaining fights via KO/TKO. Even in the lone decision loss (against Alexander Yakovlev whom a majority of fans have never heard of) he was badly rocked. He keeps on trucking, though, believing that a drop down to featherweight in 2016 will cure what ails him, while the rest of the MMA community is left scratching their heads at his thought process. Doesn’t cutting more weight leave you more susceptible to being KOd? At this point, Maynard is struggling to remain relevant in any way.
Edgar, on the other hand, has established himself as an all-time great. Sure, he lost his belt to Benson Henderson after wrapping things up with Maynard, but most feel he was robbed of a victory in their second affair. He also gave longtime featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo a hell of a run at UFC 156 for the Featherweight Title after dropping down in weight. Edgar hasn’t lost since then, rattling off five victories in a row, each victory consistently more dominant. Now he is considered to be the most deserving candidate in the eyes of many to face UFC poster boy Conor McGregor for that Featherweight Title. Whether he receives that shot or not is currently unknown.
On the eve of UFC 195, we eagerly anticipate the Welterweight Title clash between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit, with visions of violence and mayhem in our heads as both are considered to be among the most aesthetically pleasing performers in the sport. If we can be served to a treat as good as what Edgar and Maynard provided us five years ago, we will be extremely lucky.
This Week in MMA History
December 27, 2008: Claiming three main events (at least according to the UFC), UFC 92 ended 2008 with a bang, as Rampage Jackson scored a brutally violent KO over longtime rival Wanderlei Silva to end their trilogy; Frank Mir became the first to stop Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira within the distance when he KOd the heavyweight legend for the Interim Heavyweight Title, and Rashad Evans toppled Forrest Griffin for the Light Heavyweight Title in a battle of former TUF winners.
December 29, 2007: While Georges St-Pierre toppled Matt Hughes for the second time to capture the Interim Welterweight Title at UFC 79, the real story of the night was that it finally happened! Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva met in one of the most anticipated fights in the history of MMA. Sure, a title wasn’t on the line, but who cared? Fans simply wanted to see the violent sluggers meet. Though it happened after both had passed their primes, they seemed to turn back the clock as their chins held up; both had their moments in the fight, and Liddell walked out the unanimous victor in an epic collision.
December 31, 2004: In the third and final meeting between the two legends at Pride Shockwave 2004, Fedor Emelianenko defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via unanimous decision to firmly establish himself as the greatest heavyweight in the world. Also, Mirko Cro Cop avenged his upset loss to Kevin Randleman by… guillotine choke? Yep, even after all these years it is still weird to read and recall that. Takanori Gomi KOd Jens Pulver as well to establish himself as the lightweight king of the world.
January 2, 2010: Sure, UFC 108 wasn’t a particularly memorable event… but it could have been had the injury bug not struck with epic proportions. What might we have had? Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin was scheduled at one point, as was Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez. Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort was also proposed for this event. And who wouldn’t have loved the violent possibilities that Paul Daley and Carlos Condit would have presented? Alas, we ended up with a not particularly memorable main event of Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva with a co-main event of Daley vs. Dustin Hazelett. Yep, quite the letdown. At least Junior dos Santos left us with the memorable KO of Gilbert Yvel…
[Frankie Edgar art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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