History in the Making: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard start 2011 off with a bang

Photo via UFC.com

Fight fans across the country slept in to make up for the hours they spent in the early morning celebrating the arrival of another new year. They awoke with heavy eyes and a pounding inside their skull. Aspirin and water helped alleviate some of that self-inflicted torture while cold pizza served to soak up the alcohol still left in their system.

In Las Vegas, a city built on decadence and excess, at least two men refused to engage in the debauchery that consumed nearly everyone the night before. Their celebration -- at least each hoped -- would come a few hours later after UFC President Dana White wrapped the lightweight title around their waist.

Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fought as well as they could have hoped to but that sought after celebration didn't come for either man. Their main event bout -- one of the most exhilarating in the history of the sport -- ended with no winner. One judge ruled in favor of the champion, the second for the challenger. The third scored the bout an even 47-47.

Once the usual dissatisfaction that comes with draws subsided, the thought that raced across everyone watching was, "I can't wait until they fight again." But wait we did. We waited for injuries to heal and for training camps to start and end.

In approximately 48 hours (Oct. 8), at UFC 136, the two best lightweights in mixed martial arts (MMA) will return to their battlefield once again to finally settle who truly belongs on the throne atop the 155-pound division.

Before they do, let's take a look back at their historic bout from earlier this year.

In January, the two fighters stepped inside the Octagon opposite each other for the second time in their careers. In 2008, "The Bully" lived up to his moniker and earned a unanimous decision over Edgar. It was this fight that had many calling for "The Answer" to jump ship to World Extreme Cagefighting's (WEC) featherweight division.

Edgar remained at 155-pounds, winning his next three bouts which included a victory over former lightweight champ Sean Sherk. And at UFC 112, he accomplished what many thought was impossible at his weight: he beat B.J. Penn. Four months later, he replicated the result and effectively ended the Hawaiian's career at lightweight.

But there was one man who scoffed at "The Answer's" status as undisputed champ. At UFC 118 -- the same event where Edgar proved he was no fluke champion -- Maynard staked his claim at the title when he defeated Kenny Florian in a number one contender's bout.

The two met for a second time but the stakes were considerably higher than they were at Fight Night: Florian vs. Lauzon. The first round started like most championships bout do. Edgar and his challenger circled the Octagon, throwing out jabs in an attempt to find their range. One minute in, all hell broke loose. "The Bully" found his mark and dropped the champion. Well, not so much dropped as he made Edgar nearly do a backflip.

As the champion got back to his feet -- the Las Vegas crowd probably sounding like they're miles away -- he narrowly avoided getting plastered with an uppercut from Maynard. "The Answer" staggered backwards, trying to create some distance between himself and his opponent but Maynard kept up the attack.

A right from the challenger cracked Edgar on the jaw as he shot in for a takedown. It was stuffed and "The Bully" used the position to hammer away at the champion's skull. As they rose to their feet, two uppercuts plowed into the New Jersey-native's chin and dropped him for the second time in as many minutes.

To his credit, "The Answer" never stopped working. He never gave the referee the opportunity to step in and call the bout. Even as Maynard landed punch after punch, Edgar continued to work towards getting back to his feet, back to a more neutral position.

And this was all in the first 120 seconds.

As the two reached the midpoint of the first round, Maynard found himself in almost total control of the bout while Edgar found himself dazed and bleeding from the nose. The pace slowed for a bit but a hook from the challenger caught "The Answer" right on the temple and he yet took another tumble.

Back to their feet, a straight saw the champion get dropped to the mat once again. Throughout the entire round, it felt like any one of these punches could be the kill shot even though none followed through on that promise. Either due to a lack of knockout power on Maynard's part or a granite chin on Edgar's, the fight somehow made it to the second round.

The next five minutes played out more like a round from either fight Edgar had with Penn. "The Answer" was sticking and moving, not allowing Maynard to find any rhythm in his stand-up while peppering the challenger with lightning quick punches. A cross halfway through the round snapped "The Bully's" head to the side and drew a loud reaction from the crowd. Maynard himself? Not so much.

With a little over a minute to go, Edgar was able to duck under some Maynard punches and unleashed a monster of the slam that didn't do a whole lot of damage but looked mighty impressive. The champion continued connecting with combinations and after 10 minutes, "The Bully" was also showing the wear and tear of a championship scrap.

It was also at this point that fans knew, after watching the champion get absolutely brutalized in the first only to come back and win the second round, they were watching something special.

In between rounds, Maynard's corner offers this advice, "You're trying to knock his ass out! Just beat him up, alright?! Don't try to knock him out, that'll come!" As blunt as it may have seemed, it was excellent advice. "The Bully's" corner does him another solid when they tell their fighter that he lost the round. It lights a fire inside of him.

Of the remaining rounds, the third and fifth remain the most contentious. Takedowns seemed to have sealed the deal for the challenger in the third but the fifth remained almost entirely vertical. That said, we'll get to it in a moment.

As far as the opening championship round went, it was all Edgar. He opened up with two impressive takedowns and a guillotine choke attempt and never looked back. He fought like a man on a mission to keep a belt almost no one thought he would win in the first place. He shoved off takedown attempts from the bigger Maynard and worked him over with the same impeccable boxing that felled Penn not once, but twice.

The fifth and final round oddly played out like what felt like a first round. Both fighters were patient and picked their shots carefully. If not for the cuts and blood on their faces, one might swear they were watching the beginning, not the end, of a title fight. Takedown attempts were stuffed like neither fighter had just spent nearly half an hour fighting and jabs snapped as crisp as they would during the first or second minute.

As the final horn sounded, both champion and challenger raised their arms in triumph. Edgar's camp congratulated their fighter on a successful second defense while Maynard's crew hugged who they felt was the new champ. Bruce Buffer read off the first score in favor of the champ. Then he read the second score awarding the bout to the challenger. And then the third...

Pucker up and grab your sister, folks.

Naturally, each fighter thought they had done enough to win the fight but accepted the decision -- one that would affect and dictate their career for nearly a year -- handed down by the three men assigned to judge the bout, three men neither fighter likely had never met before or ever would.

One of Dana White's most oft quoted sound bites is, "Don't leave it in the hands of the judges." It's become somewhat of an MMA meme to describe the judging problem that often negatively affects our beloved sport. But a fighter doing so can determine the amount of his paycheck or even his employment status. In Edgar and Maynard's case at UFC 125, it actually determined nothing.

We still don't know who the best 155-pound fighter on the planet is but that should change come Saturday evening.

Who will it be, Maniacs?

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