The rubber match to end all rubber matches will take place tomorrow night (October 8, 2011) and the UFC lightweight title will be on the line between champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard in the main event of UFC 136 in Houston, Texas.
Frankie Edgar, despite his small stature, has risen to the cream of the crop in the UFC lightweight division. He took the title from B.J. Penn and then defended it despite being the sizable underdog both times. His performances against Gray Maynard have improved every time he's fought him and he's hoping to finally come away with the victory this last time out.
Gray Maynard knows how important this fight is. With how loaded the UFC lightweight division is right now, he understands that a loss to Edgar will set him far enough back that he may never sniff the title again. He beat Edgar before, came moments away from taking the title at UFC 125 and he believes he can do it tomorrow night.
Will Edgar finally have "The Answer" for Maynard? Can "The Bully" beat up Edgar and claim the title he's desired for so long? Who will finally come out on top in this trilogy which has jammed up the UFC lightweight division for nearly a year?
Record: 13-1-1 overall, 8-1-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Gray Maynard (UFC Fight Night 13)
How he got here: Frankie Edgar has been a perennial underdog. He never won a state championship, falling just short twice and did the same thing at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. He made the transition to fighting professionally in late 2005 and in just the sixth fight of his career, he was already making his debut in the UFC.
He competed as a lightweight because the UFC didn't have a featherweight division yet and won his first three fights impressively against top competition like Tyson Griffin, Mark Bocek and Spencer Fisher. His momentum was halted by the bigger, stronger Gray Maynard in April 2008, but that loss only fueled him to improve.
Just one year later, Edgar put on the best performance of his career against former lightweight champion Sean Sherk, outstriking his bulkier foe and stuffing the elite wrestler's takedowns. After an impressive stoppage of the then-undefeated Matt Veach, Edgar was handed a title shot because Gray Maynard hadn't defeated Nate Diaz decisively enough.
Edgar made the most of his opportunity, utilizing his speed and conditioning to outpoint the plodding B.J. Penn at UFC 113 in Abu Dhabi to shock the world and win the UFC lightweight title. He proved his victory wasn't a fluke by dominating Penn in the rematch at UFC 118, blasting the ex-champ with more powerful strikes, adding kicks and even takedowns to his arsenal.
His next defense was against Gray Maynard at UFC 125 earlier this year and after surviving a horrible first round in which he was dropped four times, Edgar bounced back in Rocky-esque fashion to win three of the remaining four rounds and force a draw. He will have to square off with Maynard one last time on Saturday night in the rubber match.
How he gets it done: Edgar's key to victory is his speed. He's got terrific footwork and tight, technical boxing. He's fast enough to dive into the pocket, land punches and exit at angles to get out of the way of Maynard's power. He can definitely outpoint Maynard in the striking department if he's on his game.
"The Bully" doesn't respect Edgar's kicking game either, so hopefully the champ has been working on his kicks to improve them, add more sting to them. He landed them at will against Maynard the last time but they were pretty ineffective due to lack of technique. He can catch Maynard off guard if his technique has improved.
The other factor is his takedowns. Maynard has talked about not respecting Edgar's power in the stand-up so if he wades through some punches looking to land the power shots, Edgar needs to be prepared to change levels and blast him with a takedown. If he can put the former Michigan State wrestler on his back a few times, he'll gain his respect.
Record: 10-0-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 8-0-1 (1 No Contest) in the UFC
Key Wins: Frankie Edgar (UFC Fight Night 13), Kenny Florian (UFC 118), Jim Miller (UFC 96)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Gray Maynard was a successful wrestler at Michigan State, and chanced upon mixed martial arts when he was asked to be a sparring partner for B.J. Penn. He sought out Randy Couture in Las Vegas and the rest is history. Maynard joined the cast of the fifth season of the Ultimate Fighter after just two pro fights and his inexperience caught up with him when he was submitted by Nate Diaz to eliminate him from the competition.
He made his debut in the UFC on the show's finale, knocking himself and Rob Emerson out with a slam to earn a No Contest. He took his frustration out on Joe Veras in his next fight, destroying him in just 9 seconds with a TKO.
After the Veras fight, "The Bully" won seven straight decisions in the UFC, scoring notable victories over Dennis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and lastly Kenny Florian to become the number one contender for the title. In his rematch with Edgar, he had him on the ropes but couldn't put him away and ended up with a split draw.
This final trilogy fight will be his last shot at the title for a long time as the UFC lightweight division is absolutely loaded right now.
How he gets it done: Maynard doesn't not have a speed advantage against Edgar but he does have a power advantage and a big strength and size advantage. He has to play to his strengths if he wants to become the champion, and that means looking to hurt Edgar again and physically dominate him when he gets the chance.
Edgar's speed makes him pretty elusive so Maynard needs to be prepared to counter after he exits during his "stick and move" attacks. Edgar usually leaves at an angle so the Xtreme Couture fighter needs to be prepared to explode after him with a counter left hook. If he can connect with that left hook on the chin, it's been proven already that he can hurt Edgar, he just needs to put him away this time.
If Maynard and utilize his footwork to maneuver the champ near the fence, he can cut off escape angles and pin him there to either do damage in the clinch or wear him down with takedown attempts. Edgar will be a lot easier to hit when he's standing still or trapped.
Lastly, while he can clip Edgar and hurt him, Maynard needs to be careful not to try to load up for the knockout with every strike. That gasses out his arms and it also makes knocking Edgar out that much more difficult. Like Randy Couture told him in between the second and third round, he shouldn't just be trying to knock Edgar out, he should be trying to beat him up. If he can beat him up, that's how he pulls out the decision.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is growth in skill for both fighters. Frankie Edgar was completely outclassed the first time he fought Gray Maynard, but his skill level had caught up to Gray or even perhaps surpassed him by the time of the second fight. Both men have had 10 months to work on improving themselves and changing things up for the trilogy fight. Whoever can bring something new that catches his opponent off guard, whether it's a fresh combination from Maynard, maybe an improved leg kick from Edgar, will be able to help themselves gain that tiny edge they need to propel themselves to victory.
Bottom Line: The last fight between Edgar and Maynard was still the best fight of 2011 in my opinion. I'm expecting five rounds of back and forth action between two incredibly evenly matched foes. This will be a war of attrition between Frankie Edgar's speed and technique and Gray Maynard's power, size and strength. The odds are razor thin for a reason and fans shouldn't expect anything less than another thriller. Both of these guys want this trilogy to be over with so they can move on, so be prepared for another incredible match. This has "Fight of the Night" written all over it.
Who will come out on top at UFC 136? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!