After three successful defenses, Frankie Edgar's title reign came to an end at UFC 144 last night (Sat., Feb. 25, 2012) at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, when Ben Henderson snatched it away.
But minute for-minute, it was probably one of the most exciting reigns in MMA history.
That's because the often underrated Edgar supplied dramatic action in virtually any kind of fight. Whether it was the brilliant bookend performances he gave in vanquishing B.J. Penn twice, or his two unforgettable tussles with Gray Maynard in 2011, Edgar demonstrated that the most dangerous weapon a fighter can have is an unyielding heart.
He showed it in spades Saturday night against Henderson, who took his title with a unanimous decision that really could have gone either way. With extreme parity the rule at 155-pounds, it may be a while before we see another champion put together more than a couple defenses; styles make fights, and there is so little separating one top lightweight from another. Throw in the time demands of being a champion, and the intensity challengers are sure to bring in trying to unseat you, and you're definitely a guy on the hot seat.
Edgar deserves to be commended because he ushered in the post-B.J. Penn era in the division.
Rewind to 2010, and Penn looked, finally, like "The Prodigy," his nom de guerre. With three dominant title defenses, Penn's steamroll run through Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez made him seem invincible at 155-pounds. He hadn't been taken down or even come close to it in those bouts, seemingly on cruise control.
Penn's lightweight performances resembled man vs. boy contests, often with B.J. content to lay back, let opponents throw themselves at him, and then pick 'em apart, seemingly bemused by their primitive skills.
Edgar changed all that with a ballsy game plan to outwork Penn and apply a different strategy, which was to beat him on conditioning and work rate. In doing so, he created considerable buzz in the division. His epic second and third fights with Maynard reminded us of how amazing lighter-weight championship fights can be, and in each of his three defenses, he headlined the pay-per-view card, which Penn did during his defenses, as well.
From that perspective, Henderson has some considerable shoes to fill as a promotional attraction. But Saturday night he showed equal panache and every sign that he'll be an exciting champion to watch.
Who knows where the lightweight title will end up over next couple years. If every reign is as exciting and inspiring as Edgar's, it won't really matter though, because that will mean 155-pound championship bouts continue to be the most exciting title fights to watch for fans.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.