Two of the best 155-pounders on the planet will rematch and the UFC lightweight title is on the line tomorrow night (August 11, 2012) as UFC champion Ben Henderson takes on former UFC champion Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 150 in Denver, Colorado.
Ben Henderson was an afterthought when he entered the UFC after losing his WEC title, but three straight big wins in a row, including two against top title contenders earned him his shot at the championship belt. He made the most of it, defeating Edgar and claiming the divisional crown as his own. Now he's looking to defend for the first time..
Frankie Edgar put on some of the best displays of heart in UFC history last year in both of his "Fight of the Year" candidates against Gray Maynard. He may have lost the title against "Bendo" in Japan, but it was a very close bout that could have gone either way. He's hoping for redemption tomorrow night.
Will Edgar have "The Answer" for Henderson's grueling pressure-based attack? Can Henderson slow down Edgar's speed and footwork long enough to land his own attack? How does each elite lightweight secure a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 16-2 overall, 4-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (WEC 53)
How he got here: Ben Henderson was a two-time All-American at Division II Dana College while earning a double degree in criminal justice and sociology. Instead of pursuing a career with his degree, he tried out amateur cagefighting, compiling a 2-1 record and loving the sport enough to make it his job. It didn't take him long to be noticed. Henderson was fighting for Mark Pavelich's MFC within 18 months and earned an invite to the WEC just over two years into his professional career.
He was thrown into the fire immediately, earning stoppage victories over Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller which earned him an interim WEC lightweight title shot against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at WEC 43.
Henderson was still green at the time, but he gutted through a multitude of submission attempts from the former bullrider, using his wrestling to outscore him positionally in what was voted Sherdog's 2009 "Fight of the Year." With the victory, he became the interim WEC lightweight champion.
He unified the titles by defeating incumbent champion, Jamie Varner with a third round guillotine choke and would once again have to face Cerrone for the title at WEC 48, the first and only pay-per-view the promotion ever attempted. In what was expected to be a repeat of their first epic war, the "Smooth" one, choked out Cerrone in less than two minutes to defend his belt.
Henderson would fight one last time for the WEC against the upstart Anthony Pettis. We all know how that played out, with the kick heard 'round the world. What some may forget, was the fight was incredibly close, entirely up for grabs until the final minute of round five.
In his UFC debut, Henderson put on a strong showing against submission specialist Mark Bocek and he followed it up with the most impressive victory of his career, a three round domination of then-number one contender Jim Miller at UFC on Versus 5. With the victory over Miller, he earned a match against Clay Guida and put on a show en route to another dominant and very exciting decision victory to earn his crack at the championship.
He made the most of his shot, earning a unanimous decision over Edgar to dethrone the champ and now he's looking to defend.
How he gets it done: Henderson simply needs to utilize what worked in the last fight but to more extremes. He used terrific pressure against Edgar, so he should put even more pressure on the former champ.
He threw lots of kicks? He should throw them more often and with more force. Edgar may have caught them repeatedly, but he couldn't do much with them and most of the time he was catching the kicks on the rebound after they had landed with a solid "thud."
If Henderson can initiate a clinch, I can see him really working Edgar over as "The Answer" will have no escape from the champion's strength on the inside.
One key thing to avoid for Henderson is being overaggressive. He tends to leave openings for takedowns and big punches if he's being too offensive-minded. Edgar did rock him standing and take him down in the last bout so he'll have to have that in the back of his head.
Record: 14-2-1 overall, 9-2-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Ben Henderson (UFC 144), 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 last 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 squared off with Maynard once more last year and this time, he took care of business after a rough first round to score a fourth round knockout victory.
Edgar finally lost his title in a very close decision to Henderson earlier this year, but he was very vocal about receiving a rematch and his efforts paid dividends as he'll be vying to get his belt back tomorrow night..
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 his opponent's attack. He can definitely outpoint Henderson in the striking department if he's on his game.
What Edgar has to avoid is a defensive lapse early in the fight as he has tended to be a slow starter. They key for him is to find a rhythm in his stand-up and get comfortable out there as quick as possible. Once that happens, he's nearly impossible to stop.
A big change Edgar could implement for this fight is to utilize more takedowns in his offensive attack. He was able to put Henderson on the canvas at will in the last fight, at least four or five times if my memory serves me right, but he didn't stick with it. He let Henderson off the hook repeatedly. This time, he should be confident enough to enter "Bendo's" guard and test himself there. He's got the wrestling and the submission defense to avoid whatever Henderson throws at him if he can put the new champ on his back.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be adjustments. Both Edgar and Henderson have shown that they make excellent adjustments for rematches. Edgar stepped up and dominated B.J. Penn the second time around and he finished Gray Maynard in their third fight. Henderson, on the other hand, finished Donald Cerrone in the first round after having a grueling five round war against him in their first fight.
Both men have shown they can make solid adjustments, now it'll be incredibly intriguing to see what adjustments they can make for each other and who made the best shifts in strategy.
Bottom Line: This is such an intriguing stylistic match-up. It's all about speed versus strength and size. Both men are masters of their craft and watching them try to impose their will against each other for potentially up to five rounds again is going to be a real treat. Both men put on a fantastic display on one of 2012's best fights of the year when they faced each other the last time. There's no doubt that this fight should be solid as well.
Who will come out on top at UFC 150? Tell us you predictions in the comments below!