Photo by Esther Lin for SBNation
When Frankie Edgar defeated B.J. Penn at UFC 112 and then replicated the performance at UFC 116, he usurped the Hawaiian as the best Lightweight fighter on the planet. With a draw and a knockout over the only man -- Gray Maynard -- to have defeated him, Edgar inched closer to possibly being the best fighter on the planet, period.
Going into the main event of UFC 144, his challenger, Ben Henderson, still carried the stigma of World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) with him. The fighters from the smaller promotion were seen as good, but not nearly as good as their Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) counterparts.
"Smooth" demolished the stereotype when he wrested the title off Edgar's waist that night.
On Saturday (Aug. 11, 2012) at UFC 150, Edgar gets his chance at redemption, while Henderson is out to prove his victory was no fluke.
Before these lightweight champions collide, we'll take a look at their bout from Saitama, an instant five-round classic.
Let's dive in:
The fight kicks off and Henderson throws his jab out constantly, hoping to find his range sooner rather than later. The champion is already beginning to piece together combinations, hoping to employ a similar strategy like when he felled Penn not once but twice0. An inside leg kick from Edgar lands but he fails to follow up on it.
"Smooth" throws his own kick to the body but it's caught and Edgar, unwilling to let go, takes his hopping opponent the length of the Octagon until Henderson goes airborne and nearly decapitates the champion with an enziguri-type maneuver.
The normally reserved Japanese crowd lights up.
The two continue trading punches and kicks with Edgar tossing Henderson at one point but unable to capitalize. Another body kick is caught and the New Jersey-native is able to score with leg kicks and punches. A successful takedown a couple minutes later is a momentary victory as "Smooth" is able to get back to his feet quickly.
Five minutes in and neither fighter a clear advantage.
Henderson opens the second heat as the aggressor, forcing Edgar on his heels and along the cage. Pawing out his longer jab, "Smooth" keeps his opponent at bay but "The Answer" continues to have one for the challenger's body kicks and catches the latest. This time, however, Henderson answers back with his own punches, making Edgar's already busted up left eye worse.
They clinch up and Edgar gets his opponent to the mat and then threatens with a guillotine choke before Henderson is able to regain a vertical base. A leg kick from from the champ is countered with a straight as Henderson continues to pressure Edgar against the cage.
With less than a minute remaining, "The Answer" shoots in for a takedown and gets his challenger on his back. Short elbows and punches are the name of the game until Henderson is able to kick Edgar off. The New Jersey native, hanging onto one of Henderson's feet, looks to the perfect opportunity to dive in with some ground and pound.
And then it happens.
A monstrous upkick from "Smooth" cracks Edgar across the nose and his head shakes from left to right like a bobble-head. But with only 10 seconds remaining, Henderson is unable to fully capitalize on the reversal of fortune. Still, though, when Edgar stands up, blood is already pouring down his face.
Much like he did in the second round, Henderson starts off the third aggressively perhaps hoping to secure the victory which seemed seconds away as the last round ended. But as he senses Edgar is more than enough recovered, "Smooth" pumps the brakes a bit and resumes his original gameplan.
"The Answer" also resumes -- busted up face or not -- his own gameplan. Constant movement, changing angles and rapid-fire punches designed to wear an opponent down are Edgar's modus operandi. The third round ends up not being the breakaway expected for Henderson but more like the first where both fighters seemed evenly matched.
It's the best Edgar has looked since the opening stanza.
Edgar opens the first championship round with a nice inside leg kick and as he puts together crisp combinations, he looks like "The Answer" of old.
The two clinch up and Edgar manages to slam Henderson down. The challenger, though, snakes his arm around "The Answer's" neck and sinks in a deep guillotine. The Saitama crowd cheers when the champion emerges from the submission. The two get back to their feet and finish the round where they had spent a majority of the fight, on their feet.
Henderson looks unfazed. Edgar's left eye is nearly swollen shut and a decently size cut resides on the bridge of his nose. The fifth and final round begins. It is victim to both fighters assuming they are ahead on the scorecards and hoping to do enough to secure the victory.
Neither lightweight goes for broke and after 25 minutes, they're finally allowed to rest.
Henderson picked up the unanimous decision, something Edgar felt was unwarranted. He finally gets his opportunity to show exactly why.
Now the only question remains ... who walks out of Denver the lightweight champion?