Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar scraps with featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo in the main event of the UFC 156 pay-per-view (PPV) this Saturday night (Feb. 2, 2013) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After losing his 155-pound strap to Ben Henderson in two consecutive (and controversial) decision losses, Edgar jumped on the opportunity to lose some weight and fight "Junior." Quickly shedding 10 extra pounds to make the featherweight limit, Edgar's title shot would then be derailed after Aldo was involved in a motorcycle accident.
The contest was pushed back a few months, and now "The Answer" will get his crack at the crown on Superbowl weekend. Does Edgar have the mixed martial arts (MMA) skills to become only the third man in UFC history to hold a belt in two different weight classes?
Let's dig deeper.
Edgar's striking skills have been refined by his coach, Mark Henry, and he's earned recognition as one of the smoothest boxers in MMA. However, Edgar's stand-up game goes far beyond simply boxing and it's his ability to mix in takedowns that make him one of the most effective strikers in the sport.
Frankie's striking is based on his constant movement. He is always circling, trying to cut angles and then getting out of range. His movement makes him much harder to hit and he tires his opponents out. It isn't easy to keep up with the New Jersey native!
"The Answer" begins his attack with the jab. He will flash it continuously while he circles, then steps in and puts his weight behind it. Once Edgar opens up with his boxing, he will crush the body and head with hooks. Once he lands a combo, he quickly circles out of range.
Edgar's best punch is likely his crisp straight right hand. He often uses it after he goes to the body, but will also use it as a lead. It is most effective when his opponent is trying to prevent his circling or pin him against the cage as he will put all his weight behind it and hurt them enough to circle back to the center of the octagon.
Perhaps the most powerful of Edgar's strikes is his right hook. When his opponent is hurt or tired, he really rips it and puts all his power behind it. When he rocked Maynard in their third fight, Edgar threw three or four right hooks in a row, which floored the Michigan State All-American.
In addition to his boxing, Edgar has a surprisingly powerful kicking attack. He uses his circular movement to put even more power behind his kicks, allowing him to essentially run into them. "The Answer" mostly throws leg kicks (both inside and out), but also mixes in legs to the body and head.
The most impressive part of Edgar's striking is his ability to blend it into his wrestling. Almost all of his combination set-ups also give him the option to shoot for a takedown. Since he normally has a shorter reach, it benefits him to be close to his opponent anyway, and helps set up his single leg and knee tap.
Edgar was able to steal the belt from B.J. Penn by making him think a single leg takedown was coming, when in fact, a punch was rocketing towards his head. Look at the .GIF below, before the overhand, Edgar is in position to attack with a single leg.
Edgar can fake a takedown and land a nice over hand right, or capitalize on a failed takedown. The most famous example of this is when he knocked out Gray Maynard. Edgar shot for a double leg, turned the corner, but failed to bring Gray to the mat. As the two separated, Edgar hopped into an uppercut, dropping the challenger and then finishing him off.
Despite his stellar footwork and head movement, Edgar can be caught. When his opponent is confident they can't be taken down, a lot of his set-ups leave him open to counter strikes. This is how Maynard, who has never showed the boxing proficiency of Penn, was able to land such damaging strikes in the second and third fight, while Penn wasn't able to land anything significant.
"The Answer" wrestled in both high school and college, and is an assistant mat coach at Rutgers University. In his MMA career, Edgar has out-wrestled skilled grapplers like Ben Henderson, B.J. Penn, Gray Maynard, and Jim Miller.
Edgar's takedowns begin almost exactly like his flurries. He will stop circling and burst forward, feinting strikes and going in for a takedown. One of his best takedowns is the single leg. He will attack with a few swift punches before latching onto a limb, and then either twist to knock his opponent over, kick out the planted leg, or run through them to try and knock them off balance.
He also has an extremely good double-leg takedown that he likes to use when his opponent is charging forward. "The Answer" often frustrates his opponents with his constant footwork, which makes them aggressively charge forward with punches. When they do, Edgar will quickly drop down and blast through them with a double leg.
Despite his small stature, Edgar was able to out-muscle much bigger fighters from the clinch. In his first fight with Ben Henderson, many thought that "Smooth's" best chance for victory would be to grab the clinch and rip up his foe with knees. Incredibly, whenever the two clinched, it was Edgar who would throw Henderson around, repeatedly tossing him to the mat.
Another of "The Answer's" favorite wrestling techniques is the front headlock. Instead of the traditional wrestling grip, Edgar instead utilizes an arm-in guillotine grip. In scrambles, Frankie will grab his opponent's head and arm, and then drag them to the mat. He will also use this grip when he sprawls, doing his best to hang on to his opponent's head and tire them out.
In the second Ben Henderson fight, Edgar dropped "Bendo" with a straight right hand. As Henderson tried to stand back up, Edgar grabbed him in a front headlock and held him for at least two minutes. This is very impressive, considering Henderson's size and wrestling prowess.
A common misconception about Edgar is that when he takes an opponent down, he does it for points and then lets them back to their feet. This idea started because of Edgar's last four fights against two opponents, Gray Maynard and Ben Henderson.
It wasn't that Edgar wanted to let them back up, it was simply that both are nearly impossible to hold down.
To look at Edgar's ground and pound, we have to look a little earlier in his UFC career. Against jiu-jitsu specialist Hermes Franca, "The Answer" repeatedly took the fight to the mat. Once he took Franca down, he didn't lay on the Hawaiian.
Edgar repeatedly postured up and then drilled punches into Franca's skull, landed nasty elbows, and advanced position. "The Answer" may not be the best at holding fighters down, but he's more than capable of punishing them from the top.
In addition to his offensive takedown prowess, Edgar has extremely good takedown defense. He likes to sprawl with the aforementioned headlock, then hold onto to it until he feels he can escape to his feet or hit a reversal. His movement keeps him at a good distance from his opponent, which gives him enough time to recognize a takedown attempt.
If he is taken down, Edgar is quick to scramble back to his feet. He is skilled at both wall walking and using his guard to get back to his feet. Edgar hasn't been truly out-wrestled since a 2008 loss to Maynard, and he has since proved his takedown defense is some of the best in MMA.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
"The Answer" has earned a brown belt under Ricardo Almeida, and also spends a lot of time training with Renzo Gracie. Edgar is not a submission fighter, but will take anything his opponents give to him. All three of his career submission victories are chokes (two rear naked chokes and one guillotine).
One of Edgar's most utilized jiu-jitsu techniques is the arm-in guillotine. Almeida is famous for the hold, so it's no surprise that Edgar uses it, too. "The Answer" has dropped for a guillotine against Maynard, and tried to hit one on Henderson also. This variation of the guillotine is very similar to the front headlock, which makes the two easy to tie together and a natural addition to Edgar's game.
When Edgar is taken down, he has an excellent guard in terms of creating space. In the fourth round of their second fight, B.J. Penn took him down and nearly passed to mount. "The Prodigy" is one of the best guard passers ever, and it seemed that Edgar was in serious trouble.
Then, Edgar expertly elbow escaped back to butterfly guard, secured an underhook, elevated, and scrambled back to his feet. In the next round, Penn again got Edgar down, but he quickly kicked Penn off him from full guard.
Edgar is an incredibly tough fighter to submit. When he is trapped in a submission attempt, Edgar maintains his composure and slowly works his way out. Ben Henderson, who has one of the nastiest guillotines of any lightweight, locked it in twice, and both times Edgar slowly worked his way to safety.
"The Answer" became a champion because of many attributes, including speed, his ability to flow from technique to technique, iron chin, and recovery. In the end, the quality that has defined his career and the one he will be known for when it's over is his abundance of heart.
Simply put, no matter what his opponent hits him with, if Edgar is conscious, he will not quit. Edgar has never been finished, and unless his chin declines later in his career it will likely remain that way. Fighting "The Answer" will never be an easy task, simply because he won't stop trying to beat his opponent until the final bell rings. There is no quick way to defeat Edgar, and this gives him a huge mental edge.
One example of Edgar's insane toughness is the first round of his two most recent bouts with Gray Maynard. Early on in both fights, "The Bully" caught Edgar with a big shot and dropped him. For the remainder of the rounds, Maynard landed every strike he threw, knocking his foe down over and over.
But Edgar never quit.
Each time he was hit, Edgar would roll, flip, and run away from Maynard, anything he could do to survive until the end of the round. He showed the referee that he was intelligently defending, and gutted through one of the worst beating in UFC history, only to come back and be competitive, winning the third fight and going to a draw in the second.
Another example of his toughness would be his debut against then-top contender Tyson Griffin. After handling Griffin for a majority of the fight, Edgar found himself trapped in a tight leg lock attempt. With about a minute left in the fight, Griffin cranked on knee bars and heel hooks, bending Edgar's limbs and wrecking his ligaments. Instead of tapping out, Edgar stayed calm and simply waited it out. After the final bell rang, he limped back to his corner and won a unanimous decision.
In every fight he's had in UFC, Edgar has proven himself "Jersey tough."
Best chance for success
Aldo represents an interesting style clash with Edgar, perhaps the best wrestle-boxer in MMA versus a Nova Uniao-trained Muay Thai striker with lethal jiu-jitsu. It also presents us with the best finisher in the sport against the toughest guy to ever strap on a pair of four-ounce gloves.
To dethrone Aldo, Edgar needs to constantly push the pace and apply pressure. "Scarface" thrives when his opponents are hesitant, so Edgar needs to trust in his chin and get in his face. Once he's in boxing range, "The Answer" should immediately open up with his boxing and dig to the body often.
Aldo is going to bring some serious pain early, so Edgar's plan should be to drag this late.
When fighting the Brazilian, one has to accept the fact that they will be leg kicked and it will suck. Edgar needs to punish Aldo for kicking him, both by exploding forward with his boxing or catching those kicks and trying to get a takedown.
Even if he can't take Aldo down early, he must push him against the fence, grind him, and make it ugly. Both Florian and Mendes were able to latch onto Aldo from the clinch for a significant amount of time, so Edgar should be able to do the same.
Frankie sets up his takedowns better than any of Aldo's past opponents, so obviously landing them should be a big part of his gameplan. Despite his jiu-jitsu credentials, Aldo hasn't looked spectacular off his back, so if Edgar gets him down, he'll be able to land hard punches and slowly wear "Junior" down.
The later this fight goes, the more it's in Edgar's favor. Aldo cuts a lot of weight and has shown suspect cardio in the past, whereas Edgar has never even remotely slowed down, even after taking vicious beatings.
Will Edgar be the third fighter in UFC history to hold belts in two separate weight classes, or will Aldo send him to a different weight class?
We'll know in just a few days.