Immediately after his hard-nosed unanimous decision win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 156 last night (Feb. 2, 2013), another challenger for Jose Aldo emerged in the form of top lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, who texted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White (more on that here), indicating his willingness to take on the 145-pound champion next.
It's a compelling mixed martial arts (MMA) match up because Pettis has positioned himself as the next logical challenger for the 155-pound belt after dispatching the tough Donald Cerrone last weekend.
If Pettis could make the weight without draining himself, he might have the exact style required to best Aldo. His range, diverse striking, and big-time power might be a really tough matchup for the champ.
But, don't think that Edgar doesn't have as good a shot in a rematch. Sure, Edgar came up short, outgunned early and unable to hurt the champ, despite rallying strong on volume and persistence over the last three rounds. Edgar is simply much better in rematches. His adjustments and tweaks have made him dramatically improved against people once he's had a first go-round.
There's the B.J. Penn bout, where Edgar came in as an 8-1 underdog against the Hawaiian, who was at the peak of a brilliant career and had made three wipeout-style defenses. Edgar's movement, timing and conditioning carried him to a close decision win, where according to Fightmetric he was outstruck 71-61. But, the rematch wasn't even close, as Edgar further tightened up his timing and striking, blanking Penn in what more resembled a sparring clinic instead of a championship fight, so masterful was his performance. Fightmetric showed complete dominance, as he outstruck Penn 94-36.
After getting steamrolled in a one-sided grapple-fest with Gray Maynard, Edgar rallied from a disastrous opening round to salvage a draw, which was quite an improvement from their first match, where he was simply overpowered and couldn't dictate range effectively. Then, in the third bout, Edgar, once again overcoming a rough opening round, turned up the pressure and was more accurate than ever, battering and taking out the tough Maynard in the fourth.
After losing the title to Ben Henderson, in a bout where he was outmuscled, outstruck 87-64, and generally out-everythinged, Edgar's adjustments in the rematch saw him outstrike Henderson 66-64 and drop a split decision, in a bout where he made a fair case for winning.
Against Aldo, Edgar came close, close enough that I think there are enough available adjustments for him to realize and capitalize on once he's had time to anchor those within a solid gameplan. Against Penn, he took what worked in the first bout and doubled down on it in the second, while minimizing his weaknesses relative to the match to further demonstrate his superiority.
In the Aldo bout, there was definitely room for improvement. Edgar was unable to secure the couple takedowns he should've had, and in the few instances where he had Aldo on the cage -- an ideal position for him to work and tire the champ out -- he allowed "Scarface" to slip away.
It's also got to be a huge mental edge for Edgar to know that he can stand with Aldo, who never seriously hurt him, although he did land some walloping kicks. That also would play in Aldo's mind in a rematch, knowing that it's quite likely he'll have to go five rounds, once more, against a guy that is exceptionally difficult to tire out.
If Edgar had stuck a couple more takedowns in close rounds, maybe worked a bit from the top and made an impression on the judges, he would be champion. And, yeah, if your aunt had balls, she'd be your uncle. But, if Edgar has shown anything in recent years, it's that he has the tactical brain to make those adjustments in fights.
So while the MMA world can cogitate and salivate on the prospects of Pettis challenging Aldo -- a great fight on its own merits -- I wouldn't be quick to dismiss Edgar again. There's certainly not another featherweight at the moment outside of Aldo that would be a favorite against him, and he'll be back fighting for the title again.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst