Two extremely talented featherweights will duke it out this Saturday night (July 6, 2013) as former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar takes on Charles Oliveira in the co-main event of UFC 162 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Both men were top division contenders but are trying to bounce back from tough defeats in their most recent performances. Edgar in particular has lost three straight close decisions and is in need of a featherweight statement.
Record: 14-4-1 overall, 9-4-1 in the UFC
How he got here: 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 that many felt he didn't deserve against the legendary B.J. Penn.
Edgar made the most of his opportunity, utilizing his speed and conditioning to outpoint the plodding Penn at UFC 112 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 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 and this time, he took care of business to score a fourth round knockout victory.
Edgar finally lost his title in a very close decision to Benson Henderson, and he rose to the occasion in a rematch but found himself on the losing end of the scorecards. After the second loss, he finally agreed to drop down to featherweight and was awarded an immediate title shot against Aldo. Against Aldo, he again showcased that classic Edgar heart and determination, making the fight extremely close, but he once again found himself on the receiving end of a decision loss.
Now, he's simply trying to pick up the pieces and right the ship against Oliveira.
How he gets it done: Edgar's key to victory is his speed and his technique on the feet. 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 and that's exactly what he should do against Oliveira.
Part of what makes Edgar so tough to handle on the feet is the constant threat of a perfectly timed takedown, but he shouldn't waste his time here. Oliveira is extremely potent on the canvas, but he's been finished the last two times he was forced to stand and trade on the feet against superior strikers. Edgar may not pack as much single-punch power as Cub Swanson, but he's capable of putting a hurting on his opponents if he can get in a groove.
Edgar has a tremendous gas tank and he should use that to his advantage, constantly forcing Oliveira to work whether he's trying to defend himself on the feet due to constant pressure standing. "The Answer" is definitely capable of putting on a highlight reel performance here if he's aggressive enough.
Record: 17-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 3-3 (1 No Contest) in the UFC
How he got here: Oliveira got his start in Brazil, going 12-0 before entering the UFC. His first MMA fight was actually a tournament where he had to win three fights in one night, and he did just that, all via stoppage at welterweight no less.
"Da Bronx" won two other one-night tournaments in Brazil, even finishing his last fight with a brutal knockout slam before making his way to the UFC to fight Darren Elkins on the UFC on Versus 2 card. He made a pretty damn good first impression, submitting the wrestler in just 41 seconds with a triangle arm bar combination.
He would immediately be given a tough fight against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight winner Efrain Escudero and the bold move by the UFC paid off. Oliveira outclassed Escudero standing, which surprised many and finished the fight in very exciting fashion by leaping on his back with a rear naked choke that also put tremendous pressure on the TUF winner's jaw to force a third round tap.
The Brazilian would again take a huge leap forward in progression, scoring a fight against top contender Jim Miller at UFC 124, but after a wild scramble of submission attempts, Miller surprised him with a sneaky knee bar that forced an immediate tap to hand him his first loss.
He followed that up with a no contest against Nik Lentz after finishing his opponent with the help of an illegal blow and a TKO loss to Donald Cerrone had the young prospect in a tailspin.
In light of the tough loss, "Da Bronx" made the decision to drop down to 145 pounds and he pulled off an incredible calf slicer against Eric Wisely in his featherweight debut. He had his stakes raised against Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 winner Jonathan Brookins, winning via second round anaconda choke to remain unbeaten at featherweight.
In his most recent performance, he faced knockout artist Cub Swanson and wound up on the receiving end of a beatdown. A victory over the former champion would put him right back in the thick of things.
How he gets it done: Since both men are so talented, it will all come down to aggression, at least on Oliveira's end.
If he can relentlessly push the pace, he may force Edgar to hesitate in the striking department. Offensive pressure can be devastating if utilized properly. Any opening must immediately be seized because Edgar is the master of mid-fight adjustments and he may only see a particular defensive lapse once.
While aggressive is important, Oliveira can't screw around too long on the feet as Edgar is his better in terms of technical striking ability. The first chance he gets to close the distance in the clinch or with a potential trip takedown attempt, he needs to go for it 100 percent.
On the ground, while Edgar is a tough out due to having pretty solid defensive jiu-jitsu skills, he's not impervious. If Oliveira is hyper aggressive on the canvas. he could put "The Answer" in a seriously precarious position and who knows, he could even finish the fight. Anything is possible.
Who will come out on top at UFC 162? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!