Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight kingpin, Frankie Edgar, takes on the man he stole that title from, B.J. Penn, this Sunday night (July 6, 2014) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Following his decision loss to featherweight strap-hanger Jose Aldo, Edgar battled Charles Oliveira for a three round decision victory as well as his seventh "Fight of the Night" bonus. This was Edgar's first 15-minute fight in seven bouts and over three years.
Now, Edgar is back to fighting for five rounds against his first rival in mixed martial arts (MMA), B.J. Penn. If Edgar can get a dominant win, he's right back in the title hunt. Does he still have the skills to defeat the talented Hawaiian?
Let's find out.
With a deserved reputation as one of the finest boxers in the sport, Edgar's high volume striking is very effective. His overall attack has been sharpened by his boxing coach Mark Henry, Kru Phil Nurse, and by one of his main training partners, UFC lightweight Edson Barboza.
Before discussing Edgar's style of striking, it's important to note that everything builds off the threat of the takedown. Every time Edgar goes down to his opponent's body -- something he does quite often -- his opponent has to be very wary that Edgar doesn't stay low and run through him with a takedown. This in turn, allows Edgar to either continue landing body blows or switch targets and throw to the head.
Much of Edgar's striking relies on his constant movement and footwork. Edgar is always circling around his opponent, looking for angles, and then either capitalizing or backing out. "Iron" never allows his opponent to settle into his stance, as he's constantly forced to keep turning towards Edgar. Additionally, Edgar will switch directions often, making it that much harder to catch him.
Once Edgar begins to engage, he starts to flash his jab. While throwing quick jabs, Edgar is still establishing his range and circling. As he settles into his rhythm, Edgar will begin stepping into his jabs, looking to snap his opponent's head back.
Next, Edgar will get to work with his combinations of punches. Mixing together hooks, uppercuts, and his straight right hand, "The Answer" works up and down his opponent's body. After landing a combination, Edgar exits at an angle and usually with some head movement.
One thing Edgar does very well is double up on strikes. He frequently throws two left hooks in a row, either with both to the head or starting from the midsection and moving up. Doubling up on punches helps make Edgar a bit more unpredictable and can cause his opponent to move into a punch.
When Edgar is looking to really hurt his opponent, he will step into either the right hook or overhand. If he feels that his opponent is hurt, Edgar will pressure him. Then, as his opponent jabs to keep Edgar at bay, he'll slip the punch while throwing his right hand. When Edgar plants his feet and swings for power, he does hit fairly hard.
Edgar may no primarily be a counter fighter, but he does actively seek to counter things that have given him trouble in the past. For example, as a movement based fighter, Edgar's vulnerable to kicks in general and especially leg kicks. To deal with this, Edgar frequently catches his opponent's kicks and either looks for a takedown or kicks at his opponent while holding their leg up.
Additionally, Edgar has had issues with getting jabbed up while working on the outside. To counter this, Edgar often parries the jab and comes back with a punch of his own. If he parries with his lead hand, Edgar will drill his foe with a straight right. Should he use his right hand to catch the strike, he'll come back with a hard left hook.
Finally, Edgar will make his opponent pay if he gets a bit too aggressive in pursuing "Iron." In that case, Edgar will stop moving around, plant his feet, and fire a straight right hand. It's not a complicated technique, but it lands with power and keeps his opponent honest.
Edgar is mostly a boxer, but he does mix kicks into his offense. He usually throws leg kicks but will throw in some head or body kicks for good measure. Edgar adds some extra power by capitalizing on his lateral movement, which allows him to occasionally circle hard into the kick, giving them some additional power.
As I mentioned above, Edgar's ability to blend takedowns and strikes is vital to his success. Most of his boxing entries can also be used to shoot a takedown, which leaves his opponent wondering which to defend. As the shorter man, Edgar is happy to stay in close to his opponent once he engages, allowing him to easily transition to a takedown or clinch. Plus, Edgar can use basic level change feints to land a strong overhand.
In addition to transitioning from boxing to wrestling, Edgar can smoothly transition from a grappling exchange into a strong punch. The best example of this came in his second bout with Gray Maynard. In the fourth round, Edgar nearly dragged Maynard to the mat with a double leg. As "The Bully" stood back up, Edgar bounced directly up into an uppercut, leading to the finish.
Defensively, Edgar is not a perfect fighter. Against rangier fighters, Edgar absorbs straight shots like the jab as he tries to move in with his combinations. In addition, Edgar's frantic movement can cause him to move into a well-timed strike, such as Gray Maynard's uppercut (which countered a level change) or one of Ben Henderson's low kicks as Edgar moved into it.
A collegiate wrestler, Edgar still trains with his high school coach, Stevie Rivera, who helped Edgar place in the state championships while in high school. Due to the development of his excellent transitional game and timing, Edgar has not been out-wrestled since his first loss to Gray Maynard in 2008.
Edgar's takedown setups and his boxing setups are exactly the same. Once he has a solid angle, Edgar will stop circling and burst forward with strikes or feints. Then, he'll change levels and attack with a takedown.
Edgar often relies on his single leg takedown to get his foe on the canvas. After jabbing, Edgar will reach out and grab his opponent's lead leg. From there, he push on his opponent's head/neck with his jab hand will turning the caught leg. If he cannot finish that, Edgar will transition and blast through his opponent's side with a double or knee tap.
In addition, Edgar has a strong double leg takedown. He sets it up similar to his straight right hand counter: frustrate his foe until he impatiently charges Edgar. Then, Edgar will drop down and blast through his opponent. Despite being the smaller man in most of his fights -- apparently regardless of division -- Edgar is still able to power through the takedown, lifting his opponent into the air or knocking him off of his feet.
Similarly, Edgar has been able to throw around bigger opponents inside the clinch. Whenever Edgar gets an underhook, he turns his whole body into spinning his opponent and throwing him to the mat. Edgar is very good at putting a ton of pressure on his opponent in the clinch, regardless of his grip. For example, Oliveira attempted to takedown Edgar with an underhook. Edgar responded by hitting a whizzer so hard that "Do Bronx's" face smashed into 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 him 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. Edgar will also use this grip to keep his opponent on the mat and prevent stand ups, as it's hard for his opponent to stand when Edgar's weight is hanging from his neck.
From the top, Edgar is an effective grinder from within the guard. Most of his recent opponents -- with the exception of Oliveira -- were all such excellent wrestlers/scramblers that Edgar was not able to control them for long. However, against someone content to work from his back or of similar stature to Edgar, the New Jersey native is able to work hard elbows and punches from within the guard. Edgar excels at allowing his opponent to momentarily hold an overhook, only to break out and drop some hard shots. Then, Edgar will look to advance his position.
Edgar has proven repeatedly that his takedown defense is excellent. Against larger and occasionally better credentialed wrestlers, Edgar has been able to defend their shots. Using his front headlock and sprawl, Edgar weighs on his opponent until he can safely return to his feet or hit a reversal. In addition, the distance that Edgar's movement allows him to keep gives him plenty of time to recognize his opponent's takedown attempts.
When he is taken down, Edgar is quick to return to his feet. He's competent at wall-walking, using his wrestling to turn away and stand, and using butterfly hooks to elevate his opponent to stand. Since his loss to Maynard, Edgar has not been out-wrestled, showing his impressive development.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Edgar is a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Ricardo Almeida and has spent time training with Renzo Gracie as well. Though he doesn't actively seek out submissions, Edgar will latch onto his opponent's neck if the opportunity arises.
On the other hand, Edgar is fairly aggressive with the arm-in guillotine. Two factors have made that a smart addition to his game, with the first being Ricardo Almeida's expertise with that particular submission. In addition, the arm-in guillotine fits very well with the front headlock from wrestling, making it a natural addition to his game. Notably, Edgar fell back for the guillotine against Gray Maynard and tried to snatch one against Ben Henderson after dropping him in their second fight.
Off of his back, Edgar knows exactly what he's trying to do: stand up. He doesn't try to play a high guard or look for submissions; Edgar holds a closed guard until he's comfortable switching to butterfly guard. From there, Edgar will lift his opponent up until there's enough space for him to get an underhook and stand. If he can't do that, then Edgar will turn away, stand, and fight the hands.
Finally, Edgar is a very solid defense grappler. For the most part, he avoids being trapped in deep submission attempts, a skill he showcased against Charles Oliveira. Edgar fought much of that fight from within Oliveira's guard, but the talented Brazilian was unable to seriously threaten with anything.
The frequency with which Edgar shoots for takedowns means he's often forced to deal with the guillotine. Against both Henderson and Oliveira, "The Answer" showed a smart and patient approach. While fighting their hands -- by far the most important part of guillotine defense -- Edgar would lean towards the opposite side that his neck was on. From this position, Edgar can wait out the choke.
Best chance for success
Edgar knows exactly what he has to do in order to defeat Penn. He has after all, done it twice already, while Penn was at the height of his dominance. Now, Edgar needs to wary of an early flurry or takedown and then the fight will shift to his favor.
In order to either finish Penn or seriously put an exclamation mark on this fight, Edgar needs to severely punish Penn's body whenever possible. Conditioning was never Penn's strong point in his prime, and he's currently trying out a new weight class at the age of 35. If Edgar quickens the process of Penn slowing down, he can really turn it up and safely do plenty of damage.
In the crowded featherweight division, it's important to make a statement if he wants to get back near the title.
Will Edgar defeat Penn for the third time, or can "The Prodigy" finally get a win over the man who took his title?