"90-percent of the fight game is half mental."
That knowledge, which Tim Sylvia imparted to us, is perhaps the most evident when analyzing the epic five-round war of attrition between Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and perennial top contender Gray Maynard at UFC 125.
Edgar was coming in on the strength of two consecutive victories over the man many consider the greatest 155-pound fighter in the history of the sport, B.J. Penn. It's difficult to boost a fighter's confidence any more than with wins like that, especially considering the dominant nature with which he did so, at least in the second contest.
But he was also going into the New Year's event staring down his own personal "Bully." After all, Maynard is, to this day, the only man to find "The Answer" to the New Jersey native's elusive and effective game.
The unbelievable back-and-forth battle that ensued became an instant classic.
Gray blitzed Frankie in the opening round, knocking him down multiple times while having his way with him to every corner of the cage. It was more than a simple shellacking. Considering the fact that Maynard came into the fight already ahead 1-0 in the series, it was utterly demoralizing -- or at least it should have been.
But Edgar didn't get to become champion by being weak-willed.
He stormed back to control the second round, tagging his opponent and positioning himself to battle his way to the scorecards. The fact the judges decided the fight was a draw, whether you agree with that ruling or not, is nearly irrelevant.
Edgar overcame the adversity of completely getting his ass handed to him by the only man to ever defeat him. His intestinal fortitude in the face of such a challenge deserves the recognition it's so far failed to receive.
But will he go into the next fight with the edge mentally, knowing he took took Maynard's best shot(s) and nearly came back to defeat him? His "answer" (via Sports Illustrated):
"It's hard to say who has the mental edge, if anyone. You know, he may have tasted it from being so close, and now he's super-motivated. And there are a lot of ways for me to look at that last fight, too: as a guy who barely got through it or as a survivor. I don't know how he approaches it, but I know I'm fired up to settle things. I'm a competitor, so it doesn't matter what the situation is. I know that every time I step in there I'm going to compete."
There is certainly merit to the idea that Edgar "barely survived" that first round. But what of the next four?
No doubt, Maynard knows he can defeat the champion heading into the trilogy bout at UFC 130 on May 28 in Las Vegas. But will he be as confident after his inability to finish the job on Jan. 1?
We know their skill-sets match-up incredibly evenly. So who has the edge when it comes to the old noggin?