Edgar gives trilogy a definitive ending
We Americans, we want a clear winner. We’re not fans of ambiguity, of searching for the meaning in the grays that life often brings. For us, it either is, or it isn’t.
So afraid are we of ties that the American pastime has something called "extra innings." Bush v. Gore in 2000 unsettled our souls, with the winner determined through a Supreme Court decision (and a split decision at that.) And in America’s new favorite combat sport, the mixed martial arts haven called the UFC, promoters are sure to dub the man with the belt not just the champion but the “undisputed” champion.
And so it was with no shortage of unease that fight fans walked into the Toyota Center in Houston Saturday for the UFC 136 lightweight title fight. The main event was to be the third installment of Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard, and plenty of gray lingered in the air after their last match back on New Year’s Day.
The New Year’s fight was, some say, the best of the year, a slugfest that immediately ascended to the status of a legendary fight. On that night in Las Vegas, Maynard came out swinging and knocked down Edgar three times and nearly a fourth in the first round. It was by the grace of a referee that Edgar didn’t lose his title by TKO in that first round.
Yet in the second round, with Maynard tired from his flurry of first-round punches, Edgar battled back. They traded blows and kicks and grappling on the floor until the end of the fight. When the bell rang out, Maynard was sure his dominant first round had won him the points and the belt.
Then came the judges’ scoring.
A stinkin’ tie.
A belt retained by Edgar, a championship clouded by ambiguity.
And so uncomfortable are we with not knowing a clear answer that UFC president Dana White issued an ultimatum that very night: These two will have a rematch, and soon.
On Saturday night, 10 months after their draw, Maynard jogged out from the bowels of the Toyota Center in the heart of Texas, the state where American life is most emphatically seen as black and white, right or wrong. He was ready to provide a clear answer to the question that has clogged the lightweight division all year. Maynard was still the challenger, even though he thought he’d fought well enough back in January to win the belt.
The co-main event that ended moments before — Jose Aldo Jr. versus Kenny Florian — had been a colossal bore, with Aldo retaining his featherweight belt in a five-rounder where the fighters seemed twisted and tangled for the majority of the fight. The crowd booed for much of that fight, and Aldo barely got scattered applause when he did a backflip off the top of the cage to celebrate his victory.
So when Maynard jogged out, the crowd was thirsty for a bloody fight.
They got it. Just like last time, the 32-year-old Maynard, one of the top wrestlers in the UFC, came out swinging. An uppercut to Edgar’s face. A knee to his head. Maynard’s hair was soaked in the champ’s blood halfway through that first round, and by the time the five-minute round came to an end, Maynard had floored the champ twice.
“He survived that first round — what the (expletive),” Maynard said of Edgar afterward. “He plays the possum or something, I don’t know. He has a hard head, I think. I hit him a bunch.”
“Sometimes you get hit like that, you’re on survival mode,” Edgar said afterward. “You don’t really have a plan. I just got fight in me. That’s what it is. I’m gonna keep coming no matter what.”
Seated in the front row, the UFC president started having flashbacks.
“The crazy thing was,” White said after the fight, “the first round looked exactly like the first round of the (January) fight.”
And then, just like in January, Edgar battled back. They traded punches through the second round. Blood dripped from Edgar’s nose and onto his chest, but he kept battling. He landed a left hook. He landed a big right to Maynard’s head. It became a straight-up boxing match, playing to Edgar’s strength. Into the third round, they danced around each other, trading punches but with Edgar slowly gaining steam. After three rounds, one judge had the fight as a draw.
“Killed myself — I would have killed myself,” White said of the possibility of another draw between these two. “Seriously. I hate draws. I just hate them.”
Then came the fourth round. The crowd watched Edgar turn up the heat on Maynard. With about 80 seconds left in the fourth round, Maynard stumbled; Edgar, with blood running out of his left eye, capitalized. He knocked Maynard down with four hard rights to the head. Then he pounced, a volley of hard lefts to Maynard’s head until the referee jumped in and stopped the fight 3 minutes and 54 seconds into the fourth round.
Edgar jumped up onto the edge of the Octagon, smearing blood on a camera pointed at his face. Maynard stood and leaned against the cage, surrounded by coaches and medical staff. Edgar jumped on his manager’s shoulders and paraded around the ring.
It was straight out of the movies, a clear ending to the trilogy.
“Frankie Edgar?” White marveled afterward. “I grew up a boxing fan, watching ‘Rocky’ movies. I love ‘Rocky.’ But even when you watch ‘Rocky’ you’re like, ‘This is such bull----. Nobody could take that many punches and be able to come back and actually win a fight. It could never happen.’
“That’s really what this kid is,” White continued. “He’s the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world (next to Anderson Silva). Period. … Tonight he beat a guy who had him out of it. He was done in the first round. A guy who many people believed had his number. And he knocked him out. I tell you man, I’ve never seen any (expletive) like that in my life.”
At the post-fight press conference, Edgar walked in late. His left eye was darkened with broken capillaries. He was excited, the 145-pounder who was king of the 155-pound weight class. And he was ready for a new challenger.
“It puts some closure on it,” Edgar said. “Last fight ended in a draw so we didn’t have a definitive winner. This one ended with a bang.”
Indeed, it did. And the UFC president seemed happy. You could see him jump in the air moments after Edgar won. Clearly, he was pleased this gutsy kid had won. But really, Dana White was most pleased that someone had won. It was a helluva fight, just like the last one, except this time the word “undisputed” rang many times more true.