Edgar-Maynard matchup all about desire

BY foxsports • October 8, 2011

The final chapter of the Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard saga will be written Saturday night as the two fighters clash for the UFC lightweight championship at UFC 136 in Houston.

Meanwhile, Kenny Florian looks to prove he’s not a choker in his third shot at a UFC title when he challenges Brazilian assassin Jose Aldo for the featherweight championship, while Chael Sonnen makes his long-awaited return to the octagon against emerging middleweight contender Brian Stann.

Here’s a closer look:

Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0-1)

One of the most compelling recent trilogies in mixed martial arts comes to a close as the UFC lightweight champion Edgar faces off with Xtreme Couture prodigy Maynard to settle the score once and for all.

Neither fighter has seen action since their title clash this past January, which resulted in a draw.

Edgar, 29, is perhaps best known for his two upset wins over legendary lightweight B.J. Penn. Aside from an April 2008 decision loss to Maynard, Edgar has been stellar in his octagon campaign, defeating the likes of Jim Miller, Tyson Griffin, Mark Bocek, Spencer Fisher and Sean Sherk.

Anchored at Renzo Gracie's academy in New Jersey, Edgar, a former NCAA Division I wrestler and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, has evolved into a well-rounded fighter with a superb coaching staff behind him.

Working alongside Gracie, Ricardo Almeida, Mark Henry, Phil Nurse and Steve Rivera, Edgar is developing a style that has puzzled most challengers, including the former consensus top lightweight Penn.

Edgar mixes rapid footwork with crisp boxing technique, while effectively utilizing takedowns to keep his opponents guessing. Though most of his wins have gone the distance, Edgar possesses finishing power and underrated submissions.

Maynard, 32, is unbeaten in his mixed martial arts career. After succumbing to a guillotine choke against Nate Diaz in a semi-professional bout on the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Maynard has assembled a solid streak in the promotion, earning decision wins over notables such as Edgar, Dennis Siver, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta and Kenny Florian, while also avenging his loss against Diaz.

A longtime member of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, the former NCAA Division I wrestler is one of the lightweight division’s finest pure wrestlers. However, his boxing has improved significantly as well, evidenced in the first round of his bout with Edgar at UFC 125.

In their first go-around, Maynard was able to smother Edgar with his wrestling over three rounds en route to a unanimous decision. In the rematch, however, Maynard came as close as possible to finishing Edgar after dropping him multiple times with heavy punches in the opening stanza.

The fight was truly a testament to Edgar’s resiliency and heart. After surviving the vicious onslaught, Edgar fought brilliantly for the next four rounds, taking advantage of an exhausted Maynard down the stretch. It wasn’t enough to secure the nod, but a memorable performance for Edgar nonetheless.

Maynard’s conditioning is a major question mark leading into this fight. If he paced himself in their second bout, he could have been more effective in the latter stages of the contest. Assuming Maynard is in shape, his ability to take Edgar down during championship rounds will be crucial.

Conversely, Edgar needs to use his footwork to dodge Maynard’s heavy punches. Edgar’s speed has been a problem for all of his opponents and Maynard is no exception.

After an exceptionally close second fight, it’s difficult to pinpoint a clear-cut favorite heading into Saturday’s battle. Ultimately, it will come down to who’s in better shape, which fighter effectively employs their game plan and, most important, who wants it more.

Edgar has proved to be a determined champion adamant about establishing himself as one of the all-time greats. If Edgar’s recent fights are any indication, he will mix up his game over five rounds in order to retain his crown on the judges’ scorecards.

Verdict: Edgar via decision

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