It somehow seems fitting that this thing between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard is about to get all kinds of epic.
At least leading up to UFC 125 on Saturday night, the stuff said about both men behind closed doors (and sometimes in public) was not always complimentary: In one corner, you had a champion who nobody wanted to give the credit he deserved as the top fighter in mixed martial arts’ most competitive division. A guy who had to claw and scrap for every ounce of respect he’s been given to date. He’s a guy people have called too small, overly defensive and uninteresting.
In the other corner, you had an undefeated challenger that practically no one wanted to see with the belt around his waist, owing largely to what many see as his boring, wrestle-first game plans. You couldn’t argue with his effectiveness through his first 10 fights, but there also weren’t a ton of people lining up to buy his T-shirts, either.
Not to get all mushy on you, but I think each guy went a long way to reversing the public stigma attached to his name this weekend, when Maynard and Edgar ushered in 2011 with a larger-than-life, back-and-forth struggle for the UFC lightweight title that unfortunately ended in our sport’s most unsatisfying outcome: The split draw.
For Edgar, it’d be hard to look him in the eye after this performance and call him a beefed up featherweight who’s managed to get by on smoke and mirrors. If you somehow had your head in the sand before, here’s the newsflash: Edgar is for real. The champ took a hell of a beating in the first round this weekend, was dropped multiple times with punches and somehow survived a few situations where a stoppage probably could have been justified. Frankly (no pun intended) he got beat down from pillar to post for five minutes that some observers thought rightly ought to have been scored 10-7.
He took that punishment and came back from it, controlling most of the rest of the fight in a fashion so convincing that he had many expecting he was about to pull out another improbable victory just before the announcement of the final verdict.
For Maynard, like Shane Carwin before him you have to kind of feel for a guy who batters a UFC champion that badly in the first without picking up a stoppage somewhere along the way. One thing he made abundantly clear however is that he certainly possess the talents and abilities to be an exciting fighter in the lightweight division. One fit to wear the gold in fact, if that ever comes to pass.
For now, the UFC’s two top 155-pounders have no choice but to call it even. The champion slipped out of UFC 125 with the belt still around his waist, but also without formally dispatching the No. 1 contender. The challenger did not suffer his first loss, but also did not claim his 11th win and did not get the spoils. In short, neither is happy. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, they won’t have to wait long.
In the immediate aftermath, the UFC announced plans to postpone a scheduled unification bout with WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in favor of a rematch between Maynard and Edgar. There was no better option, after one of the company’s five-round title fights ended in a draw for the first time since BJ Penn fought Caol Uno back in 2003.
The UFC’s two most disrespected lightweights will go at it again shortly. For the first time in a long time, this is news about Edgar and Maynard that has been met with no complaints.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.