Recent main events have promised plenty beforehand, but delivered little when the talking stopped and fists threatened to fly. The light-heavyweight five-rounder between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis carried a bucketload of trash talk and bad blood, while the welterweight clash between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz paired off two of the most high-octane fighters in the sport. In the end, though, following a combined fifty minutes of combat, fans were hardly pining for re-runs of any particular rounds or flashpoints.
Victors Evans and Condit executed game plans to a tee, sacrificing entertainment and emotion along the way. They coldly and clinically controlled their foes until the final klaxon sounded. In doing so, Evans forgot about how much he hated Davis and Condit forgot his reputation for balls-to-the-wall excitement. One could argue these were examples of necessary bouts of amnesia -- that the pair needed to fight a certain type of fight to grab the win -- but there were millions more wanting to forget after the decisions had been rendered.
Famous last words, perhaps, but one gets the sense next weekend's (Saturday, February 25) UFC Pay-Per-View lightweight championship fight between Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson will prove to be a case of third time lucky for fans eager to watch a 2012 main event ignite. Like February's UFC 143 headliner, this one rests on the notion that both men will attack one another like wildebeests for twenty-five minutes. There has been no trash talk, nor is any in the pipeline, and neither are the type to make outlandish claims or forecasts.
Whereas the previous two main event five-rounders were eventually engulfed by the hype that preceded them, this lightweight duel between Edgar and Henderson is as close to a surefire thing as you can possibly get in the unpredictable world of mixed martial arts. If this title bout turns out to be anything less than a potential 'Fight of the Year' candidate then consider five-rounders cursed, forever in the shadow of that five-rounder between Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua in November.
I remain hopeful, though. Edgar and Henderson aren't the type to become embroiled in anti-climactic spectacles and neither could fake a backwards step if they tried. Moreover, there is a vulnerability to both that make this the kind of battle that could very well contain more twists, turns and jumpy moments than a Hitchcock flick. Momentum will shift, rounds will be traded like cigarette cards, and it is highly unlikely that respites and time-outs will play a starring role in the manner they did during recent victories for Condit and Evans. Edgar and Henderson don't do lulls. Game plans, sure, but ones that call for fast-paced aggression and a desire to claim dominance over an opponent. No pickpocketing. It's all or nothing with them. Kill or be killed.
Looking at form lines, it would appear that challenger Henderson (15-2) is the one with less to worry about when the pair touch gloves and shake off pre-fight anxiety. The former WEC lightweight champion has been picture-perfect since joining the UFC in 2011, scoring wins over Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida. While each fight did, ultimately, go the distance, Henderson displayed a dominance and relentlessness throughout the bouts that made pinpointing weaknesses a nigh on impossible task. The master of the unanimous decision gives very little away and takes absolutely everything he can get his hands on. Stingy in the finest sense of the word.
Champion Edgar (14-1-1), on the other hand, cares far more about ticket prices, as well as his growing reputation as mixed martial arts' Rocky Balboa. The humble New Jersey native has carved a sturdy legacy thanks to victories over just two men - BJ Penn and Gray Maynard. He defeated both fighters twice in a row, Penn to win the belt and then Maynard in successful title defences. The Penn victories shone the light on Edgar's improved skill-set and ability to carry out fool-proof game plans, while stunning performances against Maynard cast the new champion as one of the most thrilling commodities in all of combat sports. Hurt, bloodied and dropped multiple times in the opening five minutes, Edgar somehow rallied back to defeat Maynard by decision first time round in January 2011, and then repeated the trick in October, only this time stopping 'The Bully' in a dramatic fourth round.
The fights were almost carbon copies of one another and Edgar, title hanging by a thread, elevated himself from belt-holder to pound-for-pound superstar. UFC President Dana White even went a step further, declaring the lightweight king to be secondly only to Anderson Silva in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings. While I don't necessarily agree that Edgar boasts anywhere near the number of world-class wins of a Georges St-Pierre, for example, there can be little doubt that fight fans in 2012 would rather watch New Jersey's Balboa than the delightfully gifted, but safety first French-Canadian.
Ultimately, it's no surprise White loves Edgar. He's a bankable certainty in a sport riddled with uncertainty. If you buy a ticket to the Frankie Edgar show, you know what you're going to get, at least in terms of the thrill-o-meter. Good luck trying to predict the amount of times he'll stumble, roll over and wipe blood from his face before eventually securing victory, though. Your guess is as good as mine.
Rest assured, Edgar-Henderson won't be a five-rounder that leaves us reminiscing of days when sub-par fights were done and dusted in three. No, like Henderson-Rua, next Saturday's lightweight clash will have us wishing they were going an additional five. I'm certain of it. But then I did say the same about Condit-Diaz. Oh well, God bless the unpredictable nature of mixed martial arts, I say.
NOTE: UFC 144 will be live from Japan on Pay-Per-View in normal Saturday night timeslot of 6 p.m. in the East, 9 p.m. in the West, with fights taking place in Japan in the unusually ambiance of Sunday morning, local time.