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UFC: Huge lightweight title fight in land of the rising sun

Brian Mallon
frankie edgar 300x225 UFC: Huge lightweight title fight in land of the rising sun

Frankie 'The Answer' Edgar (pictured) takes on Benson Henderson

Make no mistake about it. The UFC’s return to Tokyo is a huge occasion for the sport of MMA. Japan has always been a stronghold of traditional martial arts and so the UFC’s attempts to awaken the sleeping giant that is Japanese MMA are vital to the sport’s entry into the Asian market. A packed card awaits, headlined by a lightweight title fight between Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and the surging Benson Henderson.

Five years ago the UFC purchased its only ever true rival, Pride Fighting Championships. The subsequent wrapping-up of the iconic promotion allied to the fact that Zuffa have never held an event in Japan give this weekend’s event a curiously novel feel. It is akin to holding an event in uncharted territory. In terms of matchmaking the UFC has resisted the temptation to alter their product offering for an entirely different viewing public. Come hell or high water company president Dana White has re-iterated his desire to deliver the same product, with universal rules, production features, etc regardless of where an event is staged. A roster of Japanese fan favourites pepper a card headlined by one of the most intriguing tussles of 2012. Edgar versus Henderson will not be for the faint hearted. Both men are cardio machines with an iron clad will to win. Their respective resolve in the face of searing adversity has seen them recently defeat top notch opponents in a ferocious lightweight talent pool.

The lightweight division is where the weight cutting conundrum is perhaps at its most striking. Nate Diaz, BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez amongst others, have long debated the merits of competing there. 155lbs is essentially where speed and power meet, often resulting in some of the most epic fights in the sport. This is what makes this title fight so captivating.

Edgar makes no secret of his stance on weight cutting. He walks around at 155lbs and believes that competing at his “natural” weight class, as opposed to undergoing a draining weight cutting process in the days prior to stepping into the octagon gives him a distinct advantage. Ben Henderson come fight time will be substantially bigger than the gutsy Jersey scrapper. With legs like tree trunks and a powerful upper body to boot Henderson manhandled both Jim Miller and Clay Guida in his most recent outings. It is probable that he will employ a similar style against Edgar who is physically smaller than both men. Edgar has however faced a foe not unlike “Smooth” in his past two title defences, Gray Maynard. For almost nine rounds Edgar faced the concussive power of “The Bully” ultimately defeating him in a rousing display of heart and determination when his back was very much against the proverbial wall. This weekend’s potential five rounder does have several underlying themes. Can the former World Extreme Cage-fighting champ graphically illustrate that the WEC fighters have truly arrived at the Zuffa top table? Does weight cutting (or lack of) significantly impact on performance in the championship rounds? Can speed trump power at 155lbs when both protagonists are similarly well-rounded?

Henderson and Edgar are two of the most respected veterans competing in the UFC today. Both men deliver consistently high octane, impressive performances with minimal fuss. Edgar has had to scrap for respect as a UFC champ more than most. Even though he soundly outfought the legendary BJ Penn twice in 2010, respect has been slow to flow the 30 year old political science graduate’s way. With his “Rocky-esque” victory over the imposing, previously undefeated Gray Maynard, Toms River’s favourite son may have won over any doubting fans. Upon winning the coveted lightweight strap he commented that “…heavy lies the crown. I just got a nice bulls-eye painted on my chest”. Saturday night will be no different.

Edgar will be facing an athlete who is also no stranger to in-cage adversity. Losing to Anthony Pettis in a bout which featured one of the most replayed highlight reel kicks in MMA history would haunt any fighter. It hasn’t strayed far from the Colorado native’s thoughts in the intervening 14 months. Henderson refuses to let such a high profile moment define him and has instead fed off the primal motivation that only a stinging defeat can evoke. He has since dusted himself off and embarked upon a surging UFC run which includes Bocek, Miller and latterly Guida in an impressive list of casualties. His undefeated UFC career should really come as no surprise given that the BJJ brown belt went from mopping gym floors in lieu of training fees, to owning the facility himself.

Let’s get down to the business end of a worthy headlining bout. This one will be close. Neither man will change much in terms of their in-fight strategy. Both of these fighters are very well-rounded. I see Henderson posing Edgar many of the same questions as Maynard did but with a significantly increased submission threat. Edgar’s recent experience of UFC title fights (now numbering four on the trot) could be decisive. His ability to “take a licking and keep on ticking” against Maynard will stand to him. I see Edgar taking this one via unanimous decision, after surviving some gut check moments in the early rounds.

Click here to check out my preview of other key match-ups at UFC 144 in Japan’s The Asahi Shimbun.

As always, interested in your picks…

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@BrianMallonUFC

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