Esther Lin, MMA FIghting
Frankie Edgar seems to have a way of courting drama. Ever since Edgar won the lightweight title back in April 2010, he has only had one clean win, his shutout over B.J. Penn at UFC 118. His other fights have all had some element of controversy or near-defeat before victory. Win, lose or draw, it's always eventful in some way.
The agony of defeat was on Edgar's face shortly after the judges' decisions were read off at UFC 150. He clearly thought he won, and many fighters, media members and fans agreed. Of course, it wasn't so simple. Afterward, Dana White said that the division would move on, and Edgar knows he'd have a long climb back to the title challenger role in the lightweight division.
While Edgar didn't explicitly say he was moving down to featherweight, expect him to make his divisional debut there the next time he shows up to the octagon.
On to the observations...
1. Ben Henderson still has work to do to truly establish himself as the champion
The lightweight should certainly celebrate his accomplishment, because at the end of the day, the decisions of the judges are the only ones who truly count, and they believe Henderson beat Edgar twice. But let's face it, the fans make the sport, and lots of them believe Henderson lost one or even both of the matchups. Certainly, there are others who feel that he beat Edgar twice, but I'd guess that's a minority opinion.
Henderson started off the rematch brilliantly with his leg kicks, but after working to cut down Edgar's mobility, he didn't spend a whole lot of time trying to stop his lateral movement. That gave Edgar the space to employ his footwork, and that kept things closer than they could have been. Another surprise was that Henderson only tried one takedown. Where is the guy who had 10 takedowns in 11 tries in his first two UFC fights? If Henderson turns into a purely standup fighter, he won't be quite as difficult a puzzle to solve for future opponents like Nate Diaz. On the other hand, takedowns put him in danger of Diaz's subs. Because Diaz is dangerous everywhere, it's the kind of fight that can really, truly legitimize Henderson as the champion he already.
2. Body shots are criminally underused
You can understand why MMA fighters tend to become headhunters. With small gloves, it's easy to reason that you can put a punch through your opponents' defensive guard. But it isn't always so easy. Fighters protect their heads first and foremost. So why aren't there more body shots in MMA?
Leave it to a 20-year-old to show the veterans the effectiveness of the underused technique. Max Holloway used a liver shot as the key strike in his fight-ending sequence against Justin Lawrence. Generally speaking, body punching requires slightly more guts and confidence, because your hand move lower and further away from you, taking it longer to move back to defensive position. In other words, it leaves you a little more exposed than a head shot. But time and time again, we see that body shots well used are fight-changers.
3. We can probably close the book on Melvin Guillard as a contender
Guillard is still just 29 years old, so maybe this is a little premature, but his continued problems against the division's best names make him a long shot to get to the top of the lightweight division. To be sure, losses to fighters like Nate Diaz, Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone are nothing to be embarrassed about, but the fact of the matter is that Guillard has yet to earn the signature win that proves he can get over the hump.
Just as worrisome is the fact that he's been hurt with standup strikes in two of his last four fights. In the past it seemed like Guillard could be hit with a hammer and continue forward, but perhaps his long fight history is catching up to him. Guillard always shows flashes of brilliance, and it's easy to get caught up in those moments, but right now he still has a lot of work to do.
4. Fighting Jake Shields is like swimming against a riptide
Shields doesn't always fight pretty -- the Denver crowd largely booed his fight and his win -- but Shields knows what he's good at, and he tries not to deviate from it. Once Shields gets you to the ground, he's absolutely smothering. The thing about Shields that frustrates fans is that he rarely looks for ground strikes. When he does, he's often just using them as a diversion for his real goal, advancing position. Shields wants to force his opponent to make positional mistakes so he can advance his own, and then look for a submission. He didn't get the tapout against Ed Herman, but he did what he does best and got the win.
And that leads us to the last observation...
5. When you make a plan, try to stick to the plan
Shields did it on Saturday. His opponent, Ed Herman, did not. Herman opened up the fight smartly. Because he trains year-round in elevation, Herman felt he was going to have a conditioning advantage against Shields, and so decided to set a grueling first-round pace to tire Shields out. That was fine. The only problem is he never moved on to the second step of the plan, to open up and out-strike the slower, more tired fighter. Instead, he clinched and clinched, even when his corner told him to work free and let his hands go. Because of it, Shields rarely had to try to punch his way inside and risk strikes against him. Instead, he was already in a clinch, and got multiple takedowns as a result.
Things always look easier from the outside of the cage of course, but Herman got off to a smart start, and I'm sure when he thinks back, he will consider the fight a lost opportunity.
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