On Saturday night, Yves Edwards will find himself in unusual territory.
A staple inside the cage from 1997 to 2014, Edwards recently retired from the sport of MMA and began a new career as an analyst for Fox Sports. His considerable experience as a fighter and his natural eloquence when breaking down combat makes him the perfect fit for the job, and he recently sat down with MMA Fighting to discuss the UFC's upcoming fight card, UFC Fight Night 77, taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In the main event, middleweight legends Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort will face off in a much-anticipated grudge match. Henderson defeated Belfort via decision in 2006, while Belfort knocked out Henderson more recently in 2013. To Edwards, though, these matchups mean little. Both men are different fighters now, and they'd be wise take the past with a grain of salt.
"I don't think either one of these guys should look to the past to prepare for this fight," Edwards said. "I think they should look at what they've done but not necessarily try to do the same things they've done in the past. I don't think Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort really have anything to prove to anybody. I think this is all about pride and desire and just, these guys are fighters. These guys are from that generation when virtually everybody was a fighter. That's why they're still doing it."
At 38 and 45, respectively, Belfort and Henderson are two of the oldest active competitors on the UFC's roster. With age comes wisdom, but in a sport as brutal and violent as MMA, sometimes hanging on too long comes with serious repercussions.
Edwards, who retired at 38, recognizes this fact, but he says there's one thing that could keep each man in the game well into the future.
"Both these guys are still two of the biggest names in the sport," Edwards said. "I know Vitor is still well within the top 10, and Dan is in that discussion too in the weight class. When you're in that neighborhood where the champion lives, I think you stick around, especially if you can start campaigning to get a title shot.
For me, it was realizing that it's going to take a whole lot of time – time that I don't even have – to get to where I can even think about competing for the belt again. But fighters like Henderson and Belfort, I don't think they're fighters because they want fame or they want adoration. They want to be the best. If that's not a possibility, then I think maybe that's the time to start putting it away for your own safety."
In this third installment to the Belfort-Henderson trilogy, Edwards thinks the wrestling aspect of the game might come to the forefront.
"I think there's a chance [we see something other than a stand-up affair], but that's going to be determined by Dan Henderson," Edwards said. "Vitor is not going to be the one initiating the takedown. I don't see that happening. But if Dan can get the takedown, he can control the fight.
"At the same, Vitor Belfort is not an easy guy to put on his back. It's one of those things where I think if it goes to the ground, it's going to have to be because of Henderson or a slip."
Beyond the main event, Glover Teixeira and Patrick Cummins will face off in a pivotal light heavyweight bout. While both men are currently ranked within the division's top 10, Edwards feels that even a big victory at UFC Fight Night 77 might prove futile because of one figure looming overhead.
"With Jon Jones coming back, being reinstated, I don’t know anybody who's going to take the title," Edwards said. "The biggest test is, I think, Daniel Cormier. You saw what he did with [Anthony] 'Rumble' [Johnson], but I assume beyond a doubt Jon Jones can do at least the very same thing to Rumble. Has DC improved enough to hold onto that belt and not let Jon get it back? I think that's the only question I have right now about the light heavyweight division.
"And then next year, maybe late next year is when we look at guys like Cummins and Teixeira and OSP [Ovince St-Pruex] and even Rumble again. But right now, I think Jon Jones and the light heavyweight division, he should be the guy that everybody's concerned with."
The UFC Fight Night 77 card also brings the return of the undefeated Thomas Almeida. The 24-year-old sensation will take on Anthony Birchak in a hotly anticipated fight for many fans – Edwards included.
"Almeida, he looks like the kind of fighter who does most things right almost all the time," Edwards said. "He has good takedown defense, but it's not great. When he's on his back, he's not trying to play jiu-jitsu. He's trying to sweep you or get back to his feet. His jiu-jitsu, I think it's very good for MMA. He's not on his back trying to submit you.
"He's one of those guys who's just fun to watch, and the fact that he's a kid and he's undefeated, he's had three UFC fights. At 19-0, his 19-0 is a real 19-0, man. That kid, I'm pumped about watching him fight. I think that guy has a big, big upside."
"The fight I'm most looking forward to that's not the main or co-main is [Rashid] Magomedov vs. [Gilbert] Burns," he said. "I've trained with Magomedov at American Top Team, and that guy is really good. He's especially good in the specific areas that are important in MMA. I think Burns will need to take that away, but I don't see that happening.
"I think for Burns, his submission stoppages kind of enhance his aura, but I think for Magomedov, if he gets the stoppage here and he calls out a good name, maybe not top 10 but even top 15, that could really set his career in a good direction."
You can view the full bout order and the latest news for UFC Fight Night 77 here.
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