The strange beauty and brutality that is MMA is centered around it being a game of inches and unpredictability, and that there are consequences of actions. But you never truly know what those consequences are without the perspective of looking back in time.
On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Frankie Edgar battled Brian Ortega for what was expected to be the next shot at injured featherweight champion Max Holloway. If you studied MMA, you could figure a lot of ways the fight could go. Edgar winning by decision being the faster, busier and more ringwise fighter had a good chance. But you could never count out Ortega winning by submission, even though nobody had ever done that to Edgar in 13 years and 28 fights.
The one thing you wouldn’t expect is Ortega winning via knockout. Edgar had been in with the hard hitters like Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes and Jeremy Stephens, and all-time greats like Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, and B.J. Penn. None could knock him out. He took ungodly beatings in the first round in his second and third fights with Gray Maynard, that were classics, and he lost neither of those fights.
We already have the perspective of time to know that some day, Edgar will be in the UFC Hall of Fame. But what we won’t know for a while is what Saturday means to the story of his career.
The reality of MMA is that small gloves are unforgiving, as are hard knees and elbows. Anything can happen. Ortega nailed Edgar with an elbow that rocked him. But after watching Edgar’s career, and flashing back to visions of Maynard fights, there was almost a feeling of non-concern. Sure, Ortega was much bigger and much younger, and he’d never lost a fight. But Edgar was almost always the smaller guy in his fights. And these things happen early in a Frankie Edgar fight. Sure, anyone else would be in trouble, and he looks in trouble, But he really was in trouble, and seconds later, it was over.
The guy who couldn’t be stopped by punches was. Is this a fluke, like what Matt Serra did to Georges St-Pierre that knocked the invincible off someone considered at the time perhaps the best fighter of his generation? St-Pierre, instead, came back to go on a run as one of the most dominant fights ever. Or was this Chuck Liddell against Rashad Evans, when the chin that could take everyone’s best shot and keep coming back was shattered, never to be the same again?
When it happens at 26 there is still concern. At 36, like Edgar is, especially for a smaller fighter, you can’t help but feel this could be the sign that the person we’ve seen for the last dozen years may now be on borrowed time.
In doing so, it’s conceivable Edgar lost his last chance to win the second UFC title, which has eluded him since he dropped the lightweight title to Benson Henderson six years ago. But if he wins his next fight, all of that talk would dissipate. But Edgar is next in a must-win situation or his path would look difficult.
Ortega has now finished six men in a row, seven if you include his UFC debut which he won in a minute but it got overturned for a steroid violation.
He’s now got an m.o. He comes out and in the first few minutes, he’s getting beaten to the punch and looking like he’s in for a long night. But every time, he comes back to win. Ortega is right now a very legit No,. 1 contender who seemingly rarely wins a round unless it’s the round he finishes the fight in.
That makes for an intriguing fight against anyone. No matter how outclassed it looks like he is, history, over-and-over, says he’ll still get you late.
Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars for Saturday’s show.
The bad part of this story is we’re now more than one year since the debut of the division and the UFC roster still consists of one featherweight, the champion. So the string of watching a big, strong and skilled featherweight beat up on bantamweights, some of whom weren’t even considered good enough for the UFC roster in a smaller weight class, continued.
Dana White, after Cyborg’s win, brought up bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (15-4), as the logical next opponent. Doing so would put the proposed Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington fight on the sidelines. Whether it’s fair to have a champion of a nonexistent weight class being constantly fed undersized foes is one thing. But we have it, and Nunes is the most interesting opponent at this time.
BRIAN ORTEGA - Ortega (14-0, 1 no contest) clearly established himself as the top contender for men’s featherweight champion Holloway (19-3). It would be a battle of unbeaten streaks. Ortega has never lost. Holloway’s streak is at 12 fights, the fifth-longest in UFC history
It feels like such an obvious next championship match that it doesn’t even feel like it should be up for debate.
FRANKIE EDGAR - Edgar (21-6-1) should probably next face either Ricardo Lamas (18-6) or Josh Emmett (13-2) in a match that will really determine what the answer really is for all of Edgar’s questions. An impressive win against either of those two fighters should get Edgar within shooting distance of at least title considerations.
ANDREI ARLOVSKI - After first being written off in 2009, and then losing five in a row during 2016 and early 2017, Arlovski (27-15, 1 no-contest) is back in the swing of things with a win over Stefan Struve. He could next face Derrick Lewis (19-5), but after that it seems like slim pickings, like a lesser-known fighter such as Timothy Johnson (12-4).
KETLEN VIEIRA - With a win over Cat Zingano, coming off the heels of beating Sara McMann, Vieira (10-0) has earned herself a top contender position as a bantamweight. If Nunes faces Raquel Pennington (9-5) next, then Vieira should face Marion Reneau (9-3-1), coming off her win last week over McMann. If Nunes faces Cyborg next, then Vieira and Pennington should fight to determine who faces Nunes in her next title fight.