This is your life, Frankie Edgar. You step into the octagon for a fight, and across the cage stands a familiar face. Not every time, of course, but every second time. First there's the title bout. Then there's the rematch. That's the rhythm of the beat of your fighter's heart.
So when the former lightweight champion stares into the eyes of Benson Henderson on Saturday night in Denver (10 p.m. ET, PPV) and has a déjà vu moment, it'll be a familiar feeling. The UFC 150 main event with Henderson, who dethroned Edgar in February, will be Frankie's sixth fight in a row against someone he's met in his last one or will face again in his next.
The cycle began in April 2010 when Edgar upset B.J. Penn for the UFC lightweight championship. The judges were unanimous in their decision that night in Abu Dhabi, but the bout was close enough -- and Penn hallowed enough as a champion -- that a rematch was scheduled for four months later. Edgar won again, the unanimous nod more clear cut that time.
Next up was Gray Maynard, who was not only unbeaten but also the reason Edgar wasn't -- "The Bully" had handed Frankie his only loss nearly two years earlier. And Gray nearly dealt the champ his second defeat in the New Year's Day 2011 rematch, flooring Edgar midway through the first round and nearly finishing him. But the Jersey boy persevered, and over the four rounds that followed, he subtly swung the fight his way and eked out a draw. Which meant another rematch. Or was it a replay? Maynard again wobbled Edgar in the opening round when they met for the third time last October, and Frankie again recovered. This time, however, he not only seized control of the fight but finished it, knocking out Maynard in the fourth round.
That brings us to Edgar vs. Henderson, henceforth to be known as Edgar vs. Henderson I. (All of Frankie's bouts these days have a I or II attached ... except when it's a III.) Edgar (14-2-1) managed to get out of the first round unscathed, but over the course of five rugged rounds the bigger, stronger Henderson (16-2), fighting in the UFC for just the fourth time after a stint as WEC champion, generally got the better of the positioning and clearly inflicted more damage. The fight was tight, and there was a murmuring lull of doubt and anticipation permeating the arena outside Tokyo in the moments before Bruce Buffer announced the decision by bellowing "and new lightweight champion ..."
I suppose that does highlight one thing that'll be different for Edgar this time. He wore the belt on his walk out of the cage after both Penn bouts and both Maynard fights as well. But then, six months ago, Henderson got to take home the strap. So when Frankie looks across the cage at Benson on Saturday night, he'll be staring at a champion through the eyes of a challenger. That'll be a feeling he hasn't experienced since Penn I.
What will be wholly familiar is the knowing -- knowing from experience what the man he's facing is capable of, knowing what among his own arsenal has had proven success. But Edgar sees no edge in those byproducts of a rematch. "There's really no advantage because of the fact that I was in there with him not too long ago. He was also in there with me," said Edgar during a conference call with MMA media last week. "So he got to see what I bring to the table; I got to see what he brought to the table. I think it's going to be a matter of who makes the best adjustments and who can come out and be the better fighter on the 11th."
Henderson, who has a high-level rematch history of his own -- he defeated Donald Cerrone for the WEC interim title in October 2009, and again six months later after he'd laid claim to the real belt -- envisions much the same formula for success in a sequel: Make your training tweaks and hope to be at your best on fight night. If you're not? Well, those are the breaks of the game -- at least this game.
"Some guys have bad basketball games, they don't have a great performance every basketball game," said the champ. "Lucky for them, they have -- what? -- 82 games a season to redeem themselves and what-not. For us fighters, we have to be on top of our game. Every time we go out there it's not just, 'Oh, we have to do this other game,' like baseball or basketball. For fighters, if we have a bad performance, it's for world titles. There's not a whole lot of re-do."
Unless you're Frankie Edgar, for whom it seems every fight is a re-do.
1: Up-kick in the second round of the first fight that might have been the difference. It didn't finish Edgar or even severely damage his fighting spirit, but it left the defending champ's face bruised and swollen, a visual that might very well have influenced the judges.
5: Consecutive decisions, after having just two of his previous 13 fights go the distance.
14: Victories in his last 15 bouts.
3: Takedowns on three attempts in the first two rounds of the first Henderson fight. From that point on, though, he was just 2 of 9.
17:11: Average length of his fights, longest in UFC history.
72.9: Percent of his opponent's significant strikes that he's avoided, placing him third all-time in the UFC, according to Fight Metric statistics. (That number was higher before the first Henderson fight.)
What we should expect: Among the many things we learned when these guys tangled the first time: Henderson is capable of keeping up with Edgar's frenetic pace, and Benson is a strongman. What does that mean for the rematch? The champ might be emboldened to put more pressure on Frankie, knowing he's got the explosiveness to escape trouble. As for Edgar, he still can take advantage of his speed if he gets Henderson guessing when and how he'll engage. Frankie is no weakling, either, and can get physical with Benson in the same way he did with muscleman Gray Maynard if he dictates the pace and messes with his opponent's sense of balance, timing and comfort.
Why we should care: It really doesn't get much better than this: a title bout between the champ and the man he dethroned. Adding to the competitive appeal is the entertainment factor: Both of these guys are nonstop, and if you glance away you're bound to miss something. But don't worry. There'll be more. The only thing lacking here is that neither of these guys has shown himself to be a consistently dangerous finisher.
"Frankie's a tough fighter, and we all know he's a lot better in rematches. It's one of his biggest things."--Benson Henderson during last week's media conference call
"And Ben's just very well-rounded. He can pretty much do everything. He's got great flexibility. He's a big guy. He's explosive and he's game, man. His cardio is always top notch, and he's hungry."--Frankie Edgar during the same call
"We both always bring it. We both always have good, entertaining fights. We don't need to talk smack and hate each other. We don't need to dislike the guy or be hateful towards each other. We always put on a great show, and it's going to stay the same in Denver."--Henderson
"Whether it's a title fight, a non-title fight, I want to go out there, I want to perform well and I want to win. It's just the fact that in the last fight, I wasn't the victor. It gives me so much more motivation to go in there and try to get some redemption."--Frankie Edgar
Denver is where the seed was planted. Back in November 1993, some 2,800 curious souls descended upon the old McNichols Sports Arena in the Mile High City to see this new spectacle called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The one-night tournament included fighters from the disciplines of boxing, wrestling, karate, jiu-jitsu and more -- although, unlike the UFC of today, no one who could utilize techniques outside his martial discipline. At the end of the night, of course, Royce Gracie and Brazilian jiu-jitsu held sway.
The same was the case four months later at UFC 2, which also took place in Denver, but this time in an old roller rink called Mammoth Gardens. Again, it was Royce's night.
Denver has hosted the fight promotion three more times since then: in 1995 at Mammoth Gardens for The Ultimate Ultimate (held between UFC 7 and UFC 87), in 2010 for a UFC Live event headlined by a pre-championship Jon Jones (actually held in the suburb of Broomfield) and last September at the Pepsi Center for UFC 135, in which "Bones" defended his light heavyweight belt against Quinton Jackson.
That's what friends are for: Saturday night's co-main event will not be the first time that Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard have punched each other. The lightweights were training partners under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn until earlier this year, when Guillard left the camp to train with ex-Team Jackson fighter Rashad Evans in the Blackzillians camp in South Florida. Unlike Rashad, though, Melvin left Albuquerque with no hard feelings. Not only that, but he's especially fond of Cerrone. "He's like family," said Guillard. The feeling is mutual, according to Cerrone, but a fight is a fight. "It's going to be fireworks," he said, "and we're going to hopefully bring it to a street fight. And I'm ready."
Now you see them ...: Jake Shields and Yushin Okami, both of whom have challenged for a UFC championship belt in the not-too-distant past, have done a disappearing act of late. After being knocked out by Anderson Silva in his middleweight challenge a year ago, Okami was looking good in his bounce-back fight in February until Tim Boetsch caught him with a desperate third-round uppercut and finished him. As for Shields, he followed up his 2011 decision loss to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre by being knocked out in the first minute of his fight with Jake Ellenberger last September. Shields did win a unanimous decision over Yoshihiro Akiyama in February, but both he and Okami need to build some momentum this weekend. Yushin faces late replacement Buddy Roberts, while Jake takes on long-ago Ultimate Fighter veteran Ed Herman.