Gray Maynard knocks down Frankie Edgar during the first round of their second meeting on New Year's Day 2011. The two complete their trilogy Saturday. (AP)
After seeing the first fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, I felt certain of two things: 1) Maynard was the superior lightweight, and 2) No one who valued money would pay to see them fight each other two more times. I guess it just goes to show how wrong I can be when I really put my mind to it.
If you’d told me back in 2008 that Edgar-Maynard would be a trilogy that fight fans would not only enjoy, but almost unanimously view as being totally worth a 10-month wait for the conclusion, I would have advised you not to operate any heavy machinery for a little while.
But that was before we saw their second fight -- still the best fight of 2011 so far -- and also before the unfinished business between the two of them caused a title fight logjam in what is arguably the UFC’s deepest division.
That makes for at least two reasons why Edgar-Maynard III may be the most anticipated lightweight title fight in recent memory. For one, their second bout was as thrilling as the first was anesthetizing, so there are high hopes for the third. For another, no matter how exciting this rivalry is and who emerges with the UFC 155-pound strap when it’s all over with, the division is dying for them to wrap this up already.
For those joining this program already in progress, the trouble stems from injuries and uncertainty, though not necessarily in that order. After Maynard won a decision in their first bout, the two met with Edgar’s UFC lightweight title on the line back on Jan. 1 of this year and fought to a draw after five bloody, back-and-forth rounds. The UFC decided it was only fair to give them another 25 minutes to settle it once and for all, but training camp injuries to both men pushed the fight from May to October.
That might not have been such a big deal if the weight class wasn’t overflowing with talent. Guys like Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida, Ben Henderson -- not to mention Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez -- have all started to look like potential challengers for the belt in recent months. And yet due to the unresolved issues between Edgar and Maynard, that very belt has spent the last 10 months collecting dust in Edgar’s closet.
That’s why the third Edgar-Maynard reminds me of Chinese Democracy (the Guns N’ Roses album, not the political movement). Much like the Axl Rose’s opus that reportedly took more than 10 years to complete, we’ve waited so long for a conclusion to this lightweight trilogy that it’s hard to tell whether we’re excited because we think it will be good, or whether we’re excited because we just want it to be over.
We also have to wonder if, after such a long wait, the end result can possibly justify all the hype that preceded it.
Fight fans have spent roughly a year now with the idea of Edgar versus Maynard hanging over their heads, and that doesn’t even count the mostly forgettable first meeting. First it seemed like a fight that probably had to happen, and then a fight that had to happen again, and now finally a fight that has to happen so that it doesn’t have to happen anymore.
It may have been easy to beat expectations after the first meeting, but after a great rematch and an excruciatingly long wait (especially for the other UFC lightweights who wouldn’t mind moving on with their careers now), how can they possibly produce something that feels worth all this delay and anticipation?
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that, in all likelihood, they can’t. Not after all this. Not after they already set the bar so high.
Then again, that same conventional wisdom would have said that the second fight was hardly worth staying up late for, much less paying good money to see. That turned out to be all kinds of wrong, and then we got plenty of time to sit and think about our mistakes.
At this point, maybe any outcome that results in some sense of closure is good enough. At least then we can move on to being wrong about something else.
-- Ben Fowlkes