Clean slate suits champion in draw
A new beginning. A fresh start. Wiping the slate clean.
These are some common New Year's sayings, often expressed with passion and poetic hopefulness the moment the clock strikes midnight.
They're also a few ways to describe the second round of Saturday night's main event of UFC 125 in Las Vegas, at least from the perspective of lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. After being battered, wobbled, bloodied and nearly finished by Gray Maynard in a thoroughly dominant first round, Edgar came out inexplicably revitalized, as if that beating had never happened, and willed his way back into clear-headedness and back into the fight. It was a champion's performance.
And, in the end, Edgar did remain the champion, as the widely split judges scored the bout a draw. One had it 48-46 for Frankie, one 48-46 for Gray, the third 47-47. SI.com gave Maynard a 10-8 first round but all the rest to Edgar (most of them slimly), for a 48-46 comeback win. But what do I know?
Here's one thing I think I know: Edgar, a guy who for some reason has not been a fan favorite, even after beating the legendary B.J. Penn twice, now has the utmost respect of anyone who takes this sport seriously. And he earned it without a dominant performance like he put on in the Penn rematch last summer. He did it by gutting out a brutal beating, by living to fight another round.
Not that he remembers any of that gritty survival. When Joe Rogan began their post-fight chat at the center of the cage by asking Edgar what he recalls from the first round, Frankie just said, "Not much, dude."
It's just as well he forgot it, because that was not something you'd want to repeat, even in your head. And he did not repeat it in any way. Instead, he came out for the second round looking fresher, circling and jabbing and kicking as Maynard mostly just stalked him, breathing out of his mouth. Edgar was in constant motion, perhaps a half-step slower than usual for a while, but by mid-round he'd hit his stride ... and he'd hit Maynard with enough kicks and punches to seize control.
Maynard (11-0-1), though he chafed at the judges' decision, acknowledged the second round was not a shining example of him at his best. "I kinda punched myself out in the first," he told Rogan. "So Round 2 I couldn't really go that hard. I kinda pulled back."
He went on say he felt he took back control in Round 3, but that's not the way it looked. Edgar (13-1-1) was by no means dominant, but he repeatedly was able to get off first with punches and he was nimble enough to avoid Maynard's wild left hooks, the punch that had got him in trouble in the first. And most significantly, Edgar fended off most every Maynard takedown attempt, his Achilles' heel in their first meeting -- Frankie's only loss -- two years ago. He did this all fight long, in fact. According to CompuStrike statistics, Edgar stuffed 10-of-12 takedown attempts by Maynard, who had hit on 8-of-10 in their first meeting.
When the fight went where Gray Maynard had never been before -- a fourth round, then a fifth -- the challenger never faded but was nowhere near the force he had been. He landed an occasional hard shot, but Edgar was busier, landing more and slipping punches. And he even took down the former All-American wrestler a few times, including a big slam in the fourth. Over the course of the fight, Frankie hit on 4-of-7 takedown attempts.
But it was mostly Edgar's fists that brought him back. After being outstruck, 44-11, in the first, according to CompuStrike, Edgar nearly doubled Gray's output the rest of the way, landing 107 punches to the challenger's 55. Again, coming from the predicament where Edgar found himself in the middle of the first round, this was a champion's performance.
Yet the result did not live up to the fight's billing. UFC 125 was subtitled "Resolution," and despite the cute New Year's Day hook, this fight didn't resolve anything. Edgar is still the UFC lightweight champion. Maynard is still unbeaten. They're just going to have to do it again.
Except next time it'll be different. Next time, Maynard will walk in the cage remembering how close he was to being a champion. And, next time, Edgar will walk in to applause much overdue.