Never mind that the two UFC champions who will put their belts on the line Saturday night in Houston tip the scale at a combined bulk that's only slightly more than what Brock Lesnar weighs following a hog-wild weekend barbecue. The feature fights at UFC 136 are no small potatoes.
Two title bouts. One night. Consider the most recent instances of this happening: UFC 129, which shattered the fight promotion's attendance record by packing 55,000 into the Rogers Centre in Toronto, headlined by Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo title bouts; and UFC 100, which merely by virtue of it being a big, round number was a spotlit showcase evening for the sport, featuring St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar defending their belts.
Well, it's happening again Saturday (9 p.m. ET, PPV), when Frankie Edgar puts his lightweight belt on the line against Gray Maynard and Jose Aldo defends featherweight leather against Kenny Florian.
You know it's a good fight card when Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann, a bout that would have warranted the main event spot on many recent UFC cards, is slotted down at No. 3 on the bill.
Edgar vs. Maynard is actually Edgar-Maynard III, of course. In case you were holed up in bed with a massive hangover and missed their epic New Year's Day title bout, Edgar was about as dizzy and disoriented as you were in the first round, courtesy of an aggressive Maynard flurry of punches that nearly ended the bout. But the champ somehow survived, and either a) took control of the fight from that point on or b) held his own the rest of the way, depending on how you viewed it. I saw it as a), and despite the 10-8 first for Gray, would have given Frankie the decision. One judge thought the same, another saw it as Maynard's fight, and the third scored it a draw. So a draw is what went into the record books, with Edgar holding onto his belt.
That made it two Edgar-Maynard bouts, with Gray still unbeaten. Back in 2008, at a UFC Fight Night event headlined by a meeting of two guys also on this Saturday night's bill (Florian and Joe Lauzon), Maynard imposed his will on Frankie, scoring takedowns seemingly at will to win all three rounds and secure a unanimous decision. It's Edgar's only career loss.
Now they're set to do it one more time. Ah, yes, the trilogy, a fundamental sports attraction, particularly in combat sports. Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture got the blood boiling in all three of their UFC bouts, as did boxers Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward every time they stepped into the ring together. Of course, boxing's trilogies go way back into history, to Graziano-Zale and beyond, the most famous being Ali-Frazier. Speaking of guys identifiable without the use of first names, Bird and Magic went mano y mano three times in NBA Finals. And in baseball, there was the trilogy of The Bad News Bears, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.
There's no trilogy to talk about in MMA's featherweight division, unless you're noting that title fights come in threes for Florian. Kenny twice went for the UFC belt as a lightweight, first back in 2006 when he lost a unanimous decision to Sean Sherk, then in 2009 when he was choked out by B.J. Penn. Now he's dropped 10 pounds and, after an impressive win over Diego Nunes in June, he's getting another shot at becoming a champion. He's bigger and stronger than Aldo, but will that be enough to tame the beast that rages in the Brazilian?
9: Decisions in his last 11 fights.
4: Fight of the Night bonuses (in 10 UFC bouts).
2: Takedowns surrendered to Maynard in their last bout, on 12 attempts. According to CompuStrike stats, Gray was 8-of-10 in their first meeting.
0: Career losses.
0: Finishes in his eight fights since a nine-second KO of Joe Veres in September 2007.
44: Punches he landed in the first round of the last Edgar bout, when he put Frankie in deep trouble but couldn't finish him.
What we should expect from the lightweights: The first time they met, Maynard manhandled Edgar. The second time, Frankie did get caught in the first round, but once he recovered he used speed and footwork to confound Gray's attacks. The champion keeps evolving. How will that show itself in this bout? I suspect Edgar will jab-jab-jab Maynard to death, or at least to frustration and perhaps even desperation, then take advantage if the challenger loses patience. Of course, Gray has five rounds in which to land a big shot, and if he does, he'll be doing whatever he can to not let Frankie off the hook this time.
Why we should care: Well, that shiny leather belt around Edgar's waist means something. And the zero in the loss column in Maynard's record means something, too. And seeing two guys go at it after being in with each other before means the feeling-out process already has been felt out.
12: Consecutive wins.
1: KO in his last three fights (but six straight before that).
82: Percent of leg strikes he's landed over his career, according to CompuStrike stats.
2: Previous title shots, both at lightweight.
40: Weight difference, in pounds, between this fight and when Florian competed on Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show as a middleweight.
10: Finishes (eight submissions, two KOs) in his 12 UFC victories.
What we should expect: Aldo has always been the bully. Striking that pose won't work against the bigger, stronger Florian. Aldo does, however, have a big edge in speed. But Kenny has too much experience, much of it in big fights, to be swarmed over. He'll try to keep the pace to his liking, and I wouldn't be surprised if he attempts to get the fight to the mat. Of course, that's easier said than done against a guy who, according to CompuStrike stats, stuffs all but nine percent of takedowns attempted against him.
Why we should care: There's the belt -- and there's also the intrigue. How will Florian, who's been in with bigger, stronger guys like Maynard, B.J., Sherk, Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez, fare against a smaller but much quicker man? How will Aldo deal with not being the alpha male?
"He's a tough kid. He came back off of that. I mean, even I was amazed."-- Gray Maynard, talking at Wednesday's UFC press conference about Edgar's ability to survive his first-round onslaught last time.
"I don't think he has my number. I think the last fight showed that."-- Frankie Edgar, at the press conference, clearly alluding to the Rounds 2 through 5.
"He's very unique, a fast, explosive guy. He's similar to B.J. but more of a kicker. I think he's dangerous on the ground, too."-- Kenny Florian, during a recent conference call with MMA media, speaking of Aldo.
"He's really just focused on his own training. The opponent doesn't matter as long as they're in there and well prepared."-- Translator for Aldo, during the conference call.
"Nobody wants to fight Brian but somebody's got to. Our paths have to cross. We're in the same weight class, and it's not that deep of a pool. And he keeps whipping everybody."-- Sonnen, during the conference call, speaking of Stann.
"I don't have to outwrestle him out there on Saturday night. The oddsmakers and people keep telling me about this fight and how much of a long shot I am. They forget that -- I even went back to my bout agreement and checked: I can punch in this fight, so I feel good."-- Brian Stann on his ability to neutralize the wrestling of Sonnen ...
"I got put in timeout for a while, but now I'm back."-- Sonnen, getting in the last word at the press conference, on his 14-month absence from the cage.
Trashing the talk: Chael Sonnen likes Brian Stann. What's not to like about a humble war hero? But it does seem a bit surreal to hear Chael being so civil to an opponent. At a press conference Wednesday, he even trotted out the name of Silva -- whom he'll rematch next, presumably, if he wins Saturday -- so he could work out those trash-talking muscles of his before they atrophy. That's not the rustiness that should concern Sonnen, though. More important to the task at hand: He hasn't fought in 14 months, after running afoul of a federal court and a state athletic commission. Now he has the Marines to contend with.
Stand and deliver: Melvin Guillard is a terror on his feet but a fish out of water when the fight hits the mat. OK, that's a bit harsh. He can wrestle, but really, he has no business going to the canvas with Joe Lauzon, who has 16 submissions in his 20 career victories. If Guillard extends his win streak to six straight, he'll be deeply in the mix among lightweight contenders.
The replacements: First, Josh Grispi was injured, replaced by Nam Phan. Then Matt Grice was hurt, and Leonard Garcia stepped in, Voila! We end up with a rematch of a fight last December that was pretty good and which a lot of people think the judges got wrong. It's a win for fans, a chance for redemption for Phan and even Garcia, who is perceived to have received a gift last time.
A Spike in interest: Nothing comes for free -- just try not paying your cable bill -- but the two bouts available on basic cable (8 p.m. ET, Spike) have some appeal. Demian Maia, perhaps the best jiu-jitsu player in all of MMA and a former challenger for the middleweight title, takes on Jorge Santiago. And Anthony Pettis, who with a leaping-off-the-cage kick against Ben Henderson won him the WEC lightweight belt last December and demonstrated why he's known as "Showtime," faces Jeremy Stephens.