Fifty-eight minutes and 54 seconds. That's how long it took Frankie Edgar to defeat Gray Maynard.
But when the UFC lightweight champion finally got the better of his previously undefeated nemesis in their third meeting, he sure did it in style.
Edgar staggered Maynard with an right uppercut while the challenger was defending a takedown, sent Gray careening against the cage with a right cross, knocked him down with an even bigger right, then followed him to the mat to finish the job with a flurry of left hands before referee Josh Rosenthal jumped in at 3:54 of the fourth round to put an emphatic end to the main event of UFC 136 Saturday night in Houston.
It was an evening in which two champions successfully defended their titles -- Jose Aldo kept his bantamweight belt with a unanimous decision win over Kenny Florian -- and another was called out with insults and a dare. That last part came courtesy of Chael Sonnen (who else?), who after choking out Brian Stann in the second round turned his aggression on middleweight king Anderson Silva (who else?), sitting at cageside.
But the night belonged to Edgar (14-1-1), who as in their New Year's Day draw had to overcome a brutal first-round battering from Maynard (10-1-1, 1 NC). The early beatdown wasn't quite as severe as last time, although it surely was enough to give Gray a 10-8 round. That meant there would be little room for error the rest of the way for Edgar if his third title defense went to the judges.
How did Frankie again get himself in such a predicament? It all started about midway through the round, when he ate a big right uppercut. Maynard saw him stagger, and came surging forward with more uppercuts, a couple of wild left hands and several knees to the body and face that had Edgar alternating between retreat and holding on. With about 1:40 left in the round, Maynard connected with a right that sent the champ to his knees. With 50 seconds left, a knee put Edgar down again.
Unlike last time, though, Maynard did not punch himself out trying to finish. He patiently looked for devastating shots for the rest of the round, and when the horn sounded and the fighters headed toward the their corners, Edgar was wobbly and winded, his face bloodied, while Maynard looked fresh and calm, as if he were out for an evening stroll. At that moment, it would have been reasonable to conclude that it was just a matter of time before Frankie would fall and his reign in the 155-pound division would end -- if only we hadn't been through this before.
And sure enough, Round 2 played out much the way it had back in January. Edgar settled down, moved, moved some more, and got into a rhythm of landing punches and kicks while making Maynard miss. Nothing Frankie landed seemed to be fazing Maynard, but maybe appearances were deceiving. What else could explain why Gray, who didn't appear winded or arm-weary, spent the round circling and circling, never closing the distance, seldom even throwing punches, much less connecting? He ended up landing just five strikes in the round, according to CompuStrike stats, after nailing Edgar with 36 in the first. Frankie landed 20 in that second round.
And so it went. The third round saw the trend continue, and the fourth was all Edgar as well. After being outstruck 36-11 in the first, Edgar outlanded Maynard 76-23 the rest of the way. And what started out as a pitter-patter eventually took its toll, much like a drip-drip-drip of water slowly eroding a mountaintop.
Then came the moment Edgar had been waiting for since April 2008, when Maynard handed him his only career loss with a unanimous decision. Frankie's desire for payback had intensified back in January, when a draw in their rematch enabled him to retain his belt but not rid himself of Maynard. That riddance finally happened late in the fourth round, when his uppercut connected. "I seen him rocking," said Edgar, "and I just went on for the kill, man."
And Frankie Edgar got the kill, unlike Gray Maynard, who had two shots at it on two different nights but couldn't close the deal either time. "You know, that last fight we had, he hurt me in the first round," said Edgar, asked about this evening's first round. "And I don't know, man, maybe I wanted to make it as exciting. Who knows?"
Aldo had a few exciting moments in his title defense, too, but faced nothing like the adversity of Edgar. Florian did land more strikes than the champ, but Aldo's had more oomph on them (a 32-9 edge in power strikes, according to CompuStrike). And while Kenny was relentless in going for takedowns, he succeeded only twice on 14 attempts. He ended up on bottom nearly every time the fight went to the mat.
"It played out great," said Also, who got the nod in four of the five rounds from all three judges. "He's a very strategic fighter, a very smart and experienced guy. And I just had to go in there and impose my game."
That he did. As did Sonnen in the showdown for status as No. 1 middleweight contender.
Stann had no answers for Chael's wrestling, and once the fight went to the mat -- as it did halfway through the first round and again within seconds of the start of the second -- he was unable to keep Sonnen from establishing dominant position. In the end, Stann succumbed to an arm triangle at 3:51 of the round.
Sonnen then turned his attention elsewhere. "Anderson Silva," he yelled into the microphone after being asked about this evening's bout, "you absolutely suck. Super Bowl weekend, the biggest rematch in the history of the business. I'm calling you out, Silva, but we're upping the stakes: I beat you, you leave the division; you beat me, I will leave the UFC forever."
With that -- and with the crowd roaring and Silva making gestures of mock fear -- Sonnen turned and stormed from the cage. And somewhere Freddie Blassie smiled.
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