This time Frankie Edgar made it out of the first round unscathed.
Maybe that was the problem.
Instead of having to impress the judges by digging deep and surging back from the kind of jaws-of-defeat early beatdown dealt to him in his last two fights by Gray Maynard, the lightweight champion merely bobbed and weaved his way through the early stages of the main event of UFC 144 Saturday night in the suburbs of Tokyo, the fight promotion's first event in Japan in 11 years. He landed punches and kicks and takedowns throughout the round and avoided much of what Benson Henderson had to offer. He took care of business.
Edgar looked sharp. And as the rounds wore on, he continued to punch more, kick more, score more takedowns . . . and look no less sharp.
Until you took a good look at the guy. Then you realized he was pretty beat up. Maynard spilled a lot of Edgar's blood in their two title bouts, but he never closed the champ's eye the way Henderson did.
And sometimes what matters most to fight judges, it seems, is not so much what they've watched but what they see. So when the scorecards were read, it was not the bruised and bloody reigning champion who had his hand raised but the largely unmarked challenger. Or, as cage announcer Bruce Buffer referred to Henderson after reading the unanimous-decision scores (49-46 on two cards, 48-47 on the other), "the new UFC lightweight champion of the world."
This was no robbery. It was not even a shocking result. But it does call into question the stock a judge ought to put in the cuts and bruises on a fighter's face, especially when that fighter shows no debilitating effect and ends up having landed more strikes, more significant strikes and a lot more takedowns. How much do you weigh those factors against a bloody nose?
"I thought I did enough to win -- the guys [in the corner] were telling me," said Edgar (14-2-1) afterward. "But those are the breaks, man. Congrats to Ben."
The most telling blow for Henderson (16-2) came in the second round after one of Edgar's seven takedowns (Ben had two). With the challenger on his back near the cage, Frankie stood up to better his position and Henderson nailed him with an upkick. It stunned Edgar, and he fell to the mat, allowing Ben to get a reversal.
"I gotta thank 'Cowboy' Cerrone for that one, because he landed that one on me, and I told him I was going to land it on somebody else," said Henderson. "That hurt bad."
Indeed, it did. The kick especially hurt Edgar in the eyes of the judges, as it connected high on the champ's left cheek, just below the eye, and soon the area was purple and swollen, the eye opening barely a slit. That surely didn't look good to the cageside observers with pencils and scorecards.
Ironic that it would come to that for Henderson. Fourteen months ago he was the WEC champion engaged in a close title fight with Anthony Pettis, who in the final round demonstrated why he's known as "Showtime" when he leaped off the cage with a wild roundhouse kick never before seen in an MMA fight. It knocked Henderson to the mat, and even though Pettis didn't finish him, that kick was simply too spectacular to not be rewarded. Henderson lost the decision and his belt that night.
Now he has a belt around his waist again. With his 14th victory in his last 15 fights, Ben Henderson is the UFC lightweight champion. He'll take the trade.