UFC 144: EDGAR V HENDERSON PREVIEW

MARSHALL ART give us his thoughts ahead of this weekend’s massive PPV from Japan where the headline fight is Frankie “The Answer” Edgar vs. Benson “Smooth” Henderson in five rounds for the UFC Lightweight Championship. You can catch the action live on ESPN, Sunday Feb 26 from 3am.

Our main event is a fight that, had prior events played out a little differently, we could have seen a year ago.

December 2010 saw the final World Extreme Cagefighting event, WEC 53. Following this event, WEC fighters would compete under the UFC banner, with the champions simply trading their WEC belts for UFC ones. The lightweight situation was more complex; the UFC already had a champion, thus there would be a unification match.

The main event featured Ben Henderson defending his Lightweight title against Anthony Pettis. Henderson lost in what was a considerable upset, but the fight will be better remembered for one of the most remarkable moments in MMA history. After 24 minutes of fighting, Pettis had the energy and the audacity to do this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LH7oRb5Knjc

and with one spectacular kick, Pettis scored a knockdown, claimed a close round, won the Championship and turned Henderson’s career path on its head.

Yet this is just one half of the picture.

Two weeks after WEC 53 came the New Year and along with it, UFC 125. Edgar vs. Maynard II headlined and Pettis was to learn who he’d face in his title fight. But things are never that simple in the UFC.

The title match ended in a split draw, thus Edgar retained. Immediately following the event, UFC owner Dana White announced Pettis would get his title fight despite the questionable conclusion, but quickly went back on his word (as he is prone to). Maynard got his immediate rematch and Pettis was out of title contention.

So as much as Henderson may regret his final WEC fight, things panned out rather well for him. Had he retained his championship, he either would have fought a top contender in his UFC debut, or been in a holding pattern for over a year. Pettis decided on the former and suffered a decision loss to Clay Guida. By the time Henderson met Guida last November, he had two UFC wins including a complete domination of perennial contender Jim Miller.

Henderson has eased his way into the limelight rather than being thrust into it. There’s a lot to be said for this approach; the experience of fighting in front of such a big crowd has a tendency to unnerve people entering The Octagon for the first time. Combining this with a seasoned UFC veteran as an opponent is a recipe for disaster.

What does this all mean? Well, I think we have a much better fight coming up than we would have a year ago. There’s a strong argument that Henderson’s loss to Pettis came at a time when he was rapidly improving all areas of his game. He’s had the opportunity to hone these skillsin his three UFC bouts to date and any remaining anxiety about fighting should be quelled.

What of Edgar? Well, he’s the only UFC champion to maintain the aura of an underdog, even though he’s held the title for nearly two years. I can’t say why, but I can’t say I disagree either. Outside of the ever-volatile heavyweight division, Edgar is the only champion I struggle to put money on. This is a man with just one loss; a loss which he has already avenged.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to have confidence in a champion who could have been finished in each of his last two fights … still, he found a way to win. Edgar always seems to have “The Answer” to whatever his opponents throw at him.

A contender in the form of his life against a champion who always finds a way to win. We’re in for one hell of a fight.

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