Gray Maynard hopes to add UFC lightweight gold to his list of accomplishments. | Photo: Sherdog.com
In the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s deepest and most talented division, challenges aplenty await the victor of Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard 3. Still, the question of who belongs at the top of the mountain remains as compelling and vexing as any potential matchup in the game. Hence, the mixed martial arts community has the UFC 136 to contemplate.
With Edgar looking to make the third defense of his championship and Maynard still the only man to have beaten him, a close, intense match seems almost assured. A cast of hungry contenders lurking in the ranks, so whoever wins will have little time to savor the victory before being thrown into an exceptionally difficult title defense.
In the co-headliner, featherweight titleholder Jose Aldo faces a seasoned challenger of his own in Kenny Florian. Blessed with potent standup ability and rare athleticism, Aldo takes on a man that owns, in many ways, a similar style to his own. In June, Florian moved down yet another weight class -- his fourth in the UFC -- to try his hand at 145 pounds.
UFC 136 -- which emanates from the Toyota Center in Houston -- also brings with it the return of Chael Sonnen, who faces former WEC champion Brian Stann in a bout that carries definite title shot implications. Here is a closer look at the main card, with breakdowns and picks.
UFC Lightweight Championship
Frankie Edgar (13-1-1, 8-1-1 UFC) vs. Gray Maynard (10-0-1, 1 NC, 8-0-1, 1 NC UFC)
The Matchup: After a stellar second match between them on New Year’s Day, Edgar-Maynard 3 brings a hopeful sense of closure to rivalry between the UFC’s top two lightweights. The duo put up a spirited five-round match in its January encounter, supplying excitement and thrills as Maynard hammered Edgar across the Octagon in a brutal opening round, only to see the champion mount an inspired rally to salvage a draw.
The rubber match also addresses the if-then statements the second bout supplied. What if Edgar had never been hurt? How much did Maynard lose going all-out for the stoppage in the first round, where he threw an astounding 97 strikes? How will each man change his strategy now, based on what he learned?
Compared to their first fight in April 2008, when Maynard scored takedowns and dominated Edgar on the mat, it was obvious that the champion had since made some key adjustments in his game. Using improved standup and footwork, he denied Maynard the distance and takedown openings he exploited at UFC Fight Night 13. Edgar’s ability to use boxing and timing makes up for his lack of numbing one-shot power, and his outstanding conditioning in his two wins over B.J. Penn proved he is never out of a fight as long as he remains conscious -- or semi-conscious, as he was for parts of his second bout with Maynard.
Psychologically, the edge coming off of UFC 125 has to go to Edgar. He recovered from a terrible pounding and even took down Maynard a few times. One has to wonder what “The Bully” will be thinking in terms of finishing Edgar if the opportunity presents itself. Will he risk going all-in again?
That said, Maynard has some equalizers Edgar does not. He is likely to get outworked on the feet in an extended striking match, as the champion’s quick right hand and great mix of strikes keeps opponents guessing, but Maynard simply has heavier hands and the wrestling horsepower to blunt Edgar’s tools. The biggest adjustment for him will be waiting and timing his shots as Edgar scoots in and out; Maynard can throw in more takedown attempts, too. Edgar, a fantastic sprawler and scrambler, will likely deny the early shots, but they will keep him honest -- and thinking.
If the fight unfolds in the center of the Octagon, a slight edge goes to Edgar, especially if he remembers to circle to his left and avoid Maynard’s left hook, which hurt him last time. Maynard should also use more kicks in this fight; he is strong enough to make them count, and he needs to be a four-limbed fighter, as Edgar utilizes everything to pile up points. Maynard should also press forward and try and force Edgar against the cage, which will negate some of the champion’s dexterity and scrambling ability. Maynard will win a battle of upper body strength and wrestling horsepower every time, but standing around and waiting to counter leaves too many openings for the talented Edgar, who always seems to have enough gas to close hard down the stretch. Maynard has to make this more of a down-and-dirty fight than the final four rounds of their last matchup.
In a battle between two of the three best lightweights in the world -- Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez being the meat in the sandwich -- it may come down to a key takedown or two and a memorable exchange in a close round.
The Pick: Psychologically, Edgar holds an edge here. He knows he can rally from the brink, and he never hesitates to push forward and burst out of a bad situation. Maynard will bring more pressure and takedown attempts, but Edgar’s ability to escape and rally will push the pace as he battles for every round, minute and exchange. In another classic fight, Edgar’s activity and volume will be just enough to pull out a split decision win.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian