“Robbery of the Year” it was not, but Frankie Edgar did enough to beat Benson Henderson in the UFC 150 main event on Saturday in Denver.
Watching the fight live, I scored the bout 49-46 in favor of Edgar, who managed to avoid falling victim to any type of tide-turning moment -- like the vicious upkick Henderson landed in their first meeting at UFC 144 -- and finished the contest stronger than he started it. However, outside of the bout’s opening 10 minutes, nothing was definitive. Round one belonged to Henderson, who cracked the challenger repeatedly with low kicks and finished the frame with his signature submission, the guillotine, locked around Edgar’s neck as time expired. Round two was Edgar’s, thanks largely to a right hand that floored the champion, the first time Henderson had been knocked down during his UFC tenure.
The next fifteen minutes, however, were open to interpretation. At the end of the match, judges Dave Hagen and Mark Van Tine scored the fight 48-47 Henderson, giving the MMA Lab product the nod in rounds one, three and four. Tony Weeks saw it 49-46 Edgar, giving the Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu representative all but the opening round. Meanwhile, five out of six media members’ scorecards favored Edgar -- Sherdog.com’s TJ De Santis scored it a draw -- and so did the crowd at the Pepsi Center, judging by the largely negative reaction once it was announced that Henderson had won a split decision.
“I am disappointed,” Edgar said during a post-fight interview on Fuel TV. “I put a lot of time in; my team put [in] a lot of time. I was confident. I felt like I pushed the pace, I landed more punches, I got the takedowns and I dropped him. My team thought I won it, too, and even the crowd seemed like they were behind me.”
Statistics alone do not tell the entire story. The bout was much more evenly matched than their initial meeting, when the aforementioned upkick by Henderson in the second round seemed to cause Edgar to fade down the stretch. At UFC 144, Henderson out-landed “The Answer” by 19 significant strikes overall and 13 over the last three rounds. In the rematch, Edgar held a slight edge in that category, 66 to 62, but his 19-to-14 advantage in the final frame was the largest differential. In other words, a two- or three-strike advantage does not necessarily a winning round make. This was definitely a fight that called for further examination.
After watching the bout again on Sunday, I still have Edgar winning, with one slight revision. Upon review, I gave Henderson round three, changing my unofficial scorecard to 48-47 for Edgar. Despite being out-landed 15 to 13 in significant strikes by Edgar, “Smooth” connected with the more resounding blows in the third period.
“I hear that so much,” said former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir on Fuel TV, “but I don’t think the judges score it that way. They look at ring control, strikes, grappling. Maybe round three goes to Henderson because he’s the champ.”
Or perhaps the judges were swayed by the champion’s antics in round four, when a combination dislodged Edgar’s mouthpiece and Henderson later demonstratively threw up his arms, imploring his opponent to bring it. It was simply that type of fight. Depending on what you value most, each round could hinge on one or two pivotal moments.
Since he became entrenched in the lightweight title picture a couple years ago, Edgar has been a polarizing figure for people who score fights: those who earn the duty via official appointment or judges of the armchair variety.
It began on April 10, 2010, when a heavily favored B.J. Penn relinquished the 155-pound belt to the scrappy New Jersey native in a highly contentious decision. The majority opinion was that while Penn should have attempted to take Edgar to the mat, he still won the fight by landing harder, cleaner punches over the course of the bout. The statistics, documented by FightMetric.com, seem to support that theory, as Penn out-landed his opponent in the first three frames and battled him to a stalemate in the fourth round before getting out-struck in the final stanza. Most people would agree that it was a closely contested bout. However, judge Douglas Crosby submitted a 50-45 scorecard in favor of “The Answer.”
Four months later, Edgar erased all doubt of his title worthiness by dominating Penn for five rounds at UFC 118. There was no controversy as to who the winner was on that night.
Moving forward to 2011, Edgar looked to avenge what was then the only loss of his MMA career against Gray Maynard at UFC 125. What transpired was a wild, back-and-forth affair that would earn Sherdog.com’s “Fight of the Year” honors and solidify Edgar’s reputation as a never-say-die competitor. Maynard nearly stopped Edgar in round one, only to see the champion rally as the matchup progressed. The opening frame was a legitimate 10-8 for “The Bully,” but after that, it was a crapshoot. One judge gave the contest to Edgar, 48-46; another saw it 48-46 in favor of Maynard; the third had it a 47-47 draw.
The two rivals looked for a more satisfying resolution at UFC 136, and, once again, Edgar made a statement, surviving another early onslaught from Maynard before recovering to score a fourth-round knockout.
In his second try against Henderson, Edgar was never quite as emphatic as he was in rematches against Penn and Maynard. A guy who has been beating the odds as an undersized lightweight for this long should know he has to do everything a little bit harder, a little bit better, to get the desired results. When Henderson landed punches or kicks at UFC 150, it looked and sounded more spectacular than when Edgar connected. That alone might have been just enough.
“I thought I brought it to him,” said a dejected Edgar.
So did I, but this decision, while questionable, should not provoke all-out rage unless you are somehow directly affiliated with Team Edgar. Yes, the challenger did enough to win, but there are plenty who would argue that the champion did the same.