Friday, February 1, 2013

Looking for a Fight: UFC 156

Jose Aldo is on the brink of becoming a superstar. (espn.com)

UFC 156 from Las Vegas will showcase a stacked card, as per the tradition for the UFC pre-Super Bowl. The headliner is the featherweight title fight between reigning kingpin Jose Aldo and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar.

A former long-reigning champ who is dropping down in weight to challenge the elite champion of another division. How is this not a superfight again?

Well the fact that superfight crux Anderson Silva isn't involved is one answer, however, that shouldn't diminish seeing two of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet go at it.

Both fighters have had their momentum slowed as this fight approaches, so in that instance the hype is hard to amp up. Aldo has been out of commission for a year due to a minor motorcycle accident that morphed into staph infection. In that time, a fight with Erick Koch fell to the wayside, and this fight with Edgar was delayed a couple of months.

The last time Aldo was in the Octagon, however, he KO'd Chad Mendes with a quick knee coming out of a clinch on the cage. He ran into his Brazilian crowd (Aldo has a pension for running into the crowd) and left one of the great images of 2012.

While "lack of momentum" means different things to different people (Aldo is still ranked #4 on most pound for pound lists) Aldo hasn't been able to fully put together his UFC highlight reel like he did in WEC. Starting with this fight on Saturday, Aldo could be poised for a great 2013. A thunderous win over Edgar won't put him above Silva, Jon Jones, or Georges St-Pierre, but he will certainly kick in the door of that elite tier of fighters.

After a half-dozen of hotly contested fights Edgar finally decided to drop to 145 after a controversial loss to still lightweight champ Benson Henderson. So coming off a loss also won't leave the fans drooling at the mouth like Silva v. Jones/GSP, but for Edgar this is the best move for his career and one many people believe he should have made as soon as the flyweight division was created in the UFC.

The stories of Edgar's size have long been discussed, but this will be his first chance to show if his speed is still speedy among other quick movers and if his boxing and power which were serviceable at 155 become huge plus marks in the Edgar column.

It's easy to say - oh, of course they'll translate, but with Edgar being able be a champion; defending his title multiple times, I think this move will prove a great service to what Edgar can do. He'll no longer always be the smallest guy in the fight (although he will be against Aldo) and in as much, he should be able to better utilize his wrestling and cardio.

Fighting at lightweight, Edgar couldn't mix it up with his opponents like he can at 145. Edgar's game was predicated on his excellent boxing, movement, and his grit/determination/heart. He couldn't engage fighters because he'd always be out muscled. His game was much more at a distance and keeping range from larger fighters getting in on him, cutting down his movement in the ring, and clobbering him in the face.

After the Aldo fight, I will be interested to see how Edgar changes as a fighter. Fighters with power are less common at 145 and Edgar will be able to use his strength to his advantage and diversify his game even more. He won't have to be concerned with the many, many obstacles that got in his way at 155 and ultimately cost him a win and caused him a lot more physical damage.

So the Frankie we get at UFC 156 will be the same as he ever was - just a little lighter - and when has that guy ever not put on a great fight?

BREAKDOWN

A lazy analysis of this fight goes something like, Edgar pushing Aldo into deep water, cardio, cardio, who wants it more, Fighter X by decision.

It makes sense and isn't wholly improbable that this will happen, however, as an unbiased Aldo fan I have a different take on what will happen.

The odds on this fight are about even among the people that cover MMA, but I'm not sure this fight will be that close.

Edgar's goal, no doubt, is to get this fight into the latter rounds, but that's much easier said than done. As I mentioned before, the Edgar we see on Saturday will be the same guy we've seen at 155. A boxer that keeps his distance and has great cardio. But what else have we seen of Edgar? A guy that gets tagged. That gets beat up. Guys like Grey Maynard and Benson Henderson don't have the power and speed that Aldo brings to the table.

Edgar won't be able to utilize his wrestling as Aldo has been impossible to take down, and it would be best for Edgar to keep his distance, which Aldo closes off in the blink of an eye.

For Aldo, I was a little worried he was catching the championship itis. This occurs when a fighter known for an aggressive style becomes much more passive and cautious. Instead of going out there to win a fight, fighter's that get the itis become more concerned with what would happen if they lost the fight than trying to win the fight. The most recent example of a fighter with the itis was Junior Dos Santos.

Aldo's win over Mendes was a flash KO, so it's difficult to tell if lack of killer instinct he had against Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick were the result of strategy or fear.

Speaking of Hominick, he's the reason Edgar should be both confident and weary about trying to get Aldo into the latter rounds. Aldo hasn't been quite as explosive as he was in his WEC days, and he's clearly put on more muscle (and possible skimped a bit on the cardio) since he entered the UFC. The muscle could be for a jump to Edgar's old division - which Aldo desperately wants to do (while still fighting at 145 of course). The possible lack of cardio is also a side effect of the itis. It's hard to tell which is the reason Aldo slows much easier, but even after Hominick battered a gassed Aldo in the 5th round, Hominick still lost.

I can see this fight starting off with a bang. Aldo will be aggressive and Edgar's movement and counter striking will have the first round go back and forth. What I see as a likelihood is that if Aldo is able to chop down Edgar's legs and limit his movement, he can go in for the kill. And unlike the past where Edgar was able to power through it vis a vis heart/will/courage he won't get that chance against Aldo.

Aldo by 3rd Round TKO.

Also, if that's not enough excitement for you to watch the PPV...this dude is fighting too...






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