When their UFC 125 title fight opened Gray Maynard had little regard for UFC champ Frankie Edgar. He'd beaten him before, back in 2008 and Edgar had nothing for Maynard in that fight. Maynard threw Edgar around and took a decision easily. He expected to brush Edgar aside and take the title on New Year's Day 2011.
A lot of UFC fans agreed about Edgar. While they were pretty bored by Maynard, they saw Edgar as an imposter on the lightweight throne, not a real champion, just a placeholder. Sure Edgar had outworked and outpointed B.J. Penn in back-to-back fights at UFC 112 and UFC 118, but few were convinced Penn was at his best in those fights. Many complained about Edgar's point-fighting style.
The consensus was that Edgar was too small, too limited offensively, too reliant on speed and wrestling. When he ran into a stronger wrestler like Maynard with finishing power, his reign would be over.
The first round of Edgar vs. Maynard II at UFC 125 seemed to bear out Maynard and the doubters.
Frankly Gray beat the crap out of Edgar for 3 and 1/2 minutes. He caught him with a sharp left hook that staggered him then poured on another 90 or so punches, uppercuts and hooks mostly, that somehow didn't finish the champ.
You can see the doubt starting to set in in Maynard's mind somewhere around the one minute mark in the round. Maynard can't believe Edgar isn't finished after this beating. Neither can anyone else watching.
You can really see the baffled, frustrated look on Maynard's face after the round ends. He's just realized that he's dragged Frankie Edgar into the deepest possible waters and given him everything he had and Edgar somehow bobbed back up to the surface, unsinkable.
It's there for the early parts of round two until a revitalized Edgar starts catching Gray with sharp right hands, then the frustrated look is replaced by a sort of shock.
After a good talking to by coach Randy Couture in his corner before the third, Maynard recomposed himself, but he never again took Edgar lightly. The easy confidence that he could crush this kid were long gone. The rest of the fight was a back-and-forth affair between foes with a great deal of respect for each other.
Sure Maynard thought he won the fight, but he knows he didn't break Frankie Edgar or even come close.
As fans we've had a similar experience. The great and fearsome B.J. Penn somehow couldn't brush Edgar aside. By the end of their first five rounds, Edgar was clearly in control of the fight. By the end of their final five rounds, it was clear Edgar is just the better man.
But a lot of us clung to the notion that B.J. just hadn't been motivated by "little Frankie" and coasted through his training camps for those fights. Surely Gray Maynard would snuff this punk's title reign and send him down to featherweight where he belongs we thought.
But then came UFC 125 and Edgar's epic feat of survival and will. No one who saw Edgar running for his life, hurt, barely clinging to consciousness for most of four minutes, only to come back and decisively win the second round can doubt the heart and will of this fighter, this champion.
All sports reveal something about their best practictioners, but fight sport really digs deep and exposes the true mettle of the individual. We've seen what Frankie Edgar is made of and it's steel. Hard-forged, incredibly resilient steel.
Cage fighting may seem like a symptom of societal decline, but when it reveals human wonders like Frankie Edgar's will to survive and triumph, it's contributing something very special to society.