This Saturday Gray Maynard and UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar will complete one of just a handful of trilogies in UFC history. The first two fights have been evenly contested, back and forth contests, that tested the will and martial arts skill of each man. The second bout, a title fight at UFC 125 ruled a draw, was an instant classic in the eyes of most observers. Fewer recall their first bout, a more modest contest on the undercard of a UFC Fight Night. Let's break down the fight to see what we might be able to learn from a contest more than three years in the past.
5:00-4:00: The first bout between the two top lightweights in the world was on the undercard of a UFC Fight Night featuring Joe Lauzon and Kenny Florian. For the third fight, more than three years later, both Lauzon and Florian will be in supporting roles underneath Maynard and Edgar.
"Somebody's "0" has got to go," Edgar said, venturing well into the realm of the cliche. The bout begins with Edgar, light on his feet, walking Maynard down, looking for his time to pounce. Walking down isn't exactly the proper description. Edgar is bouncing like a Tiger with a Pooh in sight. Maynard misses with two early punches, one an uppercut that would have sent Edgar to the moon.
At 4:25, Maynard misses badly with a punch and Edgar shoots in for a takedown. Maynard stuffs it without even breaking a sweat. This is part of the reason he actually asked for this fight. Maynard was that confident his wrestling would be the difference. "That's what he said he was going to do," color commentator Joe Rogan said. "Stuff the takedown and punish him on his feet."
4:00-3:00: In the early stages no one is really getting the better of the standup. Frankie lands a few one off punches, but isn't putting combinations together. Maynard is throwing in bunches, but not coming anywhere close to actually hitting the speedy Edgar. The two trade jabs and it seems clear Edgar is more comfortable on his feet. Maynard has crisp technique, but he seems to think long and hard about everything he does, like he's trying to remember the proper footwork in his head. His boxing, a work in progress, was still in its primitive stages in 2008.
3:00-2:00: When Edgar throws, Maynard covers up, sometimes even closing his eyes. Edgar lands a few pitty pat blows and a leg kick. Maynard attempts to land big, but misses. He finally connects with a big right, and a jab, but Edgar continues to be the aggressor. Maynard is stuck in the role of counter puncher with Edgar dancing around him. At 2:19, Edgar throws a four punch combination. At least one lands solidly, but they all got the judges' attention I'm sure. And Maynard's we learn, as Goldberg points out a small cut over his right eye.
Edgar continues to press the action, throwing in bunches and Maynard has had enough, scoring with a power double leg takedown and plopping Edgar right on his back.
2:00-1:00: On the ground, a whole new technical battle emerges. Maynard holds onto the legs, looking to pass guard. Edgar puts himself in a position to hit a switch and take the advantage. Edgar wins, in the short term at least, getting back to his feet and scrambling for the fence, searching desperately to break Maynard's body lock. "Gray not letting go," Rogan says. "He's holding onto him like a pitbull."
Edgar is able to turn around and face Maynard, who almost immediately puts him right back on the mat, this time landing in his opponent's full guard. While Goldberg tells a story about Maynard's training partners, Maynard is busy getting to work, landing a huge right hand that had all of his 155 pounds behind it.
1:00-0:00: "Edgar in an unfamiliar position here," Rogan says. "On his back, on the bottom. In most of his UFC fights he's been the one on top." For the most part he's handling the adversity well. Maynard scores with some shots to the body, but Edgar avoids any other big blows. Maynard does just enough not to get stood up. Edgar stays busy himself, moving around a lot, at one point even sneaking his legs up Maynard's back like he might consider an armbar attempt.
Maynard, looking for that fight ending shot, postures up and Edgar immediately looks for the escape. He gets to his feet, but the three time All American from Michigan State controls him in a front facelock and brings the bout right back to the canvas. "The minute Gray Maynard looked to posture up, Edgar spun away," Goldberg points out. Edgar finally gets back to his feet and the two exchange punches for the last 30 seconds. Maynard has a very stout jab that is his best punch. He's landing that consistently. His power punches are a different story. Edgar always seems to be a step quicker and avoids the hard punches.
5:00-4:00: The second round begins much like the first. Edgar takes control of the Octagon, with Maynard responding by throwing some ludicrously hard punches, so hard he almost falls over when he hits nothing but air. Edgar charges forward and lands two punches.
Maynard fakes a shot, which actually ends up being a jab to the thigh, then shoots his hand up to land a glancing punch to the head. "I like that," Rogan says. "Fake low and go high." At 4:30 Edgar shoot again after having a left-right combination blocked on Maynard's gloves. Maynard's wrestling was beastly at this point in his career though, and he shrugs Edgar off, almost disdainfully. "Both times Edgar has gone for the takedown he's been stuffed with authority by Maynard," Goldberg says. "Not even close on his takedown attempts."
4:00-3:00: Maynard's attempts are a different story all together as he sets Edgar almost gently on the mat with an effortless double leg. Edgar's corner is telling him to wall walk and he's fighting like heck to get back to his feet. When it looks like he might pull it off, Maynard breaks contact just enough to land a hard knee to the body. Savvy move by Maynard, but it just makes Edgar mad.
When he does make it to is feet, Edgar unleashes a hard combination, landing a left elbow and a solid right hand. "That has given him some new life," Goldberg says, and it seems to be true. He's quicker to the punch now and lands another hard right.
3:00-2:00: Edgar continues to win the boxing match, and I enjoy what may be the longest moment of silence in UFC broadcast history. There is about ten seconds with no banter, no plugs for Spike television shows, and no extraneous discussion of any sort. It's glorious. Of course, nothing lasts forever. "Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, looking to really move into the world title picture," Goldberg says. And we're back.
Maynard's jab continues to be the best weapon in either's arsenal, but he's not using it enough. At 2:05 Maynard grabs a clinch and looks for a takedown. At 2:02, he's looking at the ceiling, victim of an awesome Frankie Edgar throw. "Beautiful use of momentum," Rogan says.
2:00-1:00: Maynard's not content to lay on the mat for long,getting right back to his feet. "Gray has to be aware that that's scoring points (for Edgar)," Rogan says. "We'll see if he tries to win that back." He seems to have boxing on his mind instead, blocking an Edgar high kick and then landing a good left hook. Edgar is charging Maynard a lot, leading with his head in a quasi-legal manner. It's not Victor Ortiz bad, but if he lands a headbutt it won't be by accident.
1:00-0:00: Edgar is staying very active, following a three punch combination with a head kick. Nothing lands, but the altitude in Broomfield, Colorado isn't a factor yet. At 47 seconds Maynard scores another easy takedown. This time he refuses to let Edgar up to his feet, but the scrappy Clarion University graduate immediately grabs a kimura. If he can't just pop up, he'll look for another way to get back to the standup game. The kimura has Maynard spooked and the two spend the final 30 seconds in a stalemate, waiting for the bell to ring.
5:00-4:00: Maynard opens the third round the same way he did the first two - throwing heavy leather. This time he finally strikes gold, landing a big right hand. Edgar scores a counter of his own, then wisely jumps out, just as Maynard unleashes a blistering left hook. Maynard shoots for another double and gets in deep. Edgar defends nicely though, eventually using a whizzer to nearly give Gray a taste of his own medicine. The two end up pushed up against the cage after a nifty wrestling sequence. "What a battle for control," Goldberg says.
Referee Adam Martinez, who has been seen but not heard all fight, warns Edgar for grabbing the fence. He has Gray pressed against the cage and is landing some shoulder shrugs. He breaks, but not cleanly, scoring with an elbow and a left hand. Edgar seems the fresher man after more than ten minutes of fighting, scoring with a combination. Maynard fakes a shot and then throws a big uppercut. It was nicely done, but just misses.
4:00-3:00: "Man, I would not want to be a judge in this fight," Rogan says. On cue, Edgar looks to score points with a single leg, but Maynard defends nicely. Rogan tells Goldberg he gave Gray the first round. The second? "Who knows man."
Edgar can't finish his takedown and Maynard takes advantage with a double leg. "It's almost over Frankie," his corner shouts. "Dig, dig." Edgar responds, escaping to his feet, but Maynard picks him up over his shoulder for a big slam. "That's big," Rogan says, talking about the takedown itself and its effect on the judge's cards. "It's just such a slight advantage, the wrestling," Rogan continues. "But it's proving to be a big difference."
3:00-2:00: Edgar continues to be very active on the bottom. It prevents Maynard from doing much at all, either to hurt him or score points. All his energy is invested in keeping Edgar down. But when Frankie does escape to his feet again, Maynard is ready, securing another huge slam. "He's so strong," Rogan says. This time Gray gets Edgar's back, a much better position to finally put in some work on the ground.Or so it seems. Maynard misses his chance to get in his hooks, Edgar controls Gray's wrist, and all of the sudden Maynard is unable to ground and pound - again.
Amazingly Edgar again escapes to his feet. But the non stop defense has left him exhausted, breathing heavily from the mouth. He sucks it up and lands four consecutive elbows to the face, alternating arms and scoring like a piston. Maynard doesn't even seem to notice. Or maybe he can't spare the energy for a reaction?
2:00-1:00: Frankie Edgar absolutely exhausted," Goldberg says. "That's the first time we've ever seen that from him," Rogan adds. It's not enough to prevent him from continuing on as the aggressor, still coming forward with combination punching. At 1:44 Maynard charges forward with what might end up being the fight winning takedown. Once again he puts Edgar over his shoulder like a rag doll and tosses him down.
"Frankie Edgar realizes he's in big trouble," Goldberg says as Maynard takes the mount. Edgar just won't stop though, and he's soon in half guard and looking to escape once again. He's not as active as before and it allows Maynard to score with a solid elbow. Maynard has been on top for much of the fight, but that was his first chance to land any ground and pound since the first round.
1:00-0:00: The opportunity is fleeting. Edgar again teases a Kimura, then looks for an armbar when Maynard pulls free. Maynard defends easily and the miss leaves Edgar vulnerable. Gray gets side control and lands hard knees to the body. The fight ends with Maynard on top, in control, but with Edgar doing just enough to keep Gray occupied and prevent him from doing damage. It was an incredibly close fight, much closer than the unanimous 30-27 scorecards might indicate.
"I'm bigger," Maynard said after the fight. "He's a tough kid but I was kind of like, alright, he's a little small. I think I can pick him up and kind of throw him around a little bit."