At UFC 156, we got the first of many promised superfights between champions (or former champions, in Frankie Edgar’s case) in separate divisions. Edgar, of course, was not able to pry the UFC Featherweight Championship from Jose Aldo’s grip, but he gave a valiant effort and provided one of his now-trademark comebacks. This one just fell a little short.
The question that I had after the fight was more about Aldo’s strategy than Edgar’s, though. The first two rounds weren’t even close, thanks not only to Aldo’s super-sharp counter-punching (and yes, Edgar’s typically slow start), but to a large degree, the leg kicks of Aldo. Aldo had hurt Edgar bad on the outside of the former lightweight champ’s lead leg in the first ten minutes, even knocking him off of his feet with a couple of kicks.
I wondered aloud during the later rounds if an attempted takedown by Edgar off of an Aldo low kick had made Aldo nervous about attempting more of them, but that didn’t make sense to me. After all, Aldo had been not only fending off Edgar’s takedowns (including that one) regularly, but with visible ease. Furthermore, the leg kicks were so effective that surely they were worth the risk? I started wondering if an earlier kick where Aldo’s foot had smacked Edgar’s leg (rather than his shin, as desired) had hurt Aldo, leading him to abandon the kicks.
Sure enough though, Aldo admitted after the fight that the takedown attempt had dissuaded him from throwing them. A puzzling admission, and one that could have cost him the fight (and surely cost him a great chance at finishing Edgar).
Meanwhile, Edgar simply came out of the gate much too slow. As in his previous fights, his movement didn’t pick up in tempo until the third round, and he just didn’t look fast on his feet in the first two rounds. He moved around, but then would settle in to throw punches and provide a hittable, stationary target for Aldo. Nowhere to be found was the distinctive, back and forth rhythm of his usual fights, punctuated by stinging, accurate punches.
I think what ultimately hurt Edgar with the judges (particularly in rounds three and five, the closest two rounds of the fight) were that while he landed with consistency (FightMetric had Edgar out-striking Aldo in each of the two rounds), Aldo always seemed to land the “louder”, more memorable shots. While Edgar’s shots often came clouded in exchanges where both men were throwing or as parts of combinations, Aldo landed single, dynamic blows, like his off-the-cage Superman punch in the closing seconds of the fight. Those kinds of shots steal close rounds, as we saw on Saturday night.
Apathy Rears Its Ugly Head
Here’s a study in contrast between two fights that fans seemed to dislike in equal measure. You have the Antonio Rogerio Nogueira-Rashad Evans bout and the Demian Maia-Jon Fitch bout. Now, there are plenty of similarities between the two. Both were surprising fights that went to the judges, but neither one was particularly competitive, with the decision being clear in each case. Of course, neither fight was particularly exciting, either (although I’ll argue that Maia-Fitch was fascinating because of the way Maia turned the tables on Fitch, using Fitch’s own suffocating style against him).
The contract that I want to focus on is not that one fight was a standup bout and the other was almost entirely focused on mat work. Instead, I want to talk about apathy and what I believe to be its cause: false security.
After his fight, Evans appeared to be the only person in the building who was shocked that Nogueira got the nod. Earlier in the bout, I kept wondering, “Why isn’t Rashad trying something different? Did he really not prepare to face a competent jab?” Nogueira is known for his boxing and it would seem that a game plan based on his jab would be obvious and easy to anticipate for Rashad, yet Rashad never pushed the pace, tried anything new, or showed any kind of urgency.
Apparently, that’s because he thought he was winning. What drives me crazy, though, is that he had to know that if they didn’t belong to Nogueira outright, the rounds were at least close, and he needed to step it up. Yet somehow, he didn’t seem to know or didn’t seem to care (the latter seems less likely). My thing is: if it’s a close fight, why not show some urgency? Why not adjust your strategy when you’re getting jabbed to death?
Fitch, on the other hand, can’t be criticized for his effort level. He tried to reverse position, to defend Maia’s takedowns, to mount an offense of his own. He just couldn’t. That I can live with as a viewer. What drives me crazy is when fighters don’t switch up a game plan that obviously isn’t working and don’t step up their effort level in fights that they are clearly losing or that are obviously close.
–Another fighter who inexplicably looked shocked by a very obvious judges’ decision was Ian McCall. McCall looked genuinely surprised that Joseph Benavidez got the nod over him, which made me say, “Really?!?” I mean, when you’re rocked multiple times in multiple rounds, do you think you’re going to win that fight? Particularly when you aren’t completing your takedowns and getting woefully outstruck in general?
–Maybe part of the problem is the worst thing to have as a fighter: an optimistic cornerman. Why would you tell a fighter that he “definitely” took a close round, as Aldo’s corner told him after the third round of his fight? You can’t assume that your fighter won a close round; we’ve learned that lesson a thousand times over by now. By telling them that they’ve “definitely” won a round that was in fact close, you’re giving them license to get cautious, get conservative, and drop a round or more that they don’t think they need, but actually might, in reality.
–Another lesson that should have been learned by now: finish your opponent when you have a chance. Alistair Overeem was dominating Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, but instead of exploding on him, he seemed content to conserve his limited energy and taunt him. By the third round, he wasn’t bothering to show any respect to Silva’s own striking power, and he paid the price, losing out on a big money title fight in the process.
–Welcome to the UFC, Tyron Woodley. Looks like you’ll fit in just fine.
Come on, get up! Let’s fight! I want to fight! Get up!
-What Silva was yelling at Overeem as Herb Dean struggled to hold him back after their bout was stopped. See, this is why it’s not a good idea to talk trash before you face a high-level opponent, people.
Movin’ On Up Award
It may not have been a “popcorn fight”, but I was impressed and surprised by the way that Demian Maia dominated Jon Fitch. Despite the somewhat puzzling lack of a 10-8 round on any of the three judges’ scorecards, Fitch did next to nothing in the bout and was repeatedly threatened as Maia took him down and took his back with ease. Seeing Fitch get outstruck or knocked out is one thing, but seeing him beaten at his own game, and in such decisive fashion? That was kind of mind-blowing. Maia’s wrestling has obviously improved, and he’s clearly a real contender at 170 pounds.
Beautiful Loser Award
We saw two gutsy performances by fighters who ended up on the wrong side of the judges’ scorecards, with both Frankie Edgar and Ian McCall being visibly hurt in their bouts but gamely fighting on, working hard, and even winning rounds in the process. However, Edgar gets the nod here because not many fighters can take a round from Jose Aldo, let alone do so after the punishment Edgar took early in the fight. He may not be getting an immediate rematch, but Edgar’s not going anywhere, and would be a top five fighter at 155, 145, or 135 pounds.
Holy $#!% Award
A brutal beatdown like the one Silva laid on Overeem would be a “holy shit” moment anyway, but after losing two rounds and being mocked all the while, it was all the more shocking. The image of Silva landing pinpoint shots in rapid succession while Overeem is held up only by the fence before ultimately slumping to the ground is a powerful one, and it will take a couple of great performances (and likely a successful rematch against Silva) for Overeem to get any of the mystique back that he previously had as a hulking, dangerous striker.