Up until now, I’ve been referring to these guys as “Frank Edgar” and “Ben Henderson,” but it seems that they each prefer the longer version of their names. So, from now on, it’s Frankie and Benson.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of people suggesting they think Henderson will win this fight. Henderson is indeed an impressive fighter. He’s a big lightweight, he’s strong, he has great conditioning, and he has great skill to go on top of all of it. If Henderson is known for anything in particular (besides being the victim of Anthony Pettis’s famous Showtime kick), it’s a famous ability to escape submissions. No matter who Henderson fights, it seems that he finds himself escaping submission attempts, particularly deep choke attempts. This is not necessarily a hallmark of great Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – the best ground fighters don’t get caught in submission attempts in the first place – but even if I don’t buy the idea that it’s impossible to submit Henderson, it’s an impressive thing for sure.
I don’t know that Edgar will be trying his hand at submissions in this fight, because that’s not really Edgar’s game. Edgar instead likes to pile up points by landing strikes at very high volume, and mixing in well-timed takedowns. For an undersized lightweight, Edgar is an excellent wrestler; even against the relatively enormous Gray Maynard, Edgar was able to match his takedown abilities. Edgar may be known for his unusual but effective striking, but his wrestling is really what enables him to beat whoever the UFC puts in front of him.
I assume Edgar’s game plan here will be the same as always. Strike at high volume, move a lot, land takedowns at the right times, and either win a decision or do enough damage to score a KO, like he did to Maynard at UFC 136.
But that brings me to the reason I think a lot of people are picking Henderson to win this fight, and that’s because, for somebody who is a UFC champion, Edgar sure is skating by in a lot of fights. In both of his title defenses against Maynard, Edgar was crushed in the first round, particularly in their draw at UFC 125. Usually, UFC champions became champions in the first place because their defensive abilities are so great that they very rarely are put in great trouble. It’s not often we see a fighter like Junior dos Santos or Jon Jones reeling from a huge strike they ate. It’s rare to see Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre fighting off a submission attempt. It just doesn’t happen.
And it wasn’t just Maynard, either. When Edgar first won the lightweight championship, in Abu Dhabi at UFC 112, he did it by really skating by B.J. Penn. A lot of people argued that Penn was the real winner of that fight, and Fight Metric would seem to agree, scoring that fight for Penn both according to the ten-point must system, and for the fight as an entirety. When a fighter struggles in three out of four fights, even when the opponents are as good as B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard, it’s not a great indicator for what he’s going to do in the future.
Let’s cut to the chase. I think Edgar is better at striking distance, but not dramatically so. Strikes will go both ways, but Edgar will land more of them. I also think Edgar is the better wrestler, but again, the margin is close. Perhaps the difference maker in this fight will be the duration. I praised Henderson earlier for having good conditioning, which is mostly true, but in his last five-round fight, against Anthony Pettis, he really didn’t look good in the fifth round. It could be that Henderson should be favored in a three-round fight, but Edgar should be in a five-round fight.
SILVA PREDICTION: FRANKIE EDGAR (92.44) OVER BENSON HENDERSON (84.39)
Henderson has looked extremely impressive in the UFC so far, particularly against Jim Miller. His ability to take his opponents down and unleash an assault of strikes on the ground is something to fear. I’m just not sure Frankie Edgar is a great style match for him, as Edgar could conceivably shut down most of Henderson’s wrestling, and out-work him at striking distance. This is not a lopsided fight by any stretch of the imagination, but even with his tendency to struggle in fights, I’ll take Edgar to defend his title.