The packed Saitama Super Arena in Japan witnessed Benson ‘Smooth’ Henderson (16-2) depose Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar (14-2-1) from the UFC lightweight title. Edgar was implementing his game plan of sticking, moving, and out-positioning the challenger, and was even outwrestling Henderson and put him on his back late in the second, when an up kick from the downed challenger broke the champion’s nose. There was no answer to that, and it was the beginning of the end of Edgar’s reign.
Edgar’s speed and ability to read his opponent stifled Henderson’s superior size and larger toolkit, for a time, but Henderson’s powerful leg and body kicks took their toll. Edgar saw most of the kicks coming and caught several, one which had Henderson throwing a spinning kick that whizzed past Edgar’s head (see photo above). Added to the broken nose was a left eye partially swollen shut.
Henderson landed more significant strikes and it showed. Despite taking the worst of the shots in the exchanges, Edgar’s energy level was high, as always, and he kept attempting and getting takedowns, which Henderson was able to bounce up from relatively quickly.
Edgar also escaped an arm-in guillotine choke while in full guard, something I’ve not witnessed in nearly twenty years watching the sport. The final round brought out the best of both fighters. Knowing he was behind, Edgar got Henderson down, but Henderson reversed to gain top position just as the final bell sounded.
We haven’t seen the last of Edgar. The former champ---who beat BJ Penn twice in 2010 and knocked out Gray Maynard last year---is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, but happens to inhabit one of the most stacked and dangerous divisions in the UFC. His relative small stature in that weight class means he could easily move down to 145, should 155 prove too big in the long run for the New Jersey native.
Henderson won’t be able to rest for long. Earlier in the card, Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis beat Joe Lauzon with a stunning head kick in a fight sure to catapult him to a title fight with Henderson. In December, 2010, Henderson---then the WEC 155 pound champion---lost a five round battle with Pettis, in which Pettis floored Smooth with a highlight reel kick thrown by careening off the fence---a strike seen around the world.
But the best story of all is Henderson’s mother, who sat cageside, cheering on her son. The single mother put her son into martial arts because their father was not there for them, and she thought Benson needed to be able protect himself. He can. The smile on her face was worth the entrance fee, and told the story of a hard working mom whose efforts have paid off handsomely. You might say it was her win.
This was perhaps the most stacked card the UFC has had, a fact that was hard to absorb considering Japanese fans do not cheer during the fight. They may clap or boo between rounds or after the match, but watching the UFC in a huge, oddly silent super arena is akin to hearing Niagara Falls not flow.