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The Blueprint - Edgar vs. Henderson

The UFC lightweight title is on the line this Saturday night as Frankie Edgar defends his crown against Benson Henderson. Michael DiSanto breaks it down.
UFC 144 - Frankie Edgar vs. Benson HendersonForget the background blather. Let’s get right to the point.

Benson Henderson will be the bigger, stronger man when he steps into the cage to challenge Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight championship this Saturday night. In fact, he will likely be the bigger man by 10 pounds or more, which is a big difference when comparing lightweights.  

That is an extremely relevant point when analyzing the main event of the UFC’s long-awaited return to Japan. It’s not relevant in the sense that it is a unique disadvantage for Edgar to overcome. He faces the same uphill battle in every fight.

It is relevant because Henderson may very well be the first man since Gray Maynard in April 2008 who will come to the cage keenly focused on actually using those physical superiorities to his advantage during the fight. In other words, I firmly believe that Henderson is coming to take the title by putting on a wrestling clinic.

Well, he had better show up with that kind of game plan. Otherwise, he won’t stand much of a chance at winning, absent the ever-present chance at landing a fight-altering strike.

How can I be so certain, you wonder? Did you watch Edgar’s last four fights? Did you see him dominate BJ Penn on the feet? Henderson is a good, accurate striker. But he is not Penn’s fistic equal. Henderson has serviceable, creative kicks. Yet, he isn’t out there winning any point-style striking matches with basically anyone over the last few years – black belt in Taekwondo notwithstanding.

Coming out and dominating the action in a striking match is not Henderson’s game. It is, by contrast, Edgar’s game. In fact, Edgar has made his championship living by using constant movement to create ever-changing angles and a difficult-to-hit target, while darting in and out with short, effective bursts of strikes. Most of those are thrown with his hands, though he will mix in the kicks, as needed, to keep his opponent honest.

Edgar uses his success on the feet to open the door for takedowns. The champ has an uncanny ability to enhance his already solid wrestling skills by seamlessly transitioning between strikes and takedowns. That is something that very few mixed martial artists truly do well. Georges St-Pierre being the other notable exception to the rule.

That style of attack is all the more effective when facing an opponent who is leading with crazy bombs or sitting back hoping to counter with big power shots. Thus, if Henderson comes out looking to overwhelm Edgar on the feet, he will likely suffer the same fate as Penn and Maynard.

Don’t get me wrong. Henderson, or anyone else, for that matter, can always land a fight-altering strike at any moment. You know, an unseen punch on the jaw, temple or just behind the ear; a perfectly timed flying knee; or maybe a well disguised shin across the head. But we are talking about a guy who has a career knockout-win ratio of 13.3%.

Translation: there is nothing in his past to suggest that the likely outcome of Saturday’s bout will be a knockout win by the challenger. Again, it is certainly possible, just not likely.

Of course, that brings us back to the question of what can Henderson do to maximize his odds at winning. If I was running his training camp, I would have that guy watching tape on Edgar-Maynard I about 20 times a day.

Maynard’s dominant, wrestling-based win over Edgar is the only film out there of Edgar losing. Nobody has ever beaten him by knockout. Nobody has ever outpointed him with strikes. Nobody has ever submitted him. But Maynard outwrestled him en route to a decisive victory.

I will never understand why Maynard didn’t repeat that game plan in his second and third fights with Edgar. I don’t want to hear any of this nonsense about Edgar taking away the takedowns early. Maynard did nothing but headhunt in the next two fights of the trilogy until he was basically out of gas and out of options. He never focused on takedowns early in those later fights.

Henderson needs to remember where Maynard came up short and remain singularly focused on getting the fight to the ground.  That doesn’t mean shooting haphazardly for takedowns. Edgar is too quick and mobile to end up on his back from a random, long-distance takedown attempt.

The challenger should, instead, use strikes to close the distance, so that he can clinch with the smaller Edgar. That means throwing punches just for the sake of throwing punches. But he should be stepping forward while doing so, always maintaining his lead right leg on the outside of Edgar’s lead left leg. Edgar loves to circle out to his own left, so that is the best way to cut off the cage.

Once the champ is within reach, Henderson needs to force him up against the cage and use his weight advantage to start to drain Edgar of his energy and quickness. He needs to lean on the New Jersey native. Push on him. Grind away on the cage. Make Edgar expend a lot of energy defending.

If the opportunity presents itself, he can trip or throw Edgar to the floor. Maybe a high crotch would be effective, since he does have a big size and strength advantage. Heck, maybe an old-school, backyard pull to the ground, sort of like Nick Diaz did to Carlos Condit in the final round of their recent bout, is the best way to get the action to the ground.

Basically, I don’t care what Henderson does to get the fight to the ground. He just needs to get it there early in each round, and keep the action down as long as he possibly can.

Go back and watch Edgar-Maynard I. You will see what I’m talking about. Henderson certainly has the wrestling chops, athleticism, size and strength to execute the exact same game plan that Maynard used to defeat Edgar back in 2008.

Then again, so did Sean Sherk, Jim Miller, Matt Veach and Tyson Griffin. They all came up short. If Henderson doesn’t fight a near perfect fight, odds are that he will come up short, too.

QUICK FACTS:

Frankie Edgar
•    30 years old
•    14-1-1 overall
•    3-0-1 in UFC title fights
•    9-0-1 in last 10 fights
•    4-0-1 in last 5
•    Reigning UFC Lightweight Champion (3 successful defenses)
•    21.4% of wins by KO/TKO
•    21.4% of wins by submission
•    57.2% of wins by judges’ decision
•    80% of UFC fights lasted the distance (6-1-1 in those fights)
•    1 UFC win by submission; 2 in by KO
•    Four-time Fight of the Night winner
•    Knockout of the Night – KO4 over Gray Maynard at UFC 136
•    Current layoff is 141 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 308 days

Benson Henderson
•    28 years old
•    15-2 overall
•    First UFC title fight
•    9-1 in last 10 fights
•    4-1 in last 5
•    4 consecutive fights have gone the distance (3-1 in those fights)
•    13.3% of wins by KO/TKO
•    53.3% of wins by submission
•    33.3%of wins by judges’ decision
•    Has never been knocked out as a professional
•    Fight of the Night – UD3 over Clay Guida at UFC on FOX1
•    Current layoff is 106 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 236 days

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