By George Shunick
When predicting a rematch in MMA – or, frankly, any sport – it’s only logical to look at the previous encounter and attempt to discern what advantages a certain participant had, whether their opponent is capable of adjusting and overcoming them, and whether the rematch will follow the overall narrative of the previous encounter. Our knowledge, or anticipated knowledge, of these factors determines how much we anticipate a rematch. For instance, no one really cared about the third fight between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock – we all knew how lopsided that fight would be. Conversely, Frankie Edgar’s third match against Gray Maynard was appealing because there was a strong narrative coming out of their second fight, a sense of uncertainty as to which fighter would make the necessary adjustments to overcome the other.
The rematch between Edgar and Ben Henderson falls into the latter category because it possesses that same degree of uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen in this fight, other than it promises to be one of the best fights of the year. It’s a rematch between the two best fighters in the strongest division in MMA, after a fight that each fighter thought he won. Both will be at the top of their game, attempting to ensure that this match will leave no doubt who is the better man.
Of course, what makes this interesting is that it’s hard to say who that man will be. Both fighters found success in the first bout, which was full of momentum swings. Perhaps the biggest came at the end of the second round; after a fairly even round, Edgar had managed to take Henderson down and was working some ground and pound when Henderson connected with a vicious upkick that dropped Edgar. The rest of the fight remained competitive, but this was one of the few definitive moments in that fight and significantly contributed to Henderson eventually prevailing. But upkicks rarely play such a large role in fights – in all likelihood, this isn’t going to be a factor in the rematch.
Edgar’s advantage in this fight comes down to his speed and boxing technique. Henderson is undoubtedly stronger, but his punches are not as fast and he doesn’t have Edgar’s footwork. What he does have, though, are his kicks. In their first match, Henderson used kicks to tag Edgar’s legs when Edgar circled around him. Edgar’s movement and speed generally allow him to dictate the distance the fight is fought at, to his advantage. But by maximizing his range of attack through his kicks, Henderson is able to mitigate that advantage.
Edgar caught a number of Henderson’s kicks, but was unable to generate anything from this. That has to change if Edgar wants to secure a victory in this fight. If he checks the kicks, he stops his movement. He has to make Henderson pay when he catches them. Henderson is extraordinarily difficult to take – and more importantly, keep – down, but Edgar is going to have to do just that if he wants a chance at winning. He needs to maintain the threat of a takedown to give Henderson pause when he thinks about throwing a kick. If Henderson can kick at will, Frankie will no longer be able to dart in and out as effectively as he wishes and lose a valuable part of his offensive arsenal.
If the fight hits the mat, it’s hard to say who has an advantage. Both men are notoriously hard to keep down, so a takedown followed by sustained positional dominance would be huge for either fighter. Henderson is stronger, but Frankie is probably the better wrestler. Prior to the upkick, he was able to land some solid ground and pound, and was able to keep Henderson down long enough to generate offense. However, Henderson is capable of threatening from the guard. His guillotine – which he is more than willing to attempt while standing – is perhaps his most dangerous weapon. However, he was not able to submit Edgar with it, despite a very tight attempt in the fourth round. A submission for either one is highly unlikely.
In fact, finishing either fighter appears somewhat impossible. (Unless you happen to be a random jiu-jitsu brown belt.) Both possess seemingly supernatural powers – Edgar channels the spirit of fictional underdogs like Rocky and Rudy, while Henderson is capable of all things through Christ. It’s a bit of a wash on that front. But despite his underdog grit and speed, Ben Henderson might be too much of an obstacle for Frankie Edgar to overcome. He has size, strength, power and technical ability in virtually every facet of MMA, and unlike Gray Maynard, Bendo won’t slow down.
Like I said before, what makes this fight so intriguing is the element of uncertainty it possesses. With both fighters as talented and well-rounded as these two are, it’s almost impossible to say for sure who will win and how they will do so. That said, while Edgar is an amazing fighter and more than capable of winning this fight, Henderson is virtually as skilled, much bigger and is more likely to land a devastating blow than Edgar is. Look for Henderson to wear down Edgar with kicks in the first few rounds and use clinch work and his size to grind out a decision win, cementing his dominance over the lightweight division and setting up a superfight between Edgar and Jose Aldo.
Agree or disagree?