DENVER -- Frankie Edgarraced to the Octagon, sprinted through five rounds of fighting and, in the end, raised his arms in victory. Along with most in attendance at UFC 150 in Denver, Edgar thought the belt was headed back to Toms River, N.J.
But as the decision came out of ring announcer Bruce Buffer’s mouth, the words “still” preceded the words lightweight champion and, just like that, there was a new controversy in the lightweight division. Benson Henderson retained his lightweight title via a split decision (46-49, 48-47, 48-47).
But this time, UFC president Dana White, usually vocal about how he saw things go, stayed out of the judging.
“Again, it’s one of those controversial decisions,” Dana White said afterward at the UFC news conference. “Let me just say this: I’m not a judge. Ben Henderson won the fight tonight. He retained his title, and that’s the end of it. I know there were a lot of people that scored the fight differently, and I tell these guys all the time, 'If you don’t like the way the judges score, don’t let it get there.'"
To be sure, the fight was close, perhaps closer than the first fight back in February. Henderson came out whipping leg kicks that hobbled Edgar and finally dropped the challenger midway through. Edgar’s calf was bright red by round’s end, yet the drama came at the end of the frame when Edgar took Henderson down and applied a guillotine hold. He was able to survive the last 20 seconds to the bell.
“[The guillotine] was tight, you know, I was able to get out of it,” Edgar said. “I don’t think the round [ending] saved me; I defended well. It was tight at first, but I made the adjustments to get out of it.”
The second round saw more leg kicks from Henderson, but reminiscent of the first fight at UFC 144, Edgar began catching the low kicks and countering.
Throughout the fight, Edgar had the last word on breaks. Midway through the second round, Edgar slipped a strike and caught Henderson with a powerful counter that dropped the champion. He transitioned into a front headlock and controlled the rest of the round.
The third round was arguably the closest of the fight. Henderson went away from what had been effective to that point -- the leg kicks -- and settled on more double jabs and isolated shots. Edgar was able to regain his footwork as the threat of the leg kick diminished.
“That was a part of the original game plan, going forward and targeting that to get him off-balance and then capitalize,” Henderson said of the leg kicks. “But I didn’t do a good enough job of capitalizing and getting on top of him when he was off-balance. I think I landed it three or four times where he was off-balance and stumbled a little bit and I wasn’t able to quite do what we wanted to do with it.”
Henderson turned up the aggression in Round 4. In one moment, after having been knocked down, he landed a head kick from the floor that brought back shades of the upkick from the first fight -- only this time, the kick didn’t do any damage and landed to the side of Edgar’s head. Once again, Edgar worked a front headlock and the two exchanged late in the round as Henderson taunted Edgar to engage.
“I thought I pushed the pace, and I thought I brought the fight to him,” Edgar said. “But here we are.”
Most media on press row had the fight 3-1 at this point in favor of Edgar, and the thought was that Henderson might be in need of a finish to retain the title. Edgar raised his arms as he came out for the final bell, and at one point it was the former champion who landed a big leg kick that downed Henderson. Again, the fifth was a close round to score, with each fighter having his moments. In the end, all the judges saw Round 5 for Edgar.
The feeling at the Pepsi Center was that Edgar had wrested back the belt from Henderson.
Then, Bruce Buffer read the scorecards and everyone began questioning what they saw (versus what the judges saw). All three judges also gave Edgar the second round, and it was unanimous for Henderson in the first.
Rounds 3 and 4 were the divisive splits. Two judges scored them for Henderson, while Tony Weeks scored them for Edgar.
“All of Frankie Edgar’s fights seem to be controversial,” Henderson said in a postfight interview with Fuel TV. And that is definitive. People wanted to know what Edgar himself thought of it afterward.
“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” Edgar replied. “I could be pissed off, but it’s still the decision and it’s never going to change, so it is what it is.”
Once again a lightweight title fight ends in controversy. Yet, now 0-2 against the current lightweight champion Henderson, the controversy sticks with only Edgar going forward.
And the next question becomes -- does he stick around at 155 pounds, where title fights are no longer part of the equation?