If the UFC were still in the habit of saddling its pay-per-views with awkward emotive taglines on the order of UFC 101: Declaration, UFC 97: Redemption or UFC 84: Ill Will (just to name a few, somewhat recent doozies) it might’ve been apt to dub Saturday night’s event something like: UFC 150: Mixed Feelings.
Or, if brevity isn’t your thing, perhaps: UFC 150: In Which the Lightweight Title Fight Goes Exactly the Same Way as Every Other Lightweight Title Fight During the Last Two Years.
Both seem equally appropriate, as a few days removed public sentiment remains bitterly divided about Ben Henderson’s split decision win over Frankie Edgar in a bout that only continued the trend of maddeningly close 155-pound championship fights.
At this point there appears to be something inherent in Edgar’s scrappy, never-say-die style that breeds outcomes like this. For the former champion, it was his third rematch in six fights and the fifth of those to call upon the ringside officials to decide who won. To put that in perspective, the last time Edgar fought somebody not named Ben Henderson, Gray Maynard or B.J. Penn was December 2009, when he submitted Matt Veach in the second round of a fight that aired on free TV.
This time, Edgar came up two judges short in his bid to regain the lightweight strap. The decision was not quite a robbery (as has been suggested early and often in the aftermath) but it was not particularly clear-cut, either. Considering he is now just 1-2-1 in his last four fights, this one must seem like a bitter pill to swallow for the New Jersey native and people (like me) who thought he won both of his fights against Henderson.
Unfortunately, though, that’s just the nature of the sport as it currently exists. At some point, does somebody need to come along and change the rules or the judging criteria or the judges themselves? Certainly; but until that happens, this is our reality.
Now, for the most difficult part of all: Even though the decision was controversial and one that fans and analysts alike will continue to argue about for the foreseeable future, it’s time to move on. We need to let this one go. For the sake of both the lightweight division and Edgar himself, we simply can’t keep putting the title on hold for rematch after rematch.
There's just too much talent at 155 pounds and too much potential for greatness in both Edgar and Henderson to continue airing these reruns. It stinks that a guy as likable and easy to root for as Edgar has to be the one to (depending on your opinion, I guess) come out on the short end of this situation, but it’s time. It’s past time.
In Henderson, the UFC has perhaps the prototypical lightweight of the future. He’s enormous for the weight class, dynamic on his feet and, among other things, seemingly impossible to submit. Unfortunately, this disputed victory over Edgar did exactly zero to further his reputation, and there is a preponderance of anecdotal evidence to suggest a third fight between the two would only continue to muddy the waters.
In order to know how good he really is, we’re going to need to see Henderson -- the new-and-improved UFC version, at least -- fight the rest of the best. We need to see him take on divisional stalwarts like Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard. We might even need to see him reboot a couple of old WEC feuds against Anthony Pettis or Donald Cerrone, who (like the champ) seems to have become a wholly new man now that they've unleashed him inside the Octagon.
For Edgar, who will turn 31 two months from now, he’s made his point. For an athlete who would not even be particularly physically imposing at featherweight, he spent the duration of his championship run looking shockingly capable against guys who were essentially junior welterweights (if such a thing existed in MMA).
It would be wrong to suggest that a competitor who’s been so successful at lightweight absolutely needs to drop a class, but even for entirely noncompetition-based reasons the truth is clear: The shortest distance between Edgar and another shot at UFC gold is at 145 pounds.
Let Henderson entertain some different foes, let fans sink their teeth into some fresh rivalries and let Edgar (who is so obviously championship material) go where the grass is greenest.
Everyone involved will be better off for it.