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No one could have predicted the level of action Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard delivered Saturday night in their rematch at UFC 125.
Even UFC president Dana White, possibly the most optimistic fight promoter ever, could not have imagined the bout's outcome. And with good reason. Despite never having lost a mixed martial arts bout, Maynard wasn't exactly considered an all-action fighter. In many circles, he was regarded as boring.
Taking an opponent to the ground and smothering him has long been Maynard's M.O. It's one reason he failed to earn a title shot before Edgar, whom Maynard defeated in their previous bout. And although Edgar delivered more in the action department, neither is mentioned among the UFC's action stars.
Edgar nor Maynard had put enough highlight reels together to get fans excited about their rematch.
So White and the rest of UFC's decision-makers had rightfully looked to the next lightweight contender. And they pegged recently crowned WEC titleholder Anthony Pettis to take on the Edgar-Maynard winner.
Pettis made a name for himself with an exciting victory Dec. 16 over then-WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. His off-the-cage kick that floored Henderson in Round 5 had mixed martial arts fans crashing the message boards.
With his recent heroics, Pettis immediately became a subplot to Edgar-Maynard II. How would either of these UFC veterans handle the acrobatic newcomer?
No matter who would be UFC lightweight champion after Saturday night's showdown, Pettis was willing, able and ready to take him on.
"Gray Maynard is a big, strong guy," Pettis told ESPN.com minutes before the UFC 125 main event. "His nickname ["The Bully"] fits him. Fighting a guy like Gray Maynard is going to be a tough task overall. With his strength and size, there will be a lot of obstacles to overcome."
And what if Edgar retains the lightweight title?
"I like the fight with Edgar just because he's fast, he's quick and he's all over the place," Pettis said. "I like fighting fast-paced fights. It's entertaining for the fans."
Pettis sat cageside with his pen and paper, ready to take notes. In 25 minutes or less, he'd know the name of his next opponent.
|Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard threw a wrench into the UFC's plans to award Anthony Pettis an immediate title shot against the winner.|
Or maybe not.
When Edgar and Maynard put on a show that will be remembered for quite some time, White and his partners were thrown for a loop. And Pettis had to know that his immediate fighting future was in limbo.
Edgar retained his title with a draw, but Maynard came within an eyelash of taking it. Plus, Maynard had put on the most exciting fight of his UFC career, showing off his never-before-seen boxing skills.
There was a buzz inside MGM Grand Garden Arena after the fight that screamed rematch. A third fight between Edgar and Maynard suddenly had big bucks written all over it. Giving Pettis a shot at Edgar now had become a difficult decision for the UFC brass. What were they to do?
It was one of the most difficult decisions White said he would have to make as the promotion's president. But he couldn't allow the matter to go unresolved for days; he had to make a decision sooner rather than later.
Shortly after the fight, White told ESPN that there was no guarantee Pettis would be Edgar's next opponent.
"I don't know," White said. "We have to look at this thing now. When this fight was a draw and the fight was so dramatic, do you go back and do a third fight with these two? I don't know yet. I wouldn't say definitely tonight that Pettis gets the [title] fight, after the fight I watched this evening."
White tussled with the decision, but within a couple of hours he had come to a conclusion: Edgar would make his next title defense against Maynard.
It was the correct decision. The momentum for Edgar-Maynard III is too high right now. UFC is great sport, but it's also a business. And right now, Edgar-Maynard III represents much more money than Edgar-Pettis.
This is little consolation to Pettis, but he was quick to find something positive in the situation. He took many notes during the Edgar-Maynard five-rounder and found holes in each fighter's game.
"I'm telling everybody, they don't expect me to be in the cage with either of these two guys, but I've got what it takes to beat either of them," Pettis told ESPN.com shortly after being informed of White's decision. "My confidence is way higher than it was before.
"I've watched video of these guys but never watched them live. Now I'm picking them apart because I might be fighting one of them. They're in for a big surprise."
With Edgar and Maynard set to duke it out once more, Pettis has some decision-making of his own ahead. Does he sit back and continue to wait for a resolution to Edgar-Maynard, or does he seek an opponent in the meantime?
As a titleholder himself, Pettis can't expect to be handed an easy opponent -- none exist in the UFC. And a title defense isn't likely in the plans.
The WEC no longer exists. The title Pettis wears around his waist is now best suited for trivia.
Forget about a possible interim title showdown. White told ESPN that even with the recent rash of injuries to UFC champions, interim title bouts are not in the promotion's cards.
"The only time we do interim title fights is when we don't know when the champion is coming back," White said. "This is a sport like any other sport, and we have a time frame as to when they are coming back."
In this case, Edgar isn't injured. He simply needs time to recover from a tough fight.
No date has been set for Edgar-Maynard III, which could lead to a long layoff for Pettis. Cage rust could become an issue. To fight or wait is a lot for Pettis to digest. Therefore, he has decided to let his handlers settle the matter.
"It's up to my agent and my coach," Pettis said. "I'm the fighter. I'm the race car, so whatever they say, I'll go with it."
As for Edgar-Maynard II, Pettis was as entertained as every one of the 12,688 in attendance Saturday night.
"It was an awesome fight," Pettis said. "Both guys looked great. Frankie has a champion's heart, for sure.
"I thought Frankie was done in the first round. Maynard may have punched himself out in that round, which caused the outcome to be what it is."
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.