Wrestling makes fools of us all.
Undefeated in all but title fights, Frankie Edgar once again reminded us why he is rated so highly as he dominated #2 featherweight, Cub Swanson. It was easy to forget—he hardly set the world ablaze with his decision win over Charles Oliveira, and battering the ghost of B.J. Penn wasn't impressing anyone. But Edgar's performance against Cub Swanson, a man on a six fight win streak over big featherweight names, should cement Edgar's name as the #1 contender for the featherweight crown
This fight reminded us just how important wrestling and top control are in the fight game. Lately folks have been forgetting just how much havoc the strong takedown artist can cause to even the best striker. Cub Swanson had run through six men in a row, but the man who beat him before that streak, and the man who ended that streak, both did so through their strong takedowns and top games.
It should be noted that Cub Swanson didn't help himself. The creativity and feral edge that I so often praise turned against him in this fight. He began to look like Travis Browne against Fabricio Werdum, looking for one big shot to get it done. He had the power advantage and the striking advantage on paper, but paper doesn't win fights. When a fighter starts telling himself “my hands are heavier / faster”, they often start neglecting the combinations, feints, draws and set ups that cause the hard punches to land. They start to believe in magic and fairy tales, and stop caring about the science.
Being the striker versus the takedown artist is an unenviable task, and impatience only makes it worse. The attitude of “I'll try to knock him out, then I'll fight off the takedown” just doesn't seem to work at the highest levels anymore unless the guy doing it has a strong enough wrestling pedigree himself. The Wanderlei Silvas and Mirko Cro Cops of the world are long gone. For the past half-decade, the best sprawl and brawlers have fought on the counter—and nowhere are the two sides of that coin more visible than in Cub Swanson and Jose Aldo.
We've discussed Aldo as the “anti-wrestler” before. He sits back and waits for opponents to come to him. If they start diving after his hips or legs he'll try to meet them with a knee or uppercut, or he'll feed them the single and shake them off. If they start running in with punches, he'll jab, counter punch, pivot off line. For three rounds he made Frankie Edgar look completely out of his depth.
Cub Swanson, meanwhile, came out and looked to finish Edgar with one punch. He wanted to do the damage with fists, and he did land some telling blows early. After cracking Edgar (famously one of the slowest starters in the sport) Swanson ran after him with wide-open punches. Just as we talked about the other day, with the example of him trying to finish Jeremy Stephens, Swanson's wildness gave Edgar the first takedown of the fight.
Come to think of it, I have never seen this long uppercut work, despite Cub's throwing it in every fight. It really seems to be more trouble than it's worth.
Early on, Swanson used his butterfly guard to perform a perfect technical stand up, day one stuff at a black belt level.
Unfortunately, these things have a way of snowballing. Not only was it harder for Swanson to stop the takedowns as the rounds progressed, the more often he hit the ground the more urgently he needed to look for the knockout on the feet.
Edgar's signature knee tap that we discussed last week.
Edgar continued to grind his way to half guard and batter Swanson with punches and elbows as Swanson looked to get back to butterfly or closed guard, at which point Edgar would look to advance again. It was exactly what Edgar did in his most recent performance against B.J. Penn, except now he was doing it to one of the best featherweights in the world.
No folks, wrestling isn't going anywhere, and the slickest striking in the division doesn't nullify it.
The best fight of last night came not on the UFC card, nor in the Pacquiao mismatch, but on the Metamoris 5 submission grappling card. For those who have never seen Metamoris before, in the grappling world it's the best thing going.
It's exclusively super fights, giving grapplers the opportunity to train for a specific opponent, as opposed to tournaments. The format is that of submission only. One twenty minute round, if no-one catches the other guy—no matter how long he was on top or how many submissions he attempted—it's still a draw. And it makes for fascinating viewing.
The event was headlined by Kazushi Sakuraba and Renzo Gracie, 14 years after the MMA match wherein Saku broke Renzo's arm just seconds before the final bell. Both performed admirably for their age and went to a hard fought draw.
Still the greatest.
But the true excitement for me was the bout between Zak Maxwell (son of the great Steve Maxwell) and Garry Tonon. The bout played out exactly like you want to see a no-gi match go down: less about position, more about submission. For example, Tonon's rolling kimura guard pass which he attempted several times.
So hot right now, Garry Tonon.
Or how about this slick omoplata attempt from Maxwell as the heavier Tonon attempts to explode out from underneath him?
The bout ended with a heel hook from Tonon, who was hunting for them constantly through the match, but just before he caught that final hold, there was a beautiful electric chair sweep. A beautiful technique stemming from the lockdown half guard, this is one we're seeing more and more in competition (Macaco uses it in the gi, Eddie Bravo used it numerous times against Royler Gracie at Metamoris 3, Tonon has been using it for a while).
Did not pass the Helio Filter.
Now, let's all start getting excited for UFC 181: Lawler vs Hendricks II.
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