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UFC 144 preview: Frankie Edgar looks to defend lightweight title for fourth time against Ben Henderson

Frankie Edgar(left) will face Ben Henderson at UFC 144 in Japan

The UFC 144 main event will consist of UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar defending his title against former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in the main event set for Saitama, Japan. This should be an excellent fight between two very exciting lightweights. Edgar will be looking to defend his title for the fourth consecutive time, and Henderson will be looking to capture UFC gold for the first time after being a former WEC champion. Let’s see how this one breaks down.

Ben Henderson comes into this fight with a career record of (15-2) with eight wins via submission and two wins via TKO/KO. Henderson was last seen in action defeating Clay Guida to win via unanimous decision at the UFC on FOX 1 show last November. Henderson arguably is the most improved fighter in MMA over the past year or so. He comes from a wrestling background and was a two time NAIA All-American. He also is versed in striking as well as submissions while also having superb submission defense. He fights at an extremely high pace but will put himself in bad positions at times.

Frankie Edgar comes into this fight with a career record of (14-1-1) with three wins via TKO/KO and three wins via submission. He was last seen in action back at UFC 136 knocking out former nemesis, and the only guy to defeat him in Gray Maynard. Edgar also comes from a wrestling background while being well versed in striking and submissions. He has shown an incredible will to win and a great chin. Edgar often gets mentioned as one of the lightweights that should be fighting as a featherweight due to his small size, but he has been able to compete against larger fighters with no problems thus far.

Edgar is the favorite at (-130) and Henderson coming in at (even) odds.

I agree this is pretty much a pick’em fight. The winner of this fight will come down to game planning and execution. I could type a novel breaking this fight down, but I’ll just point to the major factors in this one to save your eyes from bleeding.

Striking:  I think Edgar has a slight advantage here in that he has better hands, but Henderson probably has better kicks. The kicking game of Henderson could be nullified if he fears the threat of a takedown from Edgar. Edgar will have a slight reach advantage even though he’s the shorter fighter, plus he’s pretty elusive on the feet with good footwork.

Wrestling: I think Henderson has the slight edge here as his size could potentially be a factor. Henderson has shown that he’ll incorporate more of his wrestling into his game than Edgar. However, some of that can be attributed to the opponents that Edgar has faced in his last four fights(BJ Penn and Gray Maynard twice). Both have good takedown defense, but neither have elite takedown defense in my opinion.

Submission game: I think this is pretty much a wash for the most part. I think I would favor Henderson finishing Edgar via submission if he was able to stun him with punches or something beforehand. Henderson is almost impossible to submit as we’ve seen him escape all types of submissions over the past two years.

Transitions: I would probably favor Henderson here, but it’s pretty much a toss up. I mentioned that Henderson puts himself in bad positions at times, but he always seems to find a way to transition out of them. He looks to inflict maximum damage once he’s in a favorable position as well.

I think Henderson is a bigger test than both BJ Penn and Gray Maynard for a couple of reasons. Maynard basically abandoned his wrestling game in the last two fights in which he fought Edgar. He became a headhunter after badly hurting Edgar in the first round of each fight. BJ Penn is more of a boxer in that he doesn’t kick much, plus he’s not the wrestler that Henderson is nor does he have the size. Henderson can and will attack with punches, kicks, and will attempt takedowns while being a decent sized lightweight.

I think Henderson needs to push the pace in this fight and needs to bring the fight to Edgar the same way he brought it to Jim Miller last year. He needs to use all facets of his game, but mainly needs to strike just enough to be able to take Edgar down. I’m not sure he can deal with the hand speed and accuracy of Edgar’s striking for five rounds. If he’s able to take Edgar down he should be able to do some damage as he has very good ground and pound skills.

Edgar needs to fight his fight by using his footwork to set up counters to an aggressive Henderson, and he should also look to put Henderson on his back if the opportunity presents itself. There’s no doubt that Edgar can go all 25 minutes at a high pace, but it’s been a while since Henderson has had to do it. It’s possible that Edgar could slow Henderson down drastically via damage by volume strikes and forcing him to work on the ground after takedowns. However, Edgar will have to be extremely careful on his takedown attempts as Henderson has a devastating guillotine choke.

This should be a great fight. I’m rolling with the smooth one in this one. I can see him winning a razor thin split decision, but I can also see Edgar doing the same thing. If this fight doesn’t make it to the judges I think I’d favor Henderson to win via stoppage more so than Edgar. If it ends in a submission I’d have to favor Henderson there as well.

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