Article

Deconstructing Penn-Edgar I

Edgar must keep keen focus on his stick-and-move attack.  If he does that and Penn is unable to find pay dirt with one of his strikes in the first two rounds, frustration will begin to grow in the Hawaiian legend’s mind.  
Few people outside of his gym gave Frankie Edgar much chance of unseating BJ Penn as the UFC Lightweight Champion.  But that is precisely what he did on a hot April evening in the promotion’s debut in Abu Dhabi.

The result, however, was not without controversy.  After five very competitive, difficult-to-score rounds, one judge turned in a shutout in favor of the challenger.  That inexplicable result left the fans scratching their collective heads.  Even the staunchest Edgar supporters will agree that the fight was far closer than the lone 50-45 score suggested.  

The other two judges scored the fight 49-46 and 48-47, both in favor of Edgar.  One can pick on the actual scores, but the fact remains that it was exceedingly difficult to tell which man was winning the rounds when watching the live action.  It was that close.

Thus, it wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone when UFC President Dana White announced shortly after that fateful April night that the pair would clash again in an immediate rematch.  Penn-Edgar II goes down this Saturday night when the UFC makes its inaugural trip to Boston, Massachusetts.  

The past is sometimes the best predictor of the future, so I decided to take a close look at the first fight, using the benefits of slow motion, pause, rewind and all the other great features of a digital video recorder, and deconstruct the action in an effort to highlight what each man needs to do to win on Saturday night.

Let’s get right to it.

ROUND ONE

The fight begins with Edgar constantly circling, while the champion stalks after him.  Neither man lands anything of consequence in the first minute.  Edgar breaks the stalemate with a crisp jab 75 seconds into the fight, but Penn lands a hard left hook a fraction of a second later that moves the challenger’s body.  The two begin to move their hands over the next 90 seconds, but they are largely throwing at air from too far away, possibly trying to gauge the distance for later in the fight.

Edgar lands a good leg kick with 2:15 remaining in the round.  Penn simultaneously lands a counter left hook, but Edgar’s kick was the more significant blow.  Edgar attempts a high single with less than two minutes remaining.  Penn grabs the back of his head with his right hand and hammers away with two very good left uppercuts before the challenger spins out of the position.  

The fighters clash heads as Penn attempts a combination with 60 seconds remaining.  Penn lands a counter left hook when Edgar attacks 10 seconds later.  Penn follows up with a jab.  Edgar responds by firing a two-piece combination to the body with a clean-up front kick that scores with 36 seconds remaining in the opening round.  Penn lands a slapping left hook but misses with the clean-up right hand with 17 seconds left.  

Penn presses the action again three seconds later, but Edgar steps inside the attack and attempts a clinch. Penn lands a knee to the body and then shoves Edgar away, but the New Jersey native lands a diving overhand right as the two separate.  The punch brings to life a little mouse to life under Penn’s left eye as the round closes.   

The mouse devolves into slight cut as the fighters retreat to their respective corners.  Even though it was clear to me that Penn scored the harder, most damaging blows, he is the one who looks like he has taken a beating due to the damage sustained under his left eye.  I would not be surprised if that impacted the judges’ scoring of the round.  Nonetheless, I give the round to Penn because he landed the cleaner, crisper punches than his opponent.  

ROUND TWO


Edgar lands a couple of body shots 35 seconds into the round.  Penn lands a big right hand off of an Edgar front kick 20 seconds later.  Edgar immediately shoots and Penn stuffs it.  The pair exchange body shots 90 seconds into the round.  Penn lands a jab a few seconds later.  At the 2:51 mark, Penn lunges in with a three-piece combination, but only the clean-up left hook lands with any consequence.  Edgar answers four seconds later with a left hook, right hand combination of his own.  Penn lands another jab.  

Edgar comes up short on a takedown attempt at the 2:30 mark.  Twenty-five seconds later, Edgar jabs and Penn counters with three quick punches.  Nothing lands from either attack.  Penn lands a slapping lead left hook at the 1:58 mark, but misses with his clean-up right hand.  Edgar lands a jab at the 1:45 mark.  

Penn counters with a two-piece combination eight seconds later.  The champion then lunges in with a right hand and eats a counter left hook with 90 seconds left in the round.  Edgar leads with a right hand 40 seconds later.  Penn counters with a left hook that was so quick that I had to hit rewind three times to confirm that it landed.  I guarantee the judges did not see that punch.  

Edgar lands a nice outside leg kick with 48 seconds remaining.  Edgar takes Penn down via an arm trip nine seconds later, but Penn instantly jumps back to his feet.  That should not be scored as a takedown because it was basically a non-event.  Penn was on the ground for only a fraction of a second.  

Edgar lunges in with a knee to the body followed by a glancing right hand and eats a left hook for his troubles.   Penn lands an uppercut as the bell sounds.

The champion appears very frustrated as the round ends.  His red, slightly swollen right eye combined with his affect gives him the appearance of a man who just lost the round.  He is frustrated, in my opinion, because he is unable to take full control of the fight due to Edgar’s constant movement.  The challenger, by contrast, appears invigorated by the fact that he is giving Penn so much trouble.  The reality, though, is that round two was another very even round that was exceedingly difficult to score without the benefit of the pause and rewind buttons on a DVR.

Scored in a microcosm, Penn definitely won the round, in my opinion.  But this is one of those fights where the first two rounds were so close that the fight really should be even on the cards at this point, which highlights some of the weaknesses in the 10-point-must system.   I know that judges aren’t supposed to take into account what happened in prior rounds when scoring a round that has just completed.  It is unfair for either man to have a two-point advantage because the fight remains ultra close, but that is exactly how I have it on my card at this point—Penn 20-18.

ROUND THREE

The fighters are a little busier to start the third round, but most of the shots come up empty.  Edgar is the one who lands the first solid punch—a jab 28 seconds into the round.  He also lands a glancing left kick to the body eight seconds later.  The challenger then misses with a right hand at the 4:14 mark, and Penn makes him pay for it with a short counter right to the chin, though he comes up empty with his clean-up left hook.  

Nothing but whiffs for the next 30 seconds, then Penn lands a good, stiff jab.  The fighters clash heads moments later as Edgar lunges in for a takedown.  Edgar lands a hard left kick to the body at the 3:03 mark.  Penn counters it with a left hook, but the kick was the better blow.  Edgar touches him with a quick left hook 15 seconds later.  

A series of missed, blocked or grazing blows take up the next 46 seconds, until Edgar lands a double jab to the chin.  He unsuccessfully uncorks a superman punch at the 1:52 mark and tries to transition that into a takedown.  Penn defends with his hips but misses wildly his wide counter right hook.  

The champion lands a two-three combination at the 1:37 mark, but the shots land at the very end of the punches, rendering them largely ineffective.  Edgar lands a hard right to the body 16 seconds later.  Penn again misses wildly with wide two-fisted counters.  Edgar attempts his third takedown of the round followed by a left high kick at the 1:13 mark.  Penn defends both.   Edgar shoots for a takedown under a big Penn right hand and again fails to get the fight to the ground with 45 seconds left.  Penn hits him with a knee to the body as Edgar retreats.  Neither man lands a significant blow for the remainder of the round.

If there was ever a case for a 10-10 round, this was it.  Neither man created any momentum.  Neither man caused any damage of note.  And neither man was noticeably busier.  It was, instead, a stalemate, in every sense of the word.   

Penn continues to look frustrated and annoyed as he heads to his corner after the third round comes to a close.  A mouse is starting to grow under Penn’s left eye, which makes him appear to be the worse for wear, despite the fact that he appears to be the one landing the cleaner, harder strikes.   

Edgar looks surprisingly fresh and neutral in his affect.  Penn’s frustrations are likely due to the fact that Edgar is a much more difficult fighter to catch with big punches than the champion anticipated.  But his demeanor should not, in any way, suggest that he lost the round, because I just don’t see any way to score that round for Edgar – a draw, yes, but 10-9 for the challenger, no.  

Either way, the fight is far too close for comfort, as far as Team Penn is concerned.  Between rounds, the team told the champion more than once to take the fight to the ground.  

ROUND FOUR

Edgar starts the round with a good left hook as Penn continues swinging wildly.  A few clumsy exchanges and a missed takedown attempt follow over the next 30 seconds.  Penn misses with more power punches as the round exits its first minute.  Penn stuffs another takedown after almost a minute of inactivity.  Edgar lands another left hook and Penn responds with one of his own behind the challenger’s ear.  Edgar counters with a good outside leg kick before overshooting a high kick.  

Penn lands a good jab at the 2:38 mark.  Both men miss with several punches before they both launch spirited salvos.  Each man lands a good right hand during the exchange.  Edgar appears to be more active than the champion through the first three minutes of the round, as Penn continues stalking and is almost exclusively looking to counter at this point.  Edgar comes up short on his second takedown attempt of the round.  Edgar’s right eye is now bright red after accepting almost a dozen left hooks over the course of the fight.  

Edgar presses the action with 90 seconds remaining, landing a body shot in the process.  Penn counters with a beautiful short Bolo punch (which is a half uppercut, half cross, for those wondering) with just over a minute remaining.  Edgar presses for his third takedown attempt of the round with 53 seconds remaining.  He forces Penn to the cage and tries a flying knee.  Penn defends expertly, but Edgar circles away before the champion can mount any sort of counter attack.  This is the sort of exchange that scores points with the judges, despite the fact that Edgar did not land anything, because it appears as if he is dictating the action.

Edgar lands a good right hook under Penn’s left arm with 40 seconds remaining.  Penn misses the mark with his counter right seconds later.  Penn lands a slapping left hook with 18 seconds left.  Edgar ends the round with a one-two combination to the body.   

This is was another impossible round to score.  Slow motion and lots of rewinding on the DVR suggests that Penn landed the more damaging blows.  But watching the fight in real time, like the judges do, suggested a different result, so I scored it 10-9 for Edgar.  I don’t think anyone can argue with a 10-9 score in favor of either man or a 10-10 round.  

Looking back at my personal scorecard, I have Penn up one point going into the final stanza.

FINAL ROUND

Edgar wastes no time demonstrating that he desperately wants to win.  The challenger throws a very good four-piece combination that ended with a right hand to Penn’s head.  The champion does not immediately answer the salvo.  Penn fires a long-distance right hand a few seconds later and then, at the 4:36 mark, Edgar scores his first impactful takedown of the fight.  Even though it only takes Penn five seconds to work back to his feet (and he takes absolutely no damage during that time), the takedown sends a clear message that Edgar is going to fight hard to take the title.

Edgar lands a good body shot as the first minute of the round winds down.  Penn flails with his counter, suggesting that he is both running out of gas and frustrated.  Momentum is certainly swinging in favor of Edgar as the fight moves into its 22nd minute and he remains just as active on his bicycle as he has been the entire fight.

Edgar fires another combination 15 seconds later.  Nothing lands cleanly, but it is activity.  Penn isn’t doing much at this point.  The champion throws a very low leg kick at the 3:10 mark.  It wasn’t a very meaningful strike.  

Edgar continues firing a pawing jab into the air, but Penn actually lands two as the round approaches the halfway point.  Edgar lands the cleanest punch of the round at the 2:34 mark—a right hand flush on Penn’s jaw.  He instantly circles away.  Penn misses with an awkward high kick 20 seconds later.  

Penn stuffs two more takedown attempts as the fight moves to the 1:51 mark.  Edgar continues jabbing and circling, though nothing else lands until he hits a good leg kick with just over 90 seconds remaining.  Edgar lands two more shots to the body a few seconds later.  Penn counters with a glancing right hand thrown from Hilo.  More jabs from Edgar as the final minute approaches.

Both men trade body shots with 35 seconds left.  Edgar continues to dance.  Penn is clearly tired.  Edgar lands a left uppercut with 10 seconds remaining, but Penn lands his best punch of the fight at the same time, a big right hand on the button.  The shot invigorates him as he presses for the finish, even though Edgar appears unfazed by the punch.  Penn lands a good knee followed by another right hand seconds later, but Edgar steps inside his attack and the fight ends with the pair in a clinch.  

Penn’s late charge was too little too late, as this was the easiest round of the fight to score--10-9 for Edgar.  

The challenger instantly raises his hands in victory as Penn sulks back to his corner with the look of an exhausted, defeated man.  It was prophetic of the result, as all three judges score the bout for Edgar, who becomes the first man since January 11, 2002 to defeat Penn in a lightweight matchup.

The outcome of Penn-Edgar I highlights the fact that judges have a bias toward activity in closely contested fights, even if it isn’t necessarily effective activity.  Both men need to embrace that reality heading into the rematch.

For Edgar, that means continuing to remain very active with his strikes.  He needs to repeatedly throw shots in combination, even if that means hitting nothing but air.  It is often very difficult to tell if strikes are landing in close quarters, so the man moving his hands, knees and feet more will often get the benefit of the doubt, just like Edgar did in the first fight.

Of equal importance, though, is maintaining the same commitment to footwork and lateral movement that Edgar showed in the first fight.  There is no doubt that Penn enjoys a massive edge in both physical strength and explosive striking power.  Edgar must be very careful not to stand in front of the former two-division champion because Penn has the requisite juice to bring the fight to an abrupt end at any moment.

Edgar must, therefore, keep keen focus on his stick-and-move attack.  If he does that and Penn is unable to find pay dirt with one of his strikes in the first two rounds, frustration will begin to grow in the Hawaiian legend’s mind.  His shoulders will begin to droop between rounds.  He will begin to tense from the stress.  The judges will notice, and they will score close rounds in favor of his opponent.

Penn, on the other hand, has to be more aggressive than he was in the first fight.  He cannot just sit back and counter.  Edgar doesn’t stand in one place long enough, and he throws too many strikes in isolation, for Penn to count on having multiple opportunities to land the perfect strike.  He should instead force the action behind his very good jab, thereby creating opportunities for his right hand and left hook.

More importantly, though, Penn should look for opportunities to take down his opponent.  He should fire his right hand and simultaneously dive in for a double-leg, possibly right at the opening bell.  It will catch Edgar completely off guard—guaranteed.

Once on the ground, Penn will completely overwhelm Edgar.  The champion has a solid wrestling base, and he has been studying Gracie Jiu Jitsu under Ricardo Almeida for several years.  But I guarantee that Penn has forgotten more about submissions and ground position than Edgar has learned up to this point in his career.  No disrespect to the champion, but the challenger is a ground game savant, a maestro of submissions, the Master of Disaster….you get the point:  he is pretty darn good.

Penn in the top position guarantees either a ground-and-pound victory or, more likely, Edgar giving up his back to escape the carnage and losing by rear naked choke.  Penn has gotten far too willing to just stand and trade with opponents because of his granite chin and dynamite-filled strikes.  Saturday night is the perfect time for him to get reacquainted with his ground game.

So, who is going to win?  This fight is tough to call.  Edgar will definitely have the confidence advantage.  But Penn is the better overall fighter.  If pressed to make a selection, I’d go with Penn inside the distance.  I truly believe that he learned from his mistakes in the first fight and will come out much more aggressively this time around.  

QUICK FACTS

BJ Penn

•    31 years old
•    5’9, 155 lbs
•    70-inch reach
•    15-6-1 overall (11-5-1 UFC)
•    12 of 17 fights have ended inside the distance (10-2 in those fights)
•    Loss to Edgar was his first loss by unanimous decision in his UFC career
•    10-2-1 in the UFC 155-lb division
•    5 wins in last 6 fights as a lightweight
•    3-2 overall in his last 5
•    5-4-1 in 9 UFC title fights; 4-2-1 in 155-lb title fights
•    Second fighter in history to win championships in two UFC weight classes (lightweight and welterweight)
•    Current layoff is 140 days (UD5 loss to Frankie Edgar on April 10, 2010)
•    Longest layoff of UFC career is 273 days (TKO3 by Matt Hughes on September 23, 2006, until SUB2 over Jens Pulver on June 23, 2007), excluding the 3-year period when Penn was absent from the UFC and competing actively elsewhere
•    Has competed in 4 weight classes (155 lbs, 170 lbs, 185 lbs and HW)
•    First non-Brazilian to win gold in the black belt division of the Mundial World Championship (BJJ)
•    Submission of the Night (SUB4 over Kenny Florian by rear naked choke on August 8, 2009)

Frankie Edgar
•    28 years old
•    5’8, 155 lbs
•    72-inch reach
•    13-1 overall (7-1 UFC)
•    6 of 8 UFC bouts have lasted the distance (5-1 in those fights)
•    1 submission win and 1 TKO win
•    All UFC bouts at 155 lbs
•    4-1 in last 5
•    2-0 against current or former champions (UD5 over BJ Penn on April 10, 2010; and UD3 over Sean Sherk on May 23, 2009)
•    1-0 in UFC championship fights (UD5 over BJ Penn on April 10, 2010)
•    First UFC title fight
•    Current layoff is 140 days (UD5 over BJ Penn on April 10, 2010)
•    Longest layoff of UFC career is 308 days (UD3 over Hermes Franca on July 19, 2008, until UD3 over Sean Sherk May 23, 2009)
•    Fight of the Night in 3 of 7 UFC fights (UD3 over Tyson Griffin on February 3, 2007; UD3 over Hermes Franca on July 19, 2008; and SUB2 over Matt Veach on December 5, 2009)

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