UFC 156 Breakdown: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar

UFC 156UFC 156 features one of the best main events in recent organizational history, as two of the top fighters in the sport are going to square off for the Featherweight title. Jose Aldo has occupied a spot near the top of the sport since he dispatched Mike Brown to capture the WEC’s 145lb title back in November 2009. Edgar meanwhile solidified his standing as one of the best with his second victory over BJ Penn in August 2010, and has remained there through a string of close bouts ever since.

Not only are these fighters two of the best in the sport, but they have a style interplay which makes this bout incredibly interesting. Jose Aldo is a ferocious striker who mixes punches, kicks and knees as well as anyone in the sport. His stout takedown defence allows him to unleash these weapons without fear, and with devastating result. Frankie Edgar has evolved from a scrambling wrestler to one of the most effective boxers in MMA, as his footwork allowed him to make his larger opponents look slow in comparison and his takedowns have kept his foe off balance.

What will win the day?

Will Aldo’s striking be able to have the same effectiveness as Gray Maynard’s power punching or Ben Henderson’s kicking attack? Will his ability to mix the two better than those previous Edgar opponents be the formula that can finally lead to a stoppage? Or will the former Lightweight champ befuddle Aldo with a level of striking and movement that he has not seen before? Will Edgar’s resilience and tireless cardio allow him to wrest the Featherweight crown away from the longtime champion? So many questions present themselves in this fight; let’s see if we can’t find some answers before Saturday night.

The first thing I want to address is what I feel to be a serious misconception in this fight. Frankie Edgar has better cardio than Jose Aldo, but that in no way means the champion has bad cardio. It seems like many in the MMA world are hanging on to the Mark Hominick fight as evidence that Aldo is inevitably going to gas and we will see a repeat performance of that bout’s final round. There were some mitigating factors to that fight that simply make this untrue. First – and this part is on Jose – he was absolutely massive coming into the Hominick fight. If he shows up to weigh-ins looking like he’s wearing a muscle suit, I will start to have some concerns about his cardio, but he was noticeably leaner in both the Florian and Mendes bouts than against Hominick, and went five rounds easily against Florian (whose sole purpose in that fight seemed to be tiring Aldo out). Second, Aldo was fighting an infection that required antibiotics in the week leading up to that fight. Call me naïve, but given his history of fighting 5 rounds (both before and after the Hominick fight), I tend to believe that a combination of these two factors led to Aldo’s fatigue in this bout, and that it won’t be a recurring trend.

Aldo HominickEven though Edgar admittedly has the better cardio, I really don’t see that being much of a factor in this bout. As shown in the Hominick bout, when Aldo wants to conserve energy he has the ability to slow his movement and switch to more of a counterstriking role. Despite Joe Rogan’s assertions that he was being “outboxed” in some of the middle rounds against Hominick, make no mistake that Aldo’s head movement and skill with his hands regularly found him slipping his opponents punches and countering back with hard shots. In my eyes, this still had him besting a quality striker while standing nearly still. Should he need to, I can see Jose shifting towards a similar tactic in the later rounds against Edgar, who despite all his movement will still have to put himself in the line of fire if he wants to land strikes. This will keep things competitive in the later rounds that mot seem to think Edgar will sweep cleanly, even if the Brazilian sheaths his kicks.

The biggest question mark in this fight to me is how Aldo will deal with Edgar’s movement. He has never faced someone who presents him with a perpetually moving target. Urijah Faber was employing lots of movement early in their fight, but it was movement for the sake of movement, rather than the movement that Edgar uses to set up his strikes. Each time Faber decided to throw a strike he would stop moving, which made him very easy for Aldo to time. That will not be the case with Edgar, as he moves throughout his striking combinations rather than stopping and sitting down on his punches.

Aldo should be able to combat this movement through the use of his leg kicks, specifically the left hook to the body -> right leg kick combination that he throws better than anyone in MMA. This combination will steer Edgar into eating leg kicks, and those thrown by Aldo are as devastating as anyone in the sport. If he can land leg kicks early as Henderson was able to, that should slow Edgar’s movement. Benson’s leg kicks aren’t nearly as sharp as Aldo’s, and after finding success with them early (particularly in the second fight) he got away from them. Aside from the Faber fight – where I honestly still contend that Jose took pity on Urijah’s grotesquely mangled leg – leg kicks are not a strategy Aldo tends to abandon mid-fight. If he is able to slow or completely neutralize Edgar’s movement, the very hittable challenger will become a sitting duck for all manner of strikes as the fight wears on.

One thing that Edgar could turn in his favour is that Aldo is less willing to unload his leg kicks on fighters in the southpaw stance. In the Florian fight, he threw far fewer leg kicks than when he has faced orthodox fighters. Frankie does switch between stances during his fights, but he throws far fewer strikes as a southpaw. Perhaps if his camp has also picked up on this tendency they could lessen the effect Aldo’s leg kicks will have on the fight through a simple tactical adjustment. At the same time, Edgar generally moves quite a bit to the power side of his opponent (to his right against Henderson, and to his left against Maynard). This would take him directly into Aldo’s right kicks and punches. Against Florian, when Jose did throw the inside leg kicks it was primarily when the challenger was moving into his power. So if Edgar is looking to come out a bit more as a southpaw in this fight, he needs to be wary of what direction he is moving.

Regardless of how Edgar approaches this fight, the leg kicks of the champion are a massive weapon that must be accounted for, especially given his style. While I can see ways for Frankie to take them out of the fight to some degree, he tendencies in previous fights lead me to believe that he won’t be able to neutralize the kicks enough to turn this into a straight Boxing match.

Frankie EdgarThe route to victory is far more muddled for Frankie Edgar, as no fighter has been able to accomplish the feat of defeating Aldo since the champ was 19 years old. His ability to ‘cardio kickbox’ to a decision is always present, but being the less refined striker leads me to believe that won’t be an effective avenue to victory for him. You have to keep in mind that Edgar got demolished on the feet early against Gray Maynard… twice. This is the same fighter who couldn’t figure out what to do to combat Clay Guida’s style in his most recent bout. Maynard is a powerful striker, and an improving striker, but to say he’s anywhere near the striker that Jose Aldo is would be simply wrong. The other method that Edgar has used to find victory against better fighters is simply outlasting them. This worked against BJ Penn and Gray Maynard, but I’ve already discussed why I think the cardio won’t be the deciding factor in this fight from Aldo’s perspective. Also keep in mind that even though Edgar isn’t making a huge weight cut, we’ve seen fighters drop down to what would logically be their correct weight and struggle with cardio in the past. When a body isn’t used to cutting weight, even a small cut can affect cardio. Banking on his cardio alone for an Edgar victory is reaching.

That leaves the wrestling. The only way I envision the belt changing hands on Saturday night is if Edgar can mix in his takedowns to keep Aldo off balance, and assert some visual control for the judges to see. This is the most likely path for Frankie to win, and even then he is faced with a fighter possessing some of the best takedown defense and scrambling ability in MMA. Aside from the one takedown landed by Hominick in the fifth round of their fight, Aldo has been taken down once in his Zuffa career. That was back in 2008 against Jonathan Brookins. Apparently Kenny Florian was credited with a takedown against him as well, but rewatching that fight I have no idea where that came from, as Aldo’s back never touches the ground for more than a second in that fight.

Not only is Aldo adept at avoiding takedowns and scrambling back to his feet in the rare instances that his opponent gets close to taking him down, but he is also fantastic at reversing takedowns and taking top position himself. Against Mike Brown, Urijah Faber and Kenny Florian he was able to reverse takedowns and almost instantly mount each opponent. Although we haven’t seen a great deal of Aldo’s ground game, when he has used it in these situations the results have been impressive.

When you couple the defense of Aldo with the fact that Edgar has only landed his takedowns at a 37% rate in his UFC career (and an even lower 22% in his six consecutive title fights), it’s hard to see Edgar consistently getting the champion to the ground. Aldo’s ability to shuck his opponents off when they shoot from distance and soundly defend takedowns from the clinch means that there is no specific route for Edgar to pursue the takedown that will guarantee success.

Jose AldoEdgar did find some success in catching the kicks of Benson Henderson to take him down in their first fight, but the kicks he caught were primarily to the body. In the second fight, Henderson adjusted by not throwing as many body kicks, but still found a great deal of success with kicks to the legs while not putting himself in the same danger. Aldo’s kicks come so fast and are primarily targeted at the legs, so Edgar will have a difficult time using that weapon to obtain takedowns.

Overall, while the intangibles of Frankie Edgar are some of the best in the sport, I simply don’t see toughness, durability and cardio being enough for him here. What it comes down to is the fact that Aldo is a superior striker with a phenomenal ability to avoid going to the ground. The long layoff is worrisome, as Aldo previously put on a great deal of size when he was out for an extended period of time, but as long as he has learned from that experience, the more skilled fighter will emerge victorious at UFC 156.

Going out on a bit of a limb, I see Jose Aldo being able to do what many before him haven’t. I think that once Aldo settles into his rhythm – which usually takes a round – he will hurt Edgar and actually be able to put him away. Jose Aldo retains his title with a second round TKO.

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About bradtaschuk

An MMA enthusiast who also fancies himself a writer, I've been following the sport in depth since moving off to University in the fall of 2004 allowed me more free time than I knew what to do with. Quickly, an obsession with watching as much MMA as possible developed, which has continued to this day in the form of writing and editing articles for various MMA sites, and now to my own blog about my views on the sport.

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