Hatsu Hioki shines, Todd Duffee doesn't
If it's true that the best rivalries are born out of competitiveness, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard offer a chance at something we rarely see in mixed martial arts. In lieu of hyperbole or feigned ill will, Edgar and Maynard have brought the sporting aspect of MMA into focus. To them, winning is everything. And for a sport that sometimes allows it not to be, that is unbelievably refreshing.
After they spent eight rounds locked together in the Octagon, this is what we know: Edgar and Maynard are well-matched in skill, athleticism, temperament, grit and determination. They can eat a strike or 10 and survive. They can grapple and counter grapple, defend, neutralize and attack.
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They are ingredients in a formula that made Saturday's rematch the bout others will be compared to in 2011 -- at least until something amazes us in supplanting it.
Many of MMA's notable rivalries are remembered more for narratives than hard-fought results. Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg. Kazushi Sakuraba and the Gracies. Not a competitive set of fights in the bunch.
Rivalries come in all shapes and sizes. The elder Shamrock lost a war to Don Frye, and it's probably good they met just once. Jens Pulver and B.J. Penn could have delivered a great back-and-forth affair, yet five and a half years between fights meant they were completely different mixed martial artists for the rematch. Quinton Jackson and Wanderlei Silva shared three compelling fights. Liddell and Randy Couture played part in a trilogy that helped push MMA to greater heights.
So long as they keep doing what they're doing, Edgar and Maynard have the opportunity to be remembered among MMA's fiercest rivals. It's hard to imagine that after their rubber match, the pair wouldn't eventually fight a fourth or fifth time. Maynard is 31; Edgar, 29. The only blemishes on their respective records have come against the other guy. Great sports rivals often grow to dislike one another. Edgar and Maynard aren't above that, and it would only add to the intensity of one of the first legitimate top-of-the-division duels we've seen in MMA.
Sitting in front of the media after UFC 125, neither looked particularly pleased to be there.
Edgar thought he did enough work after a first-round beating to score the win and retain his title.
Maynard felt strongly that his early dominance should have earned him a championship.
This story is far from over.
Unsung Hioki asserts himself
There are solid arguments to make that Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2) is the No. 2 featherweight in MMA behind Jose Aldo. That's where I put the Sengoku and Shooto champion after outpointing dangerous Marlon Sandro -- the current Pancrase and now-former Sengoku featherweight champion -- over the weekend.
Some would argue that Michihiro Omigawa is that man, and they'd have a good candidate. I prefer Hioki. Entering his ninth year as a professional, Hioki's four losses -- all decisions, three of which were split, and one of which, against Omigawa, should have gone the other way -- don't do a thing to take away from his 23 wins.
Hioki, 27, fought and won three times last year. He would be in the midst of a 13-fight unbeaten streak were it not for the bogus decision loss to Omigawa in 2009. You need to scrounge around on the Net to find it, but Hioki's five-round victory over Sandro was the second best fight of a very busy three-day stretch, and it's down as one of my favorites of 2010.
There aren't many fighters as good on the floor. He isn't a finesse submission guy like Shinya Aoki -- one reason I think the athletic 5-foot-11 Hioki could be competitive against any style of fighter. He ground-and-pounds with impact, and can chain off submissions that make black belts like Sandro contemplate tapping. (Watch the fifth round of Hioki-Sandro for a sense of what the Japanese fighter can do.) He's willing and able to trade on the feet. And he smartly uses his length against shorter competition.
Don't expect to see Hioki in the UFC this year. He doesn't appear to be on the promotion's radar, especially not after they recently lured Omigawa and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto from Japan.
Five choices that went well or didn't:
Good: Judges' call in Edgar-Maynard. I had the bout 47-47 and can't say there's much of an issue with any of the three scorecards that resulted in a rare split draw.
Bad: Todd Duffee agreeing to fight Alistair Overeem for $60,000 instead of waiting for an easy televised comeback -- admittedly, for less money -- later in the month. The gamble: Beat Overeem and rocket back to relevance; get beat up and drop out of sight. The 25-year-old heavyweight lost by knockout in 19 seconds.
Good: UFC president Dana White awarding Gray Maynard an immediate rematch against Frankie Edgar. Yes, it meant the promotion went back on its promise of giving WEC champion Anthony Pettis the next shot. But the kid can wait. Maynard and Edgar deserve another five rounds as soon as possible.
Bad: It's troubling enough that Kazushi Sakuraba continues to fight. But letting him do so against Marius Zaromskis without first bandaging his cauliflowered right ear -- as he has for years -- was awfully stupid. A minute into the Dream welterweight championship fight it looked like it popped a minute later, there it was, dangling from his head. Terrible.
Good: Yuichiro Nagashima's knee aimed at Shinya Aoki's face to start the second round of their K-1/MMA rules match. Aoki showed zero respect for Nagashima or K-1 in the first round, when they were prohibited from doing anything but kickboxing. As the bell sounded for Round 2, Aoki, no longer restrained, shot a long, lazy double-leg that was met with a perfect counter knee that put the Dream lightweight champion to sleep.
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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