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Breaking down the UFC 118 main card

8/25/2010

A marathon of August MMA finally hits its closing note come Saturday with UFC 118: Edgar versus Penn 2. Airing live on pay-per-view from Boston's TD Garden, this show marks the UFC's first venture into the state of Massachusetts since winning a long battle for sanctioning.

With the UFC lightweight title rematch between Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn headlining the bill, mandatory viewing laws should be enforced. Backing up that hotly anticipated dustup is a No. 1 contender's match in the same division, plus the Octagon debut of soon-to-be grappling dummy James Toney.

Frankie Edgar versus B.J. Penn

Unlike the cast of "Jersey Shore," reigning UFC lightweight champion Edgar actually is from the shore and seemingly has a brain that evolved past the reptilian stage. He'll need every bit of brainpower he can muster to repeat the feat he pulled off at UFC 112 -- defeating previously unstoppable lightweight virtuoso Penn.

In fairness to Penn, the five-round decision he dropped to Edgar was poorly judged and an example of how effective counterpunching is often ignored in favor of striking volume. "The Answer" would do well to maintain the stick-and-move strategy he worked against Penn because his speed advantage allows him to move in and out while avoiding any fight-altering counterpunches. The only problem is that he'll still be living dangerously thanks to Penn's marked power advantage.

Whether or not Penn can land the clean power strikes he landed against the likes of Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez is the definitive question heading into this rematch. The first bout established that Edgar won't get Penn down and keep him there. He has no choice but to play to his speed against the Hawaiian's power. And although the speed advantage undoubtedly will still be there for Edgar, he can't bank on Penn giving in to the temptation of lethargy for long stretches.

He also can't expect Penn to keep his bone-chilling grappling skills on the shelf a second time. Although Edgar possesses solid wrestling skills, his undersized frame and iffy defensive wrestling from the clinch is worrying if Penn pursues a takedown. If "The Prodigy" shoots, he'll get pancaked all day, but a clinch tie-up favors Penn's size, balance and underrated dirty boxing skills.

Basically, this fight hinges on whether Penn engages in the fight Edgar wants. Another five-round straight boxing match doesn't favor Penn's patient, counterpunching style -- at least not in the eyes of judges dazzled by CompuStrike stats. However, assuming the same approach from Penn -- a fighter who effortlessly dismantled all comers until he met Edgar -- is far too dismissive a stance given his intense desire for greatness.

Another spirited performance from Edgar should be expected, but the best version of Edgar doesn't beat an on-point Penn. The rematch should unfold in the same fashion the original was expected to play out -- with Edgar putting up unflinching resistance but eventually losing to a more skilled opponent. A level-change counter to Edgar's charging combinations is the move to wait on. Once it materializes, the timer on his title reign will turn into a doomsday clock.

Randy Couture versus James Toney

Any serious prognostication of the "MMA versus boxing" sideshow that is Couture versus Toney is an affront to mixed martial arts. It's time for everyone to take a deep breath and accept some hard truths about James "Lights Out" Toney before stretching reality in the name of making a case for his chances of winning.

Toney's athletic prime came during the first half of the 1990s, when he fought as a middleweight and super middleweight. Since then, he has done nothing but gain weight while putting the long-term effects of an overextended boxing career on display for all to see. The physical and mental degradation of this once-great boxer, regardless of how grating he can be, is a tragicomedy of the highest order.

Presuming he has the ability to put Couture down and out with a single blow is a stretch. Seemingly overlooked is the fact that Toney isn't a natural heavyweight and won't be wearing the boxing shoes that play a critical role in generating the power for which boxers are known. Setting that aside, the fact remains that Couture was once a borderline world-class wrestler and remains fully capable of taking down any boxer who ever lived.

Beyond that rather obvious advantage, Couture -- even at 47 -- remains a serious athlete with an unwavering commitment to proper training. Contrast that with Toney, who is so out of shape that the UFC has resorted to Photoshopping his media photos. Regardless, even a fit Toney lacks the time necessary to make up for the more than 13 years of MMA training Couture holds over him.

That's the story of this fight: a haggard, old boxer stepping outside his realm to take on a man his senior in age but his junior in mileage. The conclusion will be every bit as predictable come fight night as it was when the announcement of the bout first hit the newswire.

Kenny Florian versus Gray Maynard

The right to face the winner of the evening's main event will be up for grabs when Florian and Maynard lock up in what could be your "Fight of the Night" winner. Who earns that potentially dubious former prize depends largely on how Maynard chooses to approach the fight.

For all of Florian's offensive dynamism, he still remains somewhat unproven when it comes to generating offense from the guard. Maynard certainly has the wrestling to drag Florian to the floor, but as he showed in his bout with Nate Diaz, Maynard is more prone to engaging on the feet with a dangerous grappler. Trading on the feet isn't going to fly for him against the local favorite, though, because Maynard's boxing still has a lot of room for improvement.

Florian's combination of sharp striking and a strategic mind make him the sort of fighter who is tailor-made to exploit the gaping holes in Maynard's defense. Prone to throwing parabolic arm punches, "The Bully" leaves himself ripe for counterstrikes and lacks the fluid body movement to get away with them against a striker of Florian's caliber. Given his recent preference for standing in the pocket, there is a fair chance that Maynard will step into a fight-ending salvo.

How many chances Florian gets to make that happen will be up to Maynard's wrestling and his faith in defending the Bostonian's submissions. The owner of a solid base and sound positional skills, Maynard can work the kind of lockdown top control that Florian hasn't proved he can overcome. By the same token, Florian has shown slick offensive wrestling and could easily plant Maynard on his back given the opportunity.

That, more than anything, is why Florian should be able to win this fight. He has the diversity of technique that Maynard is still in search of. Whether it be via striking or submissions, Florian eventually will find the opening he's perpetually hunting and will hand Maynard his first professional loss.

Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.