Every fight commentator longs for that one moment. Just one sound bite where his emotion, insight and honesty can combine with the action of the fight and become inseparable in the memory of any fan who saw it. Howard Cosell's disbelief when Joe Frazier's aura of invisibility crumbled from around him as he fell to the mat for the first time: "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! The heavyweight champion is taking the mandatory eight count and Foreman is as poised as could be!" Or perhaps Jim Lampley's overflowing of emotions as his friend George Foreman reclaimed the heavyweight title in one punch at the age of forty-five: "It happened! It happened!" Even Mauro Ranallo's disbelief as Fedor Emelianenko was suplexed "right on his head!" On Saturday night at UFC 200, as Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar rematched in a battle of wits to determine the future of the featherweight division I found tears welling in my eyes as Mike Goldberg summed up the stakes perfectly: "The design of the UFC fight kit shorts maintains the original silhouette while driving the connection between the athletes and fans through a celebration of national pride. This monumental UFC 200."
Joking aside, Aldo versus Edgar II was, to this writer at least, the stand out fight of the weekend. Three years removed from their first meeting, a lot has changed in the landscape of mixed martial arts but Edgar and Aldo remain pillars of technical and tactical excellence from whom any fighter can learn and towards whom any new fan should be pointed. If you want to see an element of fighting done right, the chances are a study of Aldo or Edgar will leave you with a large chunk of footage and a better understanding of that element.
Though this rematch is being reported as Aldo reinventing himself it was in most ways a version 1.5 of the first fight. A textbook example of deflecting or punishing forward aggression. In our Tactical Guide to Aldo vs Edgar we discussed that while Edgar is known for his restless leg syndrome, constantly shuffling around the cage, Aldo was the man who danced his weight across the octagon canvas better in the first fight. In spite of Edgar's circling around the cage, he will always rush in on a straight line when he wants to land some punches. This meant that the most important motion in the first fight was the pivot. Aldo wheeled around his lead leg and ended up at ninety degrees to Edgar's line of attack and well out of range of Edgar's multi-punch flurries. Whenever you see a fighter known for forward moving blitzes, remember the bullfight. The entire art / science / barbaric display of bullfighting is built around the principle that a charging bull cannot turn in a distance shorter than it's own body. Once you're past the poor beast's shoulder, it is going to have a hard time turning to hit you.
When we examined Miguel Cotto's rebirth at middleweight—a class where he was often a significantly smaller man—we looked at the pivot as one of the key methods he used to make up for his size disadvantage. By pivoting off and drawing his opponent's right hand, either slipping past it or rolling behind the lead shoulder, Cotto took himself far away from the left hook and was in a new position before his man could pile on blows.
Cotto could decide when he wanted to stay around long enough to throw multiple punches in combination, and when he wanted to deny his opponent the chance to do the same. In Aldo versus Edgar II, the pivot was even more frequently used by Aldo and it left Edgar just as stumped as the first time around.
Aldo would hook on the pivot, jab with a pivot, and even found a classic points karate counter—pivoting off with the jab while taking the left high kick on the right forearm.
Karate level? Hai.
The second prong to Aldo's counter strategy—because a single prong does not a fork maketh—was back tracking. As Edgar advanced, Aldo would give ground and look to land punches on the way back. The more aggressive an opponent becomes with his advances, the more viable this method of counter fighting becomes. This was Anderson Silva's favourite method and the reason that aggressive fighters imploded against him while less accomplished, conservative fighters would make it through the rounds. Again, the same strategy that Aldo used against Edgar in the first fight.
But last time around Aldo seemed more interested in flicking a jab into Edgar's face at every opportunity. Aldo has proven to be a fighter who can learn at a remarkable rate. Before the first Edgar fight I wrote a Killing the King and pointed to his lack of a decent jab, but in that same fight he debuted a sharp, well practiced, well timed jab that we had never seen before. If there is any truth to the media narrative that Aldo has become obsessed with his loss to McGregor, his actions in this fight suggested he wants to learn from it. The back stepping right hand—similar to McGregor's favorite back-stepping left—was a constant feature in this bout where it only appeared occasionally in the first.
With the pivot on the end as well: the fight summarized in a gif.
Back stepping and back skipping counters work best when the fighter moves his head or skips slightly off line to reduce the chances of getting cracked by his charging opponent. They also work best when the opponent will run in on a straight line, and when you have a reach advantage. In spite of the latter two working in Aldo's favor, he was often going back on straight lines, with his head in a neutral position and his chin hanging up in the air, and Edgar cracked him a good few times as a result.
In the first fight Edgar seemed hesitant to level change for his usual up-and-down combinations because of Aldo's fearsome reputation with his uppercuts and knees. In this fight Edgar level changed for a right hand to the body in the first round, and the next time he came in Aldo uncorked a brutal knee to the guts.
It was a return to my personal favorite incarnation of Aldo. Not the boxer, not the low kick happy Aldo, but the guy who timed his knees to wind his opponents and who would then easily pummel for underhooks or swing them around by the whizzer. Aldo might well have lost to Conor McGregor but he has a heap of skills that McGregor does not. Aldo doesn't need to worry about constantly maintaining distance because he can sprawl on the absolute best wrestlers his division has and he can get up from under them just as easily. While he probably doesn't want to fight off takedowns for five rounds solid, Aldo should be looking to utilize a that makes the best use of his skill in this area, rather than just trying to show that he can McGregor as well as McGregor. The gut munching knees (which become head crushing knees if the opponent is shooting for his hips at the time) are not such a high risk – low reward strategy for a grappler and anti wrestler as skilled as Aldo.
Pummeling immediately for an underhook after a knee to the head.
Throwing a former lightweight champion around by a whizzer.
Bit of a butt drag and then a chin strap to raise Edgar's head.
Edgar reconsiders stepping in and Aldo flicks out a right hand afterwards for good measure.
The flurry at the end of the first round saw the best of Aldo coming out in varied offence. Aldo connected a jumping knee to the face as Edgar stepped in, hopped on one leg to deck Edgar with a jumping punch, retracted his leg from Edgar's attempted low single, chased him down with a left kick to the liver, then immediately pivoted behind his left shoulder when Edgar returned, just as Cotto did in the above instances.
The sole moment of chaos for Aldo came at the end of the third round as he returned to his corner and they had lost his stool. Aldo was forced to stand for an extra twenty seconds which I'm sure impacted the outcome of the fight in some way. How a corner can lose track of a stool is a question worth asking, but the two main suspects in its disappearance are Conor McGregor and Justin Timberlake.
The temptation, of course, will be to say "Aldo has Edgar's number, he's just too good" but what worked for Edgar in the first fight worked just as well in this fight because Aldo's strategy was largely identical to the first. When Aldo gave ground or pivoted his lead leg was right there for low kicks, and I don't think I counted more than one checked kick in the entire contest. Edgar's team had obviously recognized the success of this strategy in the first fight, because Edgar low kicked plenty in the early going, but began to drop off in favor of ducking in for telegraphed shot and chasing with long, ineffective right hands. Perhaps Edgar's temper got the best of him, perhaps he felt he wasn't doing enough damage with the low kicks, but he failed to commit to a strategy which was going completely unanswered by Aldo and better yet, hampering his counter punching game. Sticking to the low kicks would have forced Aldo to make adjustments to avoid being unbalanced each time he retreated of pivoted, and those adjustments would have reduced his mobility and allowed Edgar to catch up with him.
Another peculiar choice of Edgar's was to act the aggressor for the full five rounds when he had success on the counter in the first fight. Any time he could get Aldo to step forwards he was hitting Aldo clean. Rather than building on that and trying to draw Aldo to him more often, Edgar attempted to push the pace and achieved little, then was unprepared when the odd moment of Aldo offence came back at him. I suspect this is because his team saw how tired Aldo got in the latter rounds of the first contest and decided to push the pace again this time around. Unfortunately Aldo's conditioning was on point this time around.
Where Edgar looked so varied against Urijah Faber: who would only attack with overhands and attempt to counter everything Edgar did with the lead hook, Edgar was one note by the end of this bout. The thing about building off the boxing to score the takedowns and threatening the takedowns to score with the boxing is that if either doesn't work, the other can become desperate. Edgar's later takedown attempts were not well hidden and were shucked off by Aldo.
Though this shot on the rear leg in the first round was pretty nice:
Another interesting point was that when Edgar gritted his teeth and really hung on, he'd wind up on his knees and unable to follow up. When he grabbed the leg on the feet, then dropped it at the first sign of resistance and threw a combination he caught Aldo clean. The same way he winded B.J. Penn with a body kick, and the same sort of grappling into boxing which allowed him to ruin Gray Maynard. By the final rounds Edgar was reduced to wildly chasing Aldo as the featherweight great pivoted off and side stepped him with ease.
If the two were to fight a third match Edgar would need more low kicks—we're talking ten or twenty a round until Aldo does something about them or starts limping—and a more concerted effort to cut the cage. He has been using the cage pretty well in recent years, looking for that back kick when he has his opponent's back to the cage and they are likely to circle right into it (though Aldo went for a back kick at the same time and they both kicked each other in the arse), but by the end of the fight he had completely lost sight of that.
In the second round there was a brief hint at Edgar's well hidden Shoto background as he attempted the famous target combo of Ryu but he's one hadouken away from having his cover blown and being murdered by Akuma so he likes to keep that on the down low.
For now, Aldo is the interim featherweight champion, a tradition which everyone hates but which did allow this fight to be scheduled for the five rounds that it deserved. Should Conor McGregor lose to Nate Diaz again Aldo may have the chance to exorcize his demon. Should the talk of McGregor going to lightweight full time be true, Max Holloway versus Jose Aldo is a match plenty of featherweight fans have been itching to see for months.