LAS VEGAS -- In 2010 and 2011, when Frankie Edgar held the UFC lightweight title and Jose Aldo defended the featherweight belt, fans clamored for a superfight between the two of the scrappiest, grittiest fighters in mixed martial arts.
Edgar lost the lightweight title last year, but Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, fans finally got the long-awaited showdown. With Aldo's featherweight title on the line, the two engaged in a classic, back-and-forth, 25-minute scrap in the main event of UFC 156.
Aldo's fast start in the first three rounds was enough to hold off a late-charging Edgar and retain his title via unanimous decision. The judges' scores were 49-46, 49-46, and 48-47.
"I knew I had to match him step by step, face to face, he was such a warrior," Aldo (22-1), of Brazil, said through an interpreter. "Frankie fought a great fight."
Aldo landed early and often with crisp jabs, opening a cut under Edgar's nose in the first round. The scrappy Edgar is known for utilizing movement to keep opponents off balance, but Aldo chopped at his legs with relentless kicks in an attempt to slow his pace.
By most counts, Aldo won the first three rounds. By round four, Edgar, a Toms River, N.J., native who wrestled at Edinboro College, managed to score a takedown and win the round. Needing a big finish to win, Edgar turned up the intensity another notch in round five, but Aldo was able to fend off Edgar and retain the title.
The loss leaves Edgar in a tough spot. An undersized fighter who didn't cut weight at lightweight, he has gone the distance in four of his past five bouts but come out 0-3-1 in those.
"I find myself in these situations, but it is what it is," Edgar said. "Congrats to Jose, he fought a great fight. He's a winner."
Aldo, who has been 145-pound champion since winning what was then the World Extreme Cagefighting title in 2009, has won 15 straight fights.
In a stunning finish earlier in the night, heavyweight Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva scored a crushing third-round knockout of controversial Dutch kick-boxer Alistair Overeem.
Overeem was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission in 2012 after failing a random steroids test. Saturday night marked Overeem's return, and he sported a noticeably less-defined physique than in previous years.
Still, Overeem (36-12), one no-contest) won both of the first two rounds by dictating the tempo. In the third, though, a fired-up Silva came out swinging and connected with a huge right to the back to the ear. It was simply a matter of time from there, as Silva landed punch after thunderous punch before referee Herb Dean stopped it at 25 seconds of the round.
The decisive finish, after a week of heated trash talk between the two, satisfied Silva.
"After I knocked him out, I was yelling at him 'Let's go! I want more ... come fight!'" said Silva (18-4), a native of Brazil who has relocated to Coconut Creek, Fla. "It really bothered me that he hasn't respected me in interviews leading up to the fight. He talked a lot of trash and I told him that I'd make him respect me tonight."
At light heavyweight, veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira scored an upset victory over former champion Rashad Evans (17-3-1). Evans, fighting for the first time since losing to current champion Jon Jones in April, managed to take the first round with a late takedown.
But the 36-year old Nogueira, who was competing for the first time in 14 months, found his groove in the past two rounds. He played a smart defensive game and effectively countered everything that Evans, a former Michigan State wrestling standout, could throw at him. The three judges each scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Nogueira (21-5), a Brazilian now based in Gardena, Calif.
Demian Maia made a statement about his place in the welterweight pecking order, manhandling one of the division's toughest customers in veteran Jon Fitch. The 35-year-old Sao Paulo resident outgrappled Fitch, a former captain of the Purdue wrestling team, for a one-sided unanimous-decision victory.
Maia, a jiu-jitsu specialist, nearly finished Fitch with a rear-naked choke in the second round. That was the only deviation from a game plan that involved taking Fitch down repeatedly and staying on his back.
Maia (18-4) earned across-the-board 30-27 scores from the judges. He's 3-0 since dropping down from middleweight. Fitch (24-4-1, 1 no-contest) is 1-2-1 in his past four.
"The game plan was to control him," Maia said. "I thought that when I got his back I was going to be able to submit him, but he has very good defense. I think when I went for the takedown he was surprised. I kept him off his game and that's what won me that fight."
In the main-card opener, flyweight Joseph Benavidez of Sacramento, Calif., posted a unanimous decision in a scrap with "Uncle Creepy" Ian McCall.
Benavidez's speed and precision striking made the difference in the first round. In the second, McCall (11-4-1), of Irvine, Calif., wore Benavidez down and scored a takedown in the final minute. But Benavidez regrouped in the final round, dictated the tempo and again got the best of the striking battle.
Benavidez (17-3) won for the fifth time in his past six fights. His only loss in that span was to Demetrious Johnson in September, in a match that determined the UFC's first 125-pound champion.
Benavidez believes he made the case for a Johnson rematch.
"It was 1-1 going into the final five minutes and I had to go out there and take it," Benavidez said. "You always want a title shot because that's what we're all working for. I had an impressive win over a top guy, but I want to continue to grow and be ready when the time comes to take that shot again."