As I watched the UFC lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson head into the fifth and final round this past weekend, I knew one thing about the scoring to that point. It was close. I remarked to others near me that there were a couple of rounds that I could see reasonable people scoring either way, and neither fighter had really dominated the fight through the first four rounds.
Frankie Edgar's corner should have been telling him, "If you want the belt, you have to want this round." As the challenger, it was incumbent upon Edgar to prove that he deserved the belt more than the current champion. When you're in the last round of a close championship fight, you need to leave everything on the mat.
That means being aggressive, forcing the fight, and, yes, even taking calculated risks. It's much safer to sit back and make sure you don't get hit with a big bomb, but that's not a game plan that shows fans or judges that you deserve the victory. In the end, I had Henderson ahead by a slight margin, but could have seen the case for a decision either way.
I think both fighters approached the last round as if they were absolutely sure that they were ahead at least three rounds to one, or as if they were dead tired. If either Henderson or Edgar thought that they had already won the fight before the fifth round started, their corners should have set them straight and told them what they needed to do. If either fighter was so tired that he could barely stand, much less mount even a single round-stealing attack in the final round of a title fight, well, that speaks for itself, too.
It's hard to get an accurate read on the overall fight from inside the cage, so you have to rely on those watching from the outside, those whose opinions you trust and respect. If Edgar didn't have a guy like that in his corner, then he is doubly at fault. Either way though, the blame for that loss rests squarely on Edgar.
I recently wrote that the UFC makes good fights by pitting fighters of relatively equal skill levels against one another. The goal of that, of course, is to make fights that fans enjoy watching. Nobody wants to see a guy who thinks that he might be ahead on the scorecards coast through the end of the fight. That's not what the UFC is all about. It's all about the fight. If you want to be the champion, you need to bring it every fight, every round.
Brad has been a lifelong fan of boxing and a fan of mixed martial arts since Royce Gracie won the first UFC in 1993. He has studied Tang Soo Do and Judo. He fought three amateur kick-boxing matches at 143 pounds, winning two, the last in 1990.