The UFC lightweight championship is on the line Saturday at UFC 150 in Denver as Frankie Edgar tries to regain the gold from Benson Henderson in a rousing rematch.
In other action, lightweight stars Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard look to continue their ascent to a title shot, while Jake Shields tries to resurrect his career as a middleweight.
Here’s a closer look at what’s in store:
The UFC lightweight champion Henderson is on a mission to prove his victory over Edgar this past February was no fluke as the two collide in a hotly anticipated rematch.
The 28-year-old Henderson is a perfect 4-0 since joining the UFC in 2011, racking up wins over a number of durable contenders, including Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida.
A taekwondo black belt and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under John Crouch based at Arizona’s MMA Lab, the Colorado native was a two-time NAIA All-American wrestler and a seasoned submission grappler, having earned a bronze medal at the 2011 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Henderson made his professional mixed martial arts debut in November 2006. Rising to prominence under the now-defunct WEC banner, Henderson finished Anthony Njokuani, Shane Roller, Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner to firmly cement his position atop the division. However, Henderson would drop the WEC title at the organization’s last-ever show, losing a competitive decision to current UFC title hopeful Anthony Pettis.
A reflection of the new breed in the sport, Henderson is a well-rounded southpaw with no visible holes in his game. His striking, wrestling, submissions and conditioning are all at an elite level.
In a “Fight of the Night” performance in February, Henderson bloodied and battered the resilient Edgar early in their title clash, ultimately prevailing on judges’ scorecards in a tightly contested fight.
In order to move on to new challengers and silence critics, Henderson will need to decisively dispatch the game Edgar in a rematch that will surely deliver the goods.
The 30-year-old Edgar finally earned the credit he rightfully deserves with back-to-back victories over the legendary B.J. Penn in 2010. Edgar followed up those career-defining performances with an impressive knockout of Gray Maynard at UFC 136 in October 2011, effectively avenging his lone career setback up to that point.
Like his opponent on Saturday night, Edgar is a diverse fighter with a plethora of tools at his disposal. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Ricardo Almeida and a former NCAA Division I wrestler at Clarion University, Edgar has refined his striking under Mark Henry and Kru Phil Nurse at the Renzo Gracie Combat Team in New Jersey.
Standing just 5-foot-6, Edgar is deceptively strong and he’s one of the quickest fighters in the division. UFC president Dana White has repeatedly stated that he hopes to one day see Edgar compete at 145 pounds, but the former champion insists he has what it takes to compete with anyone in the lightweight division. Judging by his performances, which include a pair of wins over Penn, we should have no reason to doubt him.
In their first go-around, Edgar found success with his takedowns and movement, while Henderson was able to dish out some heavy punishment and brutalize the former champion’s legs.
The fight will likely consist of feverish scrambles and effective striking from both men. If Edgar can avoid the early onslaught and stay light on his feet over the course of five rounds, he should score valuable points with the judges. Never one to take rounds off, Edgar is always active, bopping and weaving in and out of range, while scoring with effective combinations and mixing in quick takedowns. If he’s unable to close the distance or hurt Edgar early, Henderson’s title reign could be short-lived as the former champion regains his crown with a valiant five-round effort.
Verdict: Edgar via decision
Fan friendly lightweights will take center stage in the co-feature as “The Cowboy” battles “The Young Assassin” in a clash of former teammates.
Cerrone, 29, enjoyed one of the best campaigns of 2011 in the Octagon, defeating Paul Kelly, Vagner Rocha, Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver. Seemingly on the fast track to a UFC title shot, the former WEC title challenger fell short against Nate Diaz in a hectic decision this past December, sending him back to where he started. Most recently, Cerrone notched a decision over Jeremy Stephens in May.
A scrappy submission specialist with excellent kickboxing, Cerrone continues to evolve as a fighter under the tutelage of Greg Jackson in New Mexico. The Colorado native has already dropped a pair of bouts to current champion Benson Henderson in the WEC and he’s been itching for a rematch ever since.
Guillard, 29, a former member of the Jackson-Winkeljohn team, recently followed in the footsteps of Rashad Evans by joining the “Blackzilians” in Florida, where his training partners are abundant and include a who’s who of elite fighters, including Evans, Alistair Overeem, Anthony Johnson, Miguel Torres, Eddie Alvarez and Daniel Ghita. Recently, the camp has also welcomed former UFC champion Vitor Belfort.
A brown belt in judo, Guillard’s conditioning and susceptibility to submissions remain his biggest weaknesses. The New Orleans native is exceptionally strong and he’s improved his takedown defense considerably over the years. In addition, he’s one of the most powerful hitters in the division, having knocked out the likes of Shane Roller, Jeremy Stephens and Dennis Siver.
With his back against the wall after a pair of submission losses to Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller, Guillard rebounded with a workmanlike unanimous decision over Fabricio Camoes at UFC 148 in July.
Cerrone’s ego got the better of him against Diaz as he willingly stood in the pocket and banged. If he makes the same mistake against Guillard, he will definitely regret it.
With that being said, Cerrone is a technically superior kickboxer who can pick his shots from the outside and punish Guillard’s legs with a cavalcade of kicks. Moreover, Cerrone will waste little time sinking in his hooks for a fight-ending choke if the action spills to the mat.
A more patient Guillard with an improved gas tank will be menacing early as he looks to utilize his speed to land a critical countershot. But Cerrone will be well-equipped for Guillard’s strategy and he will capitalize on the slightest opening to take him down. Once they hit the floor, like a shark smelling blood, Cerrone will relish the opportunity to finish Guillard by submission.
Verdict: Cerrone via Submission, Round 1
In an intriguing twist to his UFC journey, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion Shields returns to the division where he recorded his most significant career win as he tangles with the hard-nosed grinder Herman.
The 33-year-old Shields is no stranger to longtime mixed martial arts fans. After debuting in October 1999, Shields would capture the Shooto, Rumble on the Rock and EliteXC titles before eventually landing in Strikeforce. Along the way, he recorded massive wins over names like Hayato Sakurai, Dave Menne, Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Mike Pyle and Paul Daley.
Having spent the majority of his career as a welterweight, Shields opted to make the move to 185 pounds, defeating former EliteXC champion Robbie Lawler in his promotional debut and winning the vacant belt in his subsequent bout with Jason Miller.
In the last fight on his Strikeforce contract, Shields was being fed to the proverbial wolves before his eventual UFC debut as he was paired with former Pride two-division titleholder Dan Henderson, who was coming off a highlight-reel knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
The ensuing fight was a shocker as Shields rebounded from a rocky start, utilizing repeated takedowns and overwhelming top control to earn a hard-fought decision after 25 minutes.
Since joining the UFC, Shields has struggled to regain top form. After barely edging Martin Kampmann via split decision in his promotional debut, he lost to welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129 in Toronto. In his next bout, he was stunned by Jake Ellenberger via first-round TKO, though it’s worth noting the fight took place weeks after the death of his father and manager Jack Shields.
At UFC 144 in February, Shields eked out a decision over Yoshihiro Akiyama, but it was a much closer fight than the scorecards might indicate. Despite posting a respectable 2-2 record in the UFC, Shields has yet to showcase his dominant wrestling and top game.
Citing weight cutting issues as a possible reason for his struggles, Shields is returning to middleweight in an attempt to rejuvenate his career.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie and a former NCAA Division II wrestler, Shields possesses one of the best grappling games in the UFC. His striking is still a work in progress, but he did show some strides with his output against St. Pierre and Akiyama.
The 31-year-old Herman is hardly a sacrificial lamb for Shields’ return to 185 pounds as he’s riding an impressive three-fight winning streak with stoppages of Clifford Starks, Kyle Noke and Tim Credeur.
The Team Quest disciple is a slick submission player with key career wins over Brian Ebersole, Glover Teixeira, Scott Smith and Joe Doerksen.
Herman’s striking is nothing to scoff at as he’s armed with the power to finish foes with a single punch. Also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Herman excels on the mat, though he’ll likely want to avoid trading holds with Shields.
The key for Herman is to keep the fight standing and tag Shields with heavy shots. He’ll need to anticipate eventual takedown attempts and prepare to sprawl when Shields closes the gap.
Meanwhile, Shields will benefit from being a stronger wrestler as a middleweight, successfully employing clinches and takedowns against Herman and dominating the positional game. Shields will likely need to overcome some obstacles in the fight in the form of Herman’s fists, but a superior submission grappling repertoire will carry him to a hard-fought decision triumph.
Verdict: Shields via decision
Looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, the Japanese veteran Okami meets the unheralded Texan Roberts.
Okami, 31, is a well-travelled veteran with valuable international experience and key wins over Alan Belcher, Mike Swick, Jason MacDonald, Evan Tanner, Mark Munoz and Nate Marquardt.
The judo black belt was thoroughly outclassed by Anderson Silva in their middleweight title fight last August. Okami would endure a rough homecoming at UFC 144 in February, suffering a come-from-behind third-round knockout loss at the hands of Tim Boetsch in Japan.
Okami is one of the best Japanese wrestlers in the sport. The southpaw amplifies his style with slick striking, powered by a potent jab. His durability was never in question, though Okami will need to prove successive setbacks have not hindered his chin.
Roberts, 29, had his way in his UFC debut this past June, outpointing Caio Magalhaes to take home the win.
A product of Greg Jackson’s famed New Mexico team, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt is a well-rounded opponent for Okami, but the step up in competition will likely prove too much to overcome.
Okami will batter Roberts with his boxing, relying on his jab to keep the former NCAA football prospect at bay. Okami should also be the superior technician in the clinch or on the ground, but he’ll likely elect to keep Roberts at the tail-end of his punches over three rounds, cruising to a one-sided unanimous decision.
Verdict: Okami via decision
Young featherweight hopefuls will kick off the main card as “The Ultimate Fighter” veteran Lawrence takes on the rangy Hawaiian Holloway.
Lawrence, 22, a recent addition to Blackhouse MMA, was eliminated from the reality show after a TKO loss to eventual season winner Michael Chiesa.
Unbeaten in professional competition, Lawrence was victorious in his UFC debut this past June, knocking out John Cofer with a memorable third-round head kick.
A two-time Golden Gloves boxing champion and six-time national kickboxing champion, Lawrence loves to stand and bang. He’s shown some weaknesses on the ground, but he’s poised to become a powerhouse at 145 pounds, where his strength will shine through.
Holloway, 20, the youngest active fighter on the UFC roster, was submitted in his UFC debut this past February, succumbing to a mounted triangle armbar against Dustin Poirier.
However, Holloway rebounded with a decision over Pat Schilling in June, a fight in which he really got to showcase his dynamic kickboxing. Holloway should have a bright future in the sport as he continues to round out his game.
A more accomplished kickboxer, Lawrence will look to break through Holloway’s reach advantage with heavy artillery, unleashing his firepower in close quarters to put Holloway out in the middle stanza.
Verdict: Lawrence via KO, Round 2