Aldo turns back Edgar, upset epidemic

LAS VEGAS -- UFC 156 was turning into a showcase for upsets when featherweight champion Jose Aldo stepped in the Octagon to face former lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar.

Heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem showed no respect for Antonio Silva and paid a hefty price -- getting knocked out in the third round. The loss ended Overeem’s hopes of facing champion Cain Velasquez.

But Overeem wasn’t the only heavy favorite at Mandalay Bay Events Center pinning a win on a potential big payday. Former light heavyweight titleholder Rashad Evans was promised an offer to face middleweight champion Anderson Silva at 185 pounds if he defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

To his credit, Evans showed Nogueira much respect leading into their three-round, co-main event. But Nogueira outboxed Evans en route to a unanimous decision.

Two big favorites, two big upsets. Then, it was Aldo’s turn. He was favored to retain his title. But with what had taken place in the cage minutes earlier, the arena was primed for one more upset.

But Aldo was having none of it. He refused to be an upset victim. He strolled into the cage beaming with confidence, a huge smile on his face and pep in his step. Aldo also had a tremendous speed advantage, something Edgar could always count on against lightweight foes.

The featherweight champion made Edgar look painfully slow, repeatedly beating him to the punch and kick in the first round. Aldo hit Edgar flush with straight right hands, and a left kick to the ribcage left a bruise on the former 155-pounder’s body.

By the end of the opening round Aldo was so impressed with his work, he bore a confident smile on his face as he returned to his corner. The confidence and swagger remained throughout the second round as Aldo controlled the action.

Heading into the third, a stream of blood was flowing from Edgar’s nose. And anyone who has ever witnessed an Edgar fight knows things don’t begin until the blood flows. Undaunted, Edgar picked up his attack and began landing strikes of his own. He landed punches, kicks and even attempted a few takedowns.

The slight smile on Aldo’s face was no more; Edgar had earned his respect. He’d also earned the respect of a large number of fans, who began chanting "USA! USA! USA!"

And Edgar gave them reason to be optimistic as he marched forward and gave as good as he received throughout the latter stages of the fight. In the final two rounds, Edgar gave Aldo reason for concern. Edgar was the more aggressive fighter and arguably won each of the championship rounds.

After five rounds of action, more blood was flowing from Edgar’s nose and his left eye was nearly swollen shut. He finished strong but wasn’t able to join in on the upset party at UFC 156 -- the judges scored the fight for Aldo 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47. Still, Edgar had stated his case: He is a force at featherweight.

He also gained Aldo’s full respect.

“Frankie is a great fighter,” said Aldo, who improved to 22-1. “He was preparing for my kicks and trying to take me down, so I stopped throwing them.”

Like the champion he is, Edgar did not dispute the decision. The fight was close and could have gone his way -- at least on two of the judges’ cards, but Edgar has been here before.

“It was a close fight,” Edgar said. “I keep finding myself in these positions. He won the fight. Jose is the winner.”

Edgar (14-4-1) will learn from this loss against arguably the most skilled fighter he has ever faced and come back stronger and better.

This was Edgar’s debut at 145 pounds, and, as usual, he was the smaller man in the cage Saturday night. But that’s nothing new. When he fully adjusts to the weight class, expect him to make a serious run at calls capturing that belt.

As for Aldo, the pro-Edgar crowd booed him after the judges’ decision was read. But he proved that it will be very difficult for anyone at 145 to dethrone him.

It might also be very difficult for lightweights to upend him when he eventually calls that division home.