Johnny Hanson / AP
Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011 | 1 a.m.
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HOUSTON — Dana White popped out of his cage-side seat and started applauding more than he ever recalled moments after the UFC 136 main event concluded.
Frankie Edgar’s dramatic comeback TKO victory over Las Vegas native Gray Maynard at 3:54 of the fourth round brought White back to his childhood. It made the UFC president reminisce about the days when he’d rewatch the same iconic boxing movie.
“I loved ‘Rocky,’” White said. “But even when I watched 'Rocky,' it was like, this is such (expletive). Nobody can take that many punches and come back and win a fight. It could never happen.”
It happened inside the UFC octagon at the Toyota Center. Much like their UFC 125 bout earlier this year, lightweight contender Gray Maynard destroyed champion Frankie Edgar in the first round.
Instead of settling for a draw like the first fight, Edgar took it a step further Saturday.
He regained his bearings and won the second and third rounds. A fully recovered Edgar (14-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) hit Maynard (10-1-1 MMA, 1-1-1 UFC) with an uppercut and followed it with a right hand to complete their trilogy of bouts in which the two spent some 58 combined minutes in the cage together.
“Sometimes you get hit like that and you’re in survival mode,” Edgar said. “I have fight in me. That’s what it is. You can hit me, rock me and I’ll keep coming no matter what.”
It’s that Rocky-type attitude from Edgar that has endeared him to White so thoroughly. White’s admiration reached a whole new level with this victory.
At the post-fight press conference, White ranked Edgar as the second-best fighter in the world. The promoter has Edgar above such luminaries as Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones and Jose Aldo — who defended his featherweight belt with a unanimous-decision win over Kenny Florian in the evening’s co-main event.
“The only thing that keeps (Edgar) from being No. 1 is that Anderson Silva has not been beaten in the UFC since 2006 and most of the time he’s been the champion,” White said. “That’s the only thing that keeps Frankie Edgar from being No. 1 pound-for-pound, if you really look at what pound-for-pound means.”
White’s argument is that Edgar’s true weight class is the 145-pound division, but the undersized 29-year-old from Toms River, N.J., keeps beating up on everyone bigger than him at 155. Maynard, 32, weighed at least 15 pounds more than Edgar in the octagon Saturday night.
Don’t expect Maynard or any of Edgar’s other victims to say his size causes him to lose any power or toughness. Maynard’s inability to put Edgar away in two straight fights is something that will haunt the challenger.
“I hit him on a knee, I hit him with a right, I hit him on a hook,” Maynard said. “What else? If there was a bat, I probably could have hit him with that, too. I couldn’t find one.”
Edgar said he thought “not again” during the first round when Maynard repeatedly pummeled him. But he had a sense of calm once he got out of that round and went back to his corner.
His coaches provided a few adjustments to help stay out of the way of Maynard’s uppercut that clipped him multiple times, along with another pointer or two. Edgar followed the advice to the tune of a robot.
Before long, he was using his superior quickness to weave in and out and frustrate Maynard with a boxing game that White described as the best in the UFC.
“I felt the momentum was going my way,” Edgar said. “I felt like I had good head movement. I felt that I was able to score with my right hand.”
Maynard can attest to that.
“He hit me on the button,” Maynard said. “That has never happened to me, even in the gym. He’s a tough kid. I’m down, but I’m not out. I’ll climb the ladder. I know it will take a while, but that’s me. That’s who I am. I’m going to show everyone I can still do it.”
The lightweight division is the promotion’s deepest weight class, so it’s impossible to guess what’s next for Maynard. Edgar, however, will most likely take on either Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez or the winner of a UFC on FOX bout between Clay Guida and Ben Henderson.
Another highly regarded 155-pound contender, Melvin Guillard, fell out of a favor at UFC 136 with a stunning upset loss to Joe Lauzon via first-round submission.
Edgar said he didn’t care who was next but expressed interest in facing Melendez. He’s happy to move on from Maynard more than a year since they were booked against each other. Although the series between Edgar and Maynard now stands at 1-1-1, a fourth bout isn’t in anyone’s plans.
“If so, it would be a while,” White said. “I think we’ve answered some questions here.”
Edgar answered most of the questions. He showed he can beat Gray Maynard and deserved the belt wrapped around his waist.
Edgar proved that a fighter could recover from an unimaginable onslaught of punches and still win. Like Rocky.
“He was my hero,” Edgar said. “I guess I kind of walk in his same footsteps.”