Who Takes It? UFC Manila: Frankie Edgar vs. Urijah Faber

This week’s edition of “Who Takes It?” casts focus on the main event of UFC Fight Night: Manila, to be held at a place near and dear to my heart — as Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and Urijah “The California Kid” Faber face off in a featherweight bout in Manila, Philippines.

It’s the UFC’s first trip to the Southeast Asian country (and the world’s largest archipelago) — and they’re bringing what is being billed as a “super-fight.” Some have questioned the decision, but for me, it feels like the right move at the right time.

It hasn’t been the best run for the UFC, as Matt and Ingo discussed in this week’s MMA Nuts show. Maybe the Edgar/Faber “superfight,” to take place in a locale (as we discussed last year with promoter EJ Calvo) where MMA is rapidly growing in popularity, will offer some relief. Controversies over the Reebok deal and Jon Jones are overshadowing the action in the cage lately (although, in the case of that mess last week in Australia, maybe that’s okay…).

Still, at first glance — as big a names as Edgar and Faber are in the UFC, the bout is a somewhat confusing one to handicap.

But, maybe that suits the event, too. Filipino MMA pioneer Alvin Aguilar, the man Fightland dubbed “The Baddest Man in Manila,” describes an “organized chaos” in day to day life in his hometown. There’s a fighting spirit, and there’s a smile behind it all, too. It’s the kindest culture you’ll ever find, but, at times, a brutal one, too.

“To survive here, you have to get along with everybody, and just let things go,” Aguilar, says. Still, he adds: “I don’t think there’s such thing as a Filipino male who hasn’t been in a fight.”

Enjoy Fightland’s visit with the always-outspoken Aguilar here:

As for the fight?

Well, where to start? Both fighters have been familiar names to MMA fans for almost ten years.

The former WEC featherweight champion Faber, who is 32-7 as a pro, remains arguably the most popular guy in the sport competing below lightweight. Meanwhile, the former UFC lightweight titlist Edgar, who is 18-4-1, is on a win streak at his new home at 145 lbs — knocking on the door for another title shot.

But it’s been five years since Faber fought at the 145 lb limit, after a long stretch at 135 lbs. Meanwhile, Edgar has been on a three fight winning streak in the division since moving down from 155 lbs — his only loss at featherweight coming in his debut: a close decision loss to Jose Aldo in 2013.

Maybe that fight is key. As long as Faber and Edgar have been fighting, they have only one common opponent: the longtime featherweight champion Aldo.

Taking another look at those bouts proves an interesting contrast. Aldo was mostly able to get the measure of both, sure. But in the Edgar bout, almost every round was close.

Edgar used his familiar rapid movement to slow Aldo’s attack, and land a few counters besides — but all too often, he found himself at the end of straight punches, along with some heavy leg kicks. Still, he had his share of offense standing, including a surprising number of leg kicks of his own, and also managed a few takedowns which helped him stay in the fight.

Edgar likely ended up winning only one round on the judges’ scorecards, but to me at least, the match never really seemed a blowout. He’s too slick and too athletic, it seems, to be a mismatch for anyone; at 145 lbs or 155 lbs.

Against the former bantam champion Faber in 2010, Aldo seemingly had a much easier time — controlling the distance to land a variety of strikes (see FightMetric for the full statistics) and grind out a one-sided decision win.

Faber and Edgar both rely on their rapid movement, both with their hands and their footwork as well. Fans focus on the Muay Thai striking skills that Duane Ludwig famously helped Faber’s “Team Alpha Male” in Sacramento, California develop, but the majority of his recent wins have come via submission, most often a quick guillotine choke in transition. Also like Edgar, he never seems to tire.

A look at past fights shows Faber struggling when he loses that clear athletic advantage he seemed to always have in his WEC days — also suffering decision losses to Renan Barão and Dominick Cruz, and a more recent TKO at the hands of Barão.

But then, another X-Factor may be the question: Are either of them who they once were? Faber will always be known as “The California Kid,” but he turned 35 today. Edgar is etched in many of our minds as the young fighter who out-paced the legend of BJ Penn in their bouts, but he’s 33 now.

I expect Edgar to, as usual, have “The Answer.” Not only does he seem to have his usual advantages in quickness and wrestling acumen — he will, for once, be the bigger man as well. Look for him to out-fox Faber in standup exchanges and eventually earn takedowns as well. It’s hard to imagine Edgar, who has never been submitted (or stopped at all) getting caught in a Faber choke.

I see the always-tough Faber making the final bell — but ultimately, failing to win a round.

As always, enjoy the fights! UFC Fight Night: Manila will begin on Saturday at 10 am ET and is televised on FOX Sports 1 in the US.