A common theme in combat sports is “what if?” What if Fighter A moved up in weight to face Fighter B? Or what if there was a superfight between division X’s champion and division Y’s?

Well, luckily for fight fans, one of these long-awaited “what ifs” is about to take place. Although former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar no longer holds UFC gold, his move to 145 pounds will begin with a title shot against current champion Jose Aldo at UFC 156 on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas.

Aldo has now sat atop the featherweight division for more than three years. The explosive Brazilian carries a 14-fight winning streak that dates back to 2005, and he’s 3-0 since the WEC was absorbed by the UFC.

Meanwhile, Edgar is in one of the most bizarre situations for any title challenger in memory. The fighter is coming off back-to-back decision losses to Benson Henderson, culminating a stretch of three sets of rematches. As such, Edgar has faced just three opponents since 2009. However, the competitive nature of the Henderson fights earned the New Jersey native the crack at Aldo’s belt.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Aldo – 10, Edgar – 9

Aldo (R) delivers a front kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

On the feet, this is a big contrast of styles. Aldo possesses truly lethal Muay Thai. His aggressive nature and willingness to attack with knees and kicks has spelled the end for a number of his opponents. Most recently, Chad Mendes found out just how much power Aldo packs in his strikes, getting finished for the first time by a vicious knee to the jaw. But what really makes Aldo’s striking so dangerous isn’t just the 14 career finishes in 21 wins, it’s his combinations. Both Mendes and his teammate Urijah Faber have strong wrestling bases, but because of Aldo’s pressure and speed in his combinations, they were unable to capitalize and turn his kicks into takedowns. Aldo frequently uses a jab-cross-hook to the body-right leg kick combo that was popularized by Ernesto Hoost in kickboxing. It absolutely obliterated Faber’s leg and even bested veteran kickboxer Mark Hominick.

Edgar’s stand-up is a totally different animal. Where Aldo uses his aggressiveness, Edgar opts for technique. He’s a crisp boxer with excellent footwork. In his bouts with B.J. Penn and a large portion of his bouts with Gray Maynard, Edgar’s ability to get in and out without getting hit was a key to his success. And, in the second Maynard fight, Edgar showed his punches do pack some pop as he finished off his more powerful foe. The biggest concern for Edgar against Aldo is just how much more damage he can absorb. He was absolutely battered by Maynard in the opening rounds of both fights (some felt the first round of their UFC 125 bout should have been scored 10-7).  Sure, Edgar has never been finished, but he’s also never had to cut weight. That could be a major determinant in this match-up.

Ground Game: Aldo – 10, Edgar – 9

Aldo (bottom) (Sherdog)

Nova Uniao black belt. That’s not a term that is tossed around lightly in the grappling world. Aldo’s resume is very misleading because he’s only forced one submission with his high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it’s not something that can be overlooked. If Aldo does end up on his back, he has the tools to submit anyone. It’s just that he’s had so much success with his stand-up, he hasn’t needed his grappling skills. If Edgar does bring this fight to the ground, that may change.

Don’t discount the fact that Edgar is the owner of a BJJ brown belt from Renzo Gracie. That’s also not an easy accomplishment. But it doesn’t quite stack up to Aldo’s credentials on the mat. And much like his opponent, Edgar doesn’t have a ton of submission wins on his resume. But Edgar’s guillotine is very good, and against Henderson, he looked for it on multiple instances. Don’t expect him to pull guard against someone like Aldo, but if the opportunity to attack Aldo’s neck along the fence arises, he may go for it yet again. Another strength of Edgar’s is his submission defense, surviving the equally as dangerous grasp of Henderson in both fights.

Wrestling: Aldo – 9, Edgar – 10

Edgar (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

The biggest chess match in this fight may be in the wrestling department. Aldo may have the best takedown defense in the sport. While he was certainly aided by the fence in his bout with Mendes, you cannot ignore the 95-percent rating listed by Fightmetric. That’s a number rarely seen in this sport. The Brazilian certainly won’t be looking for takedowns of his own, but it will be interesting to see if his speed will be enough to attack with his kicks and keep the fight standing.

Timing, timing, timing. That’s Edgar’s biggest strength in the takedown department. The longtime Rutgers wrestling coach and former four-time national qualifier has showcased the ability to score takedowns when his opponents least expect it. It goes back to his footwork and head movement on the feet, where he can slip a punch and turn it into a powerful double-leg takedown. He hasn’t exhibited smothering top control, as many of his larger opponents were able to bounce back to their feet, but over the course of five rounds, those takedowns will pay dividends on the scorecards.

Strategy: Aldo – 9, Edgar – 10

Edgar (James Law/Heavy MMA)

It’s hard to knock Aldo in this aspect of the fight game. He goes out and takes people’s heads off; plain and simple. Ask Cub Swanson how not one, but two flying knee strikes tasted before Aldo returned to the ground. Aldo has gone the distance with the aforementioned Faber and Hominick, and he faded a bit as the fights progressed. Without question, he wants to attack early and often to get a finish.

The fights with B.J. Penn were the first real glimpses of how smart Edgar is as a fighter. He had a clear game plan and executed it perfectly. Even after getting battered by Maynard, he was able to recover and continue to mix his strikes and takedowns. For that reason, if this fight goes the distance, it has to favor Edgar.

Killer Instinct: Aldo – 10, Edgar – 9

While Edgar has the edge in strategy, Aldo has an overwhelming advantage in looking to end a fight. More than half of his career wins have come inside the first round and the champion will pounce given any opportunity. If Edgar makes the same kind of mistakes he did in the Maynard fights, don’t expect Aldo to give him a chance to recover.

It will be interesting to see if Edgar gains power at the lower weight class. His seven finishes (four by strikes) over 19 career fights are more than doubled by his opponent, and Edgar has shown a propensity for going to the scorecards. Where Aldo would rather finish fights early, Edgar is content with using his technique to score points. While that might be the smarter strategy (see above), it might also cost him against an aggressive fighter like Aldo.

X-Factor

How will Edgar look at 145 pounds? That’s the biggest unknown surrounding this fight. Both fighters are durable and have clear advantages in this fight, but will Edgar be able to match Aldo’s speed in his new weight class? Will the weight cut zap him of his high output and pace? That may impact the fight more than either fighter’s skill set.

Total: Aldo – 48, Edgar – 47

Verdict: Frankie Edgar is one of the most gutsy and durable fighters in the sport. He’s fought and beaten much larger opponents for most of his career, but dropping down to face someone like Aldo is like going swimming in a shark tank. No matter how good of a swimmer you are, there’s simply no escape. Look for Aldo to be the first man to finish Edgar with a second-round TKO to retain his belt.

Top Photo: Jose Aldo (center) poses with his team (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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  • Hassan

    Dude, awesome analysis. But I think game plan is a tie. Aldo knows what to do to negate his opponents powers. It will be a good fight regardless.

    • Rob Tatum, News Manager/Assistant Editor

      That’s a fair argument, but I think if the fight goes the distance, Edgar’s strategy will pay off more than Aldo’s.