Frankie Edgar was unable to avenge the lone loss of his career, but he left the cage still clutching the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title.
Edgar survived a thrashing at the hands of Las Vegan Gray Maynard for nearly the entire first round and did enough the rest of the way to earn a draw in the main event of UFC 125 at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night.
According to CompuStrike, Maynard landed 44 strikes in the first round. He had Edgar in danger of being stopped several times, but referee Yves Lavigne allowed the champion to continue to take the punishment.
Edgar looked to be out a few times and even got up at one point only to wobble aimlessly across the cage and into the fence, but Lavigne never stepped in.
Edgar had a difficult time describing what took place when asked what he remembered about the first five minutes.
"Not much," said the 29-year-old from New Jersey.
Edgar came out in the second round and regrouped nicely. He went back to controlling distance and using movement to keep Maynard away, the formula he used in winning and defending the title against BJ Penn.
"I felt good," he said. "I felt like the first round didn’t happen."
As the fight wore on, Maynard had difficulty taking down Edgar, something he had a much easier time doing in winning their first meeting in 2008.
Edgar appeared to fully recover from the early barrage and earned the favor of all three judges in both the second and fourth rounds with his technically superior punching, a few well-timed takedowns and even a big slam in the second.
Maynard, however, landed several big shots in the third and fought a solid final round when both fighters were exhausted. Each fighter won 48-46 on one card and the third was 47-47. Maynard won the first round 10-8 on all three cards.
"I kind of punched myself out in the first and in round two I couldn’t really go that hard," Maynard said. "But I thought I won rounds one, three and five."
Instead, the fight became the first draw in a UFC title bout since Penn and Caol Uno fought to a stalemate for the vacant lightweight belt at UFC 42 in February 2003.
Saturday’s winner was supposed to take on incoming World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion Anthony Pettis to unify the belts after the merger of the organizations. The organization announced late Saturday that Edgar will still face Pettis and a third bout between Edgar and Maynard will be put on hold, at least for now.
Also, Brian Stann knocked out Chris Leben in the first round of a middleweight clash. Leben is renowned for his reliable chin, but Stann hit him with a left hook and then landed a right on the chin as Leben came forward to set up the closing sequence.
Leben tried to hang on, but Stann was able to keep the pressure on and eventually dropped him with a knee and forced the referee to step in with several hard shots on the ground.
Stann, a former WEC champion, is a former Marine who was awarded a Silver Star for battlefield heroics in Afghanistan. He emotionally dedicated the fight to one of the soldiers he commanded who was killed in Afghanistan last week.
Thiago Silva won a unanimous decision over Brandon Vera, whose job might be in jeopardy after losing his third straight fight. Silva is predominantly a striker, but took Vera down at will and controlled position throughout the bout. Vera’s nose appeared to be badly broken.
Clay Guida submitted Takanori Gomi with a guillotine in the second round, and Dong Hyun Kim remained unbeaten with a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz.
Brad Tavares and Jeremy Stephens registered knockout victories on the televised preliminary card. Dustin Poirier dominated Josh Grispi for three rounds to win a unanimous decision. Grispi had been slated to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title on this card, but Aldo was injured during training.
Jacob Volkmann and Diego Nunes won split decisions on the undercard, and Daniel Roberts submitted Greg Soto.
Contact sports reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.