HOUSTON - Frankie Edgar was in trouble again in the first round against Gray Maynard, shaken by a hard right upper cut.
Just like he did on New Year's Day, Edgar rallied, and this time left no doubt to the outcome.
Edgar beat Maynard by technical knockout to defend his lightweight championship on Saturday night, finishing the challenger with a flurry of punches late in the fourth round.
The two were waited nine months for their third meeting. Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision in April 2008, and they duelled to a draw on New Year's Day, a match Maynard insists he won.
Maynard knocked Edgar down three times in the first round of their previous meeting, but Edgar managed to survive and earn the draw. This time, Maynard staggered Edgar with a vicious upper cut, then landed a flying left knee that cut open Edgar's nose.
"I don't plan it, believe me," Edgar said. "If I could walk away unscathed, I'd rather do that."
Maynard was frustrated that Edgar survived the early onslaught.
"He's a tough kid," Maynard said. "If there was a bat there, I would've hit him with a bat."
Edgar instantly recalled their last meeting, and that fuelled his gradual comeback. Maynard seemed to back off in the second round, and Edgar started landing left-right combinations to climb back into the fight.
"That last fight we had, he hurt me in that first round," Edgar said. "I don't know, man, maybe I just want to make it exciting. Who knows?"
Edgar continued to land the combos at the start of the fourth round. Maynard went for a takedown and slipped, and Edgar took advantage, landing a hard right upper cut.
With Maynard off-balance, Edgar kept landing right hands and Maynard staggered backward. One more right dropped Maynard to the mat, and Edgar hammered him with left hooks until referee Josh Rosenthal stopped it with just over a minute left in the round.
Maynard vowed victory in August while sporting a T-shirt that read "Dethrone" across the front. Edgar also had a score to settle, looking to avenge his only professional loss.
Afterward, UFC president Dana White called Edgar the best pure boxer in the league.
"He moves well, he moves his head," White said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. He's got a huge heart and an incredible chin. What he pulled off was amazing."
In the other title fight on the card, Jose Aldo defended his 145-pound belt with a unanimous decision over Kenny Florian. Aldo (20-1) won his 13th straight bout and denied the 35-year-old Florian (16-6) his first UFC championship.
"I had to pace it a little bit," Aldo said through an interpreter. "I couldn't be as explosive as I wanted to be in the fight."
The 35-year-old Florian went the distance with Aldo, who's 10 years younger.
In June, Florian became the first UFC fighter to compete in four different weight classes when he beat Diego Nunes in his 145-pound debut.
Florian shoved Aldo into the cage in the first round and scored a takedown with about two minutes left. Aldo took control in the third round, hobbling Florian with a sharp kick to Florian's right knee. Aldo landed two punches as Florian limped away.
Aldo, a Brazilian expert in jiu-jitsu, started the fourth round with two hard punches, but Florian drove Aldo into the cage again. Florian missed on a kick and fell in the fifth round, and Aldo maintained top position for most of the rest of the match.
Before the decision was announced, Aldo climbed the cage and back-flipped off the top. All three judges scored the fight 49-46.
"It played out great," Aldo said. "He's a very strategic fighter, so he's a very smart and experienced guy. I just had to go in there and impose my game."
Also Saturday night:
—Joe Lauzon (16-5-1) got Melvin Guillard (46-10-3) to tap out only 47 seconds into the first round of their lightweight bout. Lauzon stunned Guillard with a left hook, knocked him down with a quick left jab and put Guillard in a decisive headlock.
—Featherweight Nam Phan (17-10) earned a unanimous decision over Leonard Garcia (19-8-1). Phan opened a cut under Garcia's right eye in the second round. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Phan, who avenged a loss to Garcia in December.
—Chael Sonnen (27-11-1) forced a submission from Brian Stann (11-4) in the second round of their middleweight bout. Middleweight champion Anderson Silva was sitting ringside, and Sonnen challenged Silva to a rematch. Silva beat Sonnen by submission last August.
The professional mixed martial-arts circuit returned to Houston for the first time since UFC 69 in April 2007. The event drew an announced crowd of 16,164.