Frankie Edgar has established himself as the world’s premier lightweight. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Over the last two years, Frankie Edgar has logged nearly 19 rounds in four fights against two opponents.
In 2010, Edgar dueled twice with B.J. Penn, capturing the lightweight title from “The Prodigy” in their first meeting at UFC 112 and leaving no doubt about who was the better fighter by beating him again four months later. Meanwhile, 2011 was devoted entirely to Gray Maynard, who had handed “The Answer” the only loss of his professional career at UFC Fight Night 13 three years earlier. A split draw between the two men on New Year’s Day offered little satisfaction for anyone, so a rematch was quickly made. Injuries pushed the fight from May to October’s UFC 136, where Edgar stopped “The Bully” late in the fourth round to retain a title that many thought he would never attain in the first place.
Without those fights, the Toms River, N.J., native would not have achieved the lofty position he is in now: top lightweight in the world and ranked fourth on Sherdog.com’s pound-for-pound list. Still, the champion is ready for a fresh start, which he will get when he defends his title against Ben Henderson in the UFC 144 main event on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
“It’s definitely refreshing to train for someone new,” Edgar said during a pre-fight conference call. “Especially with the injury I had [last year], I had to think about Gray for quite some time. It was nice to get ready for someone else.
“It’s like a fresh easel to paint on,” he added. “It’s also definitely a concern because you’ve never faced them before, so you don’t know what he’s gonna bring to the table.”
If a fight is indeed a blank canvas, then Edgar’s two tussles with Maynard should have their own special wing in the Louvre. Both times mixed martial arts oddsmakers -- as they did in his fights with Penn -- declared Edgar the underdog, and both times he nearly proved them right within a matter of minutes.
Maynard rocked the champion in the opening round at UFC 125, dominating Edgar so much over the course of five minutes that a 10-7 score almost seemed plausible. At UFC 136 it was more of the same, as the Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts representative had Edgar reeling, stumbling and fighting to survive all over again. Somehow, Edgar managed to withstand the onslaught and rally each time to help produce a pair of “Fight of the Year” candidates.
In battling back from the brink of defeat, Edgar called upon his unyielding resolve. His latest title defense has somewhat of a different feel, as Edgar will enter his matchup with Henderson as a slight favorite, his first time playing that role in a fight since 2009.
“I don’t really pay attention to those things. I’ve been the underdog most of the time, and I find ways to win,” Edgar said. “It doesn’t matter; it’s only someone’s opinion. The more I win, the more respect I’m gonna get, so that’s always part of the plan.”
Also part of the plan is a faster start. While the back-from-the-dead moments are good for keeping the audience engaged, Edgar would prefer to set the tone in round one this time around.
“Even in my last two fights, I wanted to have a strong start, but that’s not the way it happened,” he said. “My last two fights, I lost the first round. I don’t want to be down big in the fight against Henderson, so I have to be sure I’m on my ‘A’ game right out of the gate.”
Having been to the championship rounds in each of his last four Octagon appearances, Edgar is no stranger to extended battles. Five of his first seven UFC bouts went the distance in three-round affairs, as well. He will have a like-minded adversary in Henderson, whose five-round encounters with Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis in the WEC were among the promotion’s best.
Given the track record and stamina of both Edgar and Henderson, another 25-minute struggle seems like a distinct possibility. However, the champion is not looking at the fight as a battle of stamina.
“I’m not gonna try to go out there and try to out-condition someone. I’ve just got to outfight them,” Edgar said. “I’ve got to be ready to go out there and fight five very hard rounds, and I did that this camp, so I think I’m ready to do so. It’s not always about fighting the hardest; you’ve got to fight smart, too. You’ve got to find that balance.”
Edgar initially became a UFC champion in the United Arab Emirates, in his first professional fight outside of the United States. Now, he will headline a card and make his fourth title defense as the UFC travels to Japan for the first time since 2000.
“Obviously, I’m excited to go over to Japan -- the birthplace of martial arts. It’s ingrained in their culture, they’re huge fans and they’ll appreciate the show we put on,” he said. “I almost feel like I’m an ambassador to the sport, being [in the main event] the first time Zuffa held events in Japan and Abu Dhabi. It’s cool to go to different cultures and countries and showcase my skills for them.”
It seems like a long time ago that more success was projected for Edgar as a featherweight; that his first win over Penn was viewed as a fluke; that he would not be able to handle Maynard’s wrestling. These days, Edgar likes his view from the top of the mountain, but he does not plan on relaxing anytime soon.
“[With] how deep the 155-pound division is, I better not get comfortable,” he said. “When I get comfortable, that’s when things go wrong.”