On Fisher vs. Edgar

By Joe Hall Nov 13, 2007
Jens Pulver (Pictures) won the UFC lightweight title on Feb. 23, 2001. The next day he met Spencer Fisher (Pictures).

At a seminar in Wilmington, N.C., Pulver and Pat Miletich (Pictures) encountered a 200-pound "animal" on the mat.

"I just remember watching him roll," Pulver says. "He was getting after me, getting after Pat."

Come on out to Iowa, they told him. Train full time with the best in the world. A few months later Fisher left the hills for the fields. In Iowa he would also leave 200 pounds for 155.

Pulver sparred with him: "Sweet Jesus. I thought there was something wrong with my hands. Am I hitting like butter? What in the hell is going on here? Because this kid is just coming through everything."

Fisher didn't have the speed that he does now. But his boxing was good even then, almost seven years ago, and he kept coming forward.

"You couldn't back him up with a sledgehammer," Pulver says.

In time Fisher's hands quickened to a blur. He honed them into combinations, added flying knees, kicks.

He fought every few months, from Minnesota to Mississippi to three-fight nights in Council Bluffs. Fisher didn't knock out all of his opponents -- some he submitted.

With Pulver's recent move to 145 pounds, Fisher has become the lightweight hope of the heralded Miletich camp. If anyone brings the UFC 155-pound championship back to Bettendorf, it will be the man they call "The King."

Fisher's loss to Hermes Franca (Pictures) in January had cost him a title shot. After beating Sam Stout (Pictures) in June, though, he leapt back into contention.

Next up is Frank Edgar (Pictures) on Saturday in a bout that will move one man forward in the UFC's jam-packed lightweight class.

"He's in great shape," says Fisher of his upcoming foe. "A good wrestler, but he doesn't like to get hit."

The 26-year-old Edgar, 7-0, has been fighting professionally for only two years. In May 2005 he graduated from Clarion University with a political science degree. A what?

"I don't really know what I was thinking with a political science degree," Edgar admits with a laugh.

He started fighting. A four-time national qualifier in wrestling at Clarion, Edgar also learned to throw his hands while growing up in New Jersey.

"My last two fights in the UFC, I showed that I can stand up and I'm willing to do it," Edgar says. "I believe in my chin. I'm not going to sit there and go punch for punch with someone, but I'm confident I can take a shot."

Fisher watched Edgar's enthralling 15-minute match with Tyson Griffin. He saw a good grappler who reverted to his roots when he got hit. "If he stands too long with me, and I catch him," says Fisher, "he won't be able to do anything else."

On paper Fisher's the favorite. Too much experience, too many skills. Yet Edgar has a game that could neutralize his seasoned opponent: He can take you down and keep you down for three full rounds. His strength is Fisher's weakness.

"It's funny because in the [training] room, I don't have much emotion going into it. It's hard to take me down," Fisher says. "But when I get in a fight, I have so much emotion; I give up takedowns a lot. I'm going to try not to do that this time, but we'll see what happens."

Fisher concedes he could spend some time on his back. Happens all the time, he says, and usually doesn't result in much damage either. Against Matt Wiman (Pictures) and against Dan Lauzon (Pictures), for instance, Fisher fought an active bottom game. When his opponents slowed, he escaped to his feet and finished them.

"But I know [Edgar] has a full gas tank," Fisher says.

That's the problem: Edgar might not tire. Fisher might not get back to his feet.

"Biggest thing Spencer has to do is exert whatever amount of energy it takes to make sure that Frankie doesn't just lay on top of him," Pulver says. "He can't be OK with the idea of finding that one submission. He has to stay busy, push on the head, kick his hips away and get Frankie back up. Constantly moving on the feet, on the ground, wherever it goes. Don't just get stuck and let the wrestler lay on top of you and out-position you."

Even the threat of a takedown can stifle a striker. The old one-two locks up, won't fire. Kicks? Might put you on your back. Knees in the clinch? Might get you dumped on your head.

"If you're really good standing up, you have to use it," Pulver points out, though. "You can't sit back, throw one shot and wait for that takedown. You just have to get in the flow of things, just start fighting. Throw your punches, throw your knees."

Yet you hear it in Fisher's voice and you hear it in Pulver's. Fisher isn't worried that he'll take a beating on the bottom; he's just doesn't want to get stuck there and lose a wrestling match.

"I plan on pushing the pace, wherever it may be," Edgar says. "If that's his concern, I hope he works on his wrestling."

Edgar also respects Fisher's submission arsenal, however. He's seen him catch triangle chokes from his back, and he's also watched him scramble to his feet and land flying knees. When the UFC called and said his next opponent was Fisher, Edgar knew he'd be walking into the cage against a well-rounded veteran.

"If you've been watching the UFC the last couple of years, you can't miss his fights," Edgar says. "I knew it was going to be a battle."

Fisher's most recent bout, the shootout he won against Sam Stout (Pictures), was perhaps the most thrilling and punishing fight of his career.

"It was an absolute war," Pulver recalls. "To me, Spencer was in control of the fight. But if you look at his face, you think, Jesus, he got hit with a shovel."

"Once you have a fight like that, you put all that time and effort into it, and it takes a lot out of you," Fisher says. "I have a hard time getting emotionally back into it. … Then I was going to fight Din Thomas (Pictures) and that fell through. I had to pick myself up all over again. That's tough."

The fact that the 31-year-old Fisher has marched through hell and back a few times -- in the cage and in training at Miletich's -- might work to his advantage and might not.

"I don't think you can have too many wars and keep doing it," Fisher says, though he adds that his experience edge could be critical.

Edgar won his last fight quickly, stopping Mark Bocek (Pictures) in five minutes in July. He's not been through the battles that Fisher has. He has neither the experience nor the fatigue that comes with the prolonged roller coaster ride that is a mixed martial arts career.

Rather, Edgar is young, hungry and fighting in his backyard. You might think competing just an hour from home at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., would affect him, for better or worse.

Nah, he says: "To me, it's just another fight in Jersey."

Could be another lightweight war, too. The division is delivering the best fights in the sport right now. Fisher and Edgar have the skills, the heart and the endurance to steal the show Saturday.

Pulver, of course, would bet on his boy. The two have been fierce sparring partners and close friends for years now.

In the time since they met, Pulver has realized he belongs at 145. Meanwhile Fisher has emerged as one of the most talented, entertaining 155-pound fighters in the world. In fact, a few more wins for Fisher, and his buddy Pulver will have to revise the story of their first meeting.

The seminar years back in North Carolina? That wasn't Pulver watching some 200-pounder who could grapple a little.

In the revision, that was one UFC lightweight champion discovering another.
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