Frankie Edgar wore the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight crown for nearly two years, and he wants it back from the man who took it away.
Edgar will lock horns with current champion Benson Henderson for the 155-pound title in the UFC 150 main event on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Driven by the pursuit of victory, the 30-year-old Toms River, N.J. native admits the presence of championship gold sweetens the pot considerably.
“Whether it’s a title fight or a non-title fight, I want to go perform and I want to win,” Edgar said during a pre-fight media call. “I have more motivation to get my title back.”
Spawned by the MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz., Henderson took a unanimous decision from Edgar at UFC 144 in February. He leaned heavily on powerful kicks to the legs and body of the champion, and though Edgar pinned many of them with his arm, they served their purpose. Late in the second round, Henderson brought about a dramatic swing in momentum, as he delivered a wicked upkick from his back to Edgar’s exposed face. “The Answer” collapsed where he stood. He avoided further danger, but considerable damage had been done to his eye and nose. Edgar has fully recovered from his encounter with Henderson’s foot.
“My nose is good,” he said. “I was a little banged up after that. I think my nose breaks after every fight, so I’m pretty accustomed to it. I’m good to go.”
No fighter in the UFC has become as associated with the rematch as Edgar. He fought B.J. Penn twice in 2010 and completed his trilogy with Gray Maynard in 2011.
“There’s no advantage because I was in there with him and because he was in there with me, too,” Edgar said. “It should be a matter of who makes the best adjustments and who can be the better fighter. With a rematch, you get to see what your opponent is all about the whole time. It’s all about who makes the better adjustments and, at this level, who shows up that night and who performs better.”
Henderson will enter the cage for his first title defense on the strength of 14 victories in his last 15 appearances. The 28-year-old has won all four of his fights inside the Octagon. Edgar respects his abilities.
“Every fighter is different in their own way,” he said. “Ben is really well-rounded. He’s a big guy, he’s explosive and his cardio is top-notch. He’s hungry.”
No Bad Blood
They say familiarity breeds contempt. That does not appear to be the case with co-headliners Melvin Guillard and Donald Cerrone, who once flew the same Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts flag.
“‘Cowboy’ is a stand-up guy,” said Guillard, who now trains with the Blackzilians in Florida. “I have respect for the guy. We haven’t trained together since last October, almost close to a year. He’s a great and fast learner. I don’t think we'll be the same guys we were when we were sparring partners.”
Guillard claims to have benefitted from teammate Rashad Evans’ unanimous decision defeat to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in April. They also once trained together at Jackson’s MMA, but Jones’ rise to prominence ultimately led to Evans cutting ties with the famed Albuquerque, N.M., gym.
“I don’t want to be like Rashad was where he thought Jon didn’t get better,” Guillard said. “I don’t want to turn this fight into an old schoolyard brawl. I can respect what [Cerrone] did as a person and as a fighter. He’ll have my respect until I die.”
A 29-year-old New Orleans native, Guillard last appeared at UFC 148 on July 7, when he captured a unanimous decision from Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Fabricio Camoes. On a short list of potential 155-pound title contenders a year ago, he stubbed his toe in consecutive submission losses to Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller. The victory over Camoes helped Guillard stem some of the negative tide.
“It’s not about winning streaks anymore,” he said. “It’s about picking the right fight that makes sense. This fight makes sense for the both of us.”
Guillard embraced the opportunity to face Cerrone.
“I never turn down anybody,” he said. “When [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and [UFC President] Dana [White] call me and ask me personally to do something, I’m there. That comes with the territory. Some people are born fighters and some people learn how to fight.
“I remember being a 14-year-old kid,” Guillard added. “Everyone thought I was crazy being in MMA. I have well over 80-something fights under my belt. I’ve had tough fights my whole life. The only thing I’m hesitant about was how he would react to me taking the fight.”
This & That
Jake Shields returns to the middleweight division for the first time since he defeated Dan Henderson inside Strikeforce in April 2010. The 33-year-old Cesar Gracie protégé will face “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 finalist Ed Herman. Shields posted has posted a 2-2 mark at 170 pounds in the UFC, offsetting wins over Martin Kampmann and Yoshihiro Akiyama with losses to Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger ... Buddy Roberts has won 10 of his last 11 fights, including six in a row. He confronts former title contender Yushin Okami on short notice, having replaced Rousimar Palhares ... Max Holloway, who locks horns with Justin Lawrence in a featherweight showcase, remains the youngest fighter on the UFC roster. He will not turn 21 until December ... Dennis Bermudez is one of five “Ultimate Fighter” alums on the UFC 150 roster, joining Guillard, Herman, Lawrence and Dustin Pague ... Eiji Mitsuoka, who debuted in 2001, has never suffered consecutive defeats as a professional.