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Former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion and two-time feather title challenger Frankie Edgar will take on Cub Swanson at UFC Fight Night 128 on April 21 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In a rematch from their 2014 main event, Swanson will try to even the score and establish which fighter will remain in the 145-pound title picture. Both established veterans were recently derailed by the surging Brian Ortega. Swanson tapped to a slick modified guillotine in December. Less than three weeks ago, Edgar was stopped with a savage uppercut in the first round. I repeat, less than three weeks ago. Let that sink in.
For the first time ever, the amazingly durable Edgar was left unconscious on the canvas and finds himself booked for a rapid turnaround. Does anyone else see a problem with this? While the matchup itself is compelling and relevant to the division, I can only question why Edgar is being allowed to compete so close to such a crushing defeat. Of course, a fighter known for tough and gritty come-from-behind performances would jump at the chance to get back in the win column. It comes as no surprise that the New Jersey native would accept this opportunity with a smile. However, Edgar and his enthusiasm to fight is not the issue. This booking is simply a failure of the system at multiple levels.
The athletic commissions in both Nevada and New Jersey share responsibility for Edgar being allowed to fight late next month. The Nevada governing body sanctioned the aforementioned loss to Ortega at UFC 222. As is customary, all fighters on the wrong end of a knockout were given the same standard medical suspension: April 18, with no contact until April 3. While the new bout takes place three days after the medical suspension ends, the no-contact part is most important here. The no-contact rule is intended to stop fighters from sparring too soon after a major concussive event. With a fight lined up in a matter of weeks, how many people actually think Edgar is obeying this “rule” and avoiding contact in the gym? Being matched up against a striker of Swanson’s caliber makes this highly unlikely. A longer suspension -- one that gives the fighter ample recovery time, plus ample preparation time for his next training camp -- seems like a smarter decision by those entrusted with fighter safety. New Jersey’s culpability is very obvious. Its state athletic control board is sanctioning this fight with full knowledge of the result from earlier this month in Las Vegas and the insufficient time given to prevent Edgar from competing for medical reasons. Instead of being proactive and attempting to live up to its responsibility to “protect the safety and well-being of all participants,” it has elected to instead let the show go on and cash the check associated with showcasing its beloved hometown fighter.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is another guilty party in this situation. Edgar has repeatedly shown himself to be a company man and a willingness to face whoever was placed in front of him. Unfortunately, that backfired at UFC 222, where his title shot turned into a late-notice scrap with Ortega after champion Max Holloway withdrew with an injury. The UFC is possibly setting him up with another unfortunate situation by taking advantage of this mentality. Having New Jersey’s standout fighter is undeniably great for business, and the promotion is in desperate need of name-value fights to feature on its very busy schedule. However, considering the close proximity to the last time Edgar did the company a solid, his name should have been off the list of potential placeholders in the bout order. The irresponsibility to the well-being of one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters in history is blatant.
Any discussion about the system failing to protect Edgar would be incomplete without mentioning his coaching staff and management. When all else breaks down, the last line of defense for fighter safety should be the ones who are closest to him. Coaches and management are involved with the day-to-day training and behind-the-scenes business that lead up to the walkout music playing. Before the customary Notorious B.I.G. track “Kick in the Door” accompanies Edgar to the cage, his team is present for everything fans, commissions and promoters don’t see: injuries, illnesses, fatigue, mental struggles and emotional and personal issues. With this closeness comes a different level of responsibility to the fighter. While all parties involved have a monetary incentive for getting Edgar back in action, the inner circle should be held accountable for not letting the personal relationship take precedence over another paycheck. With the experience on his team, everyone is well aware of the pitfalls of fighting again too soon.
History has shown that fighters jumping back into action so soon after devastating losses is usually not a good idea. Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping are two recent examples. In just over two months, Machida found himself squared off with Yoel Romero after a hard loss to Luke Rockhold. While Machida submitted to a rear-naked choke from Rockhold, he took significant damage from strikes. The Romero elbows that put Machida to sleep did his brain no additional favors. Similarly, Bisping’s unexpected Cinderella run to the middleweight championship took a horrible turn for the worse, as Kelvin Gastelum knocked him out early in their fight, just three weeks after he dropped his title to Georges St. Pierre’s rear-naked choke. Needless to say, the hard strikes landed by GSP may have played a significant factor in the knockout loss to Gastelum.
We wouldn’t expect anything less from Edgar. His performances in the second and third Gray Maynard fights are among the best the sport has ever seen. Early damage in the first Benson Henderson fight didn’t stop him from putting up a great effort in later rounds. Similarly, the first Jose Aldo bout showed Edgar gaining steam in the later rounds despite the Brazilian’s early dominance. Edgar, the definition of too tough for his own good, is a treasure of constant excitement and world-class skill. He has never hesitated to show the world what he’s made of.
There’s no doubt that any objections to this matchup were quickly shot down by Edgar. If his coaches or management raised any concerns, it’s safe to say he ignored their advice and insisted he’s fine. If the UFC hesitated in booking him so soon, he undoubtedly would be the one to beg Mick Maynard, Sean Shelby and Dana White to get back in the Octagon when the event is just a short drive from his hometown. If there was any resistance from either commission, he would be campaigning to be allowed to compete. However, the responsible thing to do would be to ignore the pleas of the man who has continually shown himself willing to fight so valiantly with reckless abandon. The responsible thing to do is to make the decisions that he is too tough to make. While he did dominate Swanson in their first meeting and avoided any significant damage, there’s no guarantee he could avoid another brain-rattling blow this time around. In light of the death of Tim Hague and the more recent deaths of boxers Scott Wesgarth and David Whittom, these are chances we shouldn’t be so willing to take.