The first time Frankie Edgar stepped into the cage with Jose Aldo, he lost a narrow five-round verdict in his featherweight debut at UFC 156.
It was the type of fight that had come to define Edgar: a slow start followed by a resilient push to the finish line that ultimately came up short but left “The Answer” defiant even in defeat.
“It was a close fight. I keep finding myself in these situations,” Edgar said after the February 2013 bout. “Congrats to Jose. He fought a great fight. I did [think I did enough to win], but it doesn’t matter. Jose is the winner. I’m just going to go home and take some time.”
It marked what was the third straight defeat for Edgar, who at the time was coming off consecutive 155-pound title losses to Benson Henderson — both of which could have easily been scored in his favor. After competing in nothing but title bouts for the better part of three years, it was understood that Edgar have some work to do before he could approach the sport’s summit again.
Edgar hasn’t lost since that Aldo defeat, stringing together a five-fight winning streak that has included impressive triumphs over the likes of Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson, B.J. Penn and Charles Oliveira.
Following his stunning first-round knockout of Mendes at “The Ultimate Fighter 22” finale this past December, it appeared that the Toms River, N.J., native would finally get another crack at featherweight gold. But that was before Conor McGregor began his dalliance with multi-division dominance, a journey left the Irishman inactive as a 145-pound champion as he pursues a rivalry with Nate Diaz.
As a result, Edgar and Aldo, still the top two talents in the division outside of McGregor some three years later, will vie for interim gold in a featured bout at UFC 200 on Saturday.
“I’m just playing the cards that I’ve been dealt,” Edgar said during a recent conference call. “As long as I go in there and take care of business things are gonna get done. It may take a little longer than I liked, but as long as I handle what I have to handle, I’m going to get what I want in the end.”
As McGregor prepares to face Diaz in a 170-pound rematch at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, Edgar recognizes the possibility that his showdown with Aldo could have greater stakes than initially believed. “The Notorious” one has given no clear indication of his long-term weigh-class plans, and considering how difficult the cut to featherweight seemed to be, a permanent move up could be in play.
“It very well could be [for the real belt]. If [McGregor] doesn’t come back down, it has to become the real belt,” Edgar said. “If the champion doesn’t defend it, me and Aldo are the two best guys in the division, so yeah, this would be the real belt. I’m not really worried about that; I’m still worried about winning this fight.”
The first time around, Aldo set the tone for his victory behind his trademark low kicks and stinging jab in the early frames before Edgar began to outwork the Brazilian down the stretch. Ultimately, his championship-round rally wasn’t enough.
“I just feel I’m a much improved fighter since then. My confidence has grown, my coaches have gotten better. Coming into this fight I’m on more momentum,” Edgar said. “Last time we fought I was coming off two close losses at lightweight. It was a tough time. Now I feel the time’s right for me.”
While Edgar feels confident in his improved skill set, he doesn’t expect any surprises from Aldo. Prior to the Nova Uniao product’s 13-second knockout loss to McGregor at UFC 194, he didn’t need to change much as he rolled to 18 consecutive victories. It remains to be seen how the recent setback will affect Aldo mentally, or if he will add some new facets to his already-dangerous repertoire.
“He’s a good fighter. I just don’t think he’s evolved much,” Edgar said. “He’s a pretty basic guy. What he does well, he still does well. That’s about it.”
If Edgar is able to avenge his defeat to Aldo, he’d still like to get his chance to dethrone McGregor if everything were to fall into place. And he has an ideal venue in mind.
“Obviously July 9 is first and foremost, and my hands are full with Jose, but that is a goal of mine to fight Conor because he does have the legitimate 145-pound title,” he said. “To fight in New York [at UFC 205] would be amazing as a title fight there. I’ve been lobbying with the UFC to get a sanction in New York and now that happened it would be a dream come true.”