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It has been a hot minute since we last saw vintage Frankie Edgar—the perennial underdog from New Jersey—ducking, weaving and wrestle-boxing on route to the upset over an opponent against whom most expected he would be outsized and outgunned. However, on Saturday, we caught a glimpse of him in what was his 27th appearance under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner.
Walking into his bantamweight debut opposite the No.5-ranked Pedro Munhoz in the UFC on ESPN 15 main event, Edgar’s recent history was very much in the mind’s eye of the oddsmakers and the MMA community at large. The former lightweight champion, who went the first 12-plus years of his career without a stoppage loss to his name, had been brutally finished in two of his past four fights, losing via first-round knockout to the surging Brian Ortega at UFC 211 before succumbing to strikes against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night 165 in another sub-round beatdown. In between, Max Holloway had shut him out over five rounds in what was Edgar’s tertiary challenge for a version of the featherweight title, leaving him very much without a path back to contention at 145 pounds and some pundits beginning to float the retirement narrative.
The move down to 135 pounds—which the perpetually-undersized Edgar had been resisting for years, even as his adversaries at lightweight and featherweight got larger and more powerful courtesy of extreme weight cutting—was seen as an avenue of last resort, a last-ditch change of scenery representing his only shot left at a UFC title. When the cage door closed at UFC on ESPN 15, many were expecting to see those high hopes unmasked as chimeras. Such is the nature of a sport where the young routinely feed on their forebearers.
Instead, Edgar made the walk in the empty UFC Apex as a nearly 3-to-1 underdog, did the damn thing and won a split decision by the skin of his teeth in a five-round barnburner. While “The Young Punisher” controlled the center of the Octagon and never stopped advancing on his 38-year-old adversary, Edgar set a blistering pace as the matador, hitting Munhoz with punching combinations early and often and landing takedowns in the second and fourth rounds. “I heard a lot of MFers barking that I’m old and slow,” Edgar said defiantly in the post-fight interview with Jon Anik. “I definitely proved them all wrong. I still got some fight in this tank, baby. We’re gonna make a run at 135. I’m showing I can compete with the best at 38 years old. I don’t want to hear nothing from nobody.”
Edgar’s unlikely reinvention at bantamweight is all the more impressive given that he’s now more than eight years removed from his run as the company’s 155-pound champion. He won and defended his title three times over 22 months, circa 2010-12, and has held down a Top 5 spot at featherweight for most of the succeeding period. He may have yet to attain the mythical “champ champ” status of some of his counterparts, but he has sure managed to remain within striking distance. Now potentially only one win away from being the first combatant in UFC history to compete for titles across three different weight classes, the most impressive feat of his 15-year career may be yet to come.
Before that can happen, he’ll need to make his case against another top contender, and with the 135-pound weight class overflowing with exciting, brand-name opponents—think Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw, Jose Aldo and Aljamain Sterling—he still has more history to write. “The Answer” is back, and he doesn’t want to hear nothing from nobody; and it’s damn hard not to feel good about it.
Jacob Debets is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.
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