The MMA Hall of [email protected]#$%&g Awesome: Yves Edwards

By Ben Duffy Apr 4, 2020
Ben Duffy/ illustration

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Headquartered in scenic Woodloch, Texas, the Mixed Martial Arts Hall of [email protected]#$%&g Awesome (HOFA for short) commemorates the achievements of those fighters who, while they might not be first-ballot selections for a traditional hall of fame, nonetheless did remarkable things in the cage or ring, and deserve to be remembered. The HOFA enshrines pioneers, one-trick ponies and charming oddballs, and celebrates them in all their imperfect glory. While the HOFA selection committee’s criteria are mysterious and ever-evolving, the final test is whether the members can say, unanimously and with enthusiasm, “____________ was [email protected]#$%&g awesome!”

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“I want the fans to be excited to watch me fight, [to] have their popcorn ready when I start walking out, because it could be 15 seconds or 15 minutes, but it is going to be entertaining.”Yves Edwards

Using Edwards’ quote at the head of this article as a measuring stick for his body of work, one can only say: Well done. Not only did the perennial lightweight standout rarely fail to entertain during a storied career that spanned nearly two decades, but with a finishing rate of nearly 80 percent in his 42 wins, he rarely gave the fans time to run out of popcorn.

However, action fighters are hardly a rare breed in mixed martial arts, especially in the lightweight division. What made Edwards special and contributed to his status as a longtime fan favorite was a demeanor that came across every bit as chill as his in-cage performances were fiery. Seemingly from the first moment a camera or microphone was pointed in his direction, Edwards emerged as a fully formed and rather unique persona: out to make the people laugh but never by playing the clown. His competitive excellence allowed him to toe a fine line, as many of his trademark gimmicks—eating junk food at weigh-ins, wearing fight shorts with a giant yellow smiley face front and center—could easily have been misinterpreted as the actions of an unserious athlete if not for the fact that he was a Top 5 fighter. While he was clearly there to have fun, it was generally not at the expense of his opponent, who often found himself sharing a bag of chips or cookies with the genial Edwards after stepping off the scale.

Even the tongue-in-cheek invention of his own martial art, Thugjitsu, was a daring move in an era not far removed from such punchlines as Scientifically Aggressive Fighting Technology of America and Jo Son Do. There were two main differences between Edwards and the proto-MMA parade of American Ninjutsu laughingstocks, the first and most important of which was that he actually won his fights. The second difference was that he could elucidate what his style meant, and coming from a man who debuted in an era when specialists were being rendered increasingly obsolete by more well-rounded fighters, it sounded downright sensible.

“Thugjitsu is the combination of every range of fighting and is the ultimate combat sport. Boxing, Thai boxing, wrestling and BJJ all play an equally important role in Thugjitsu, yet none of these arts is enough to be successful alone.”

While Edwards as “Thugjitsu Master” is self-explanatory, his other nickname, the “Uncrowned King,” bears further examination. What that examination reveals: a litany of near misses and might-have-been moments. During his prime, Edwards always seemed to be slighted by fate, as his losses—as well as some of his most important wins—often seemed to come at the most inopportune times.

As with so many great fighters who debuted in the 1990s, Edwards’ early career path would be impossible for a fighter to emulate today. Making his official debut in 1997, the Texas-based Bahamian tallied at least two dozen bouts in over a dozen different promotions—and it is quite likely that there are additional Edwards fights from that era, lost in the mists of time—before finally making his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in 2001.

At UFC 37 in May 2002, Edwards lost a close decision to Caol Uno, likely costing himself a berth in the mini-tournament the UFC organized in order to fill the lightweight title vacated by Jens Pulver the year before. When that tournament ended in a maddening draw between Uno and B.J. Penn early the next year, the division was left without a champion. It would remain that way—and in a state of general limbo, with some fans even calling for its dissolution—for nearly four more years.

As luck would have it, those years happened to coincide with some of the best performances of Edwards’ career. On the same UFC 41 card as the disastrous Penn-Uno fight, Edwards choked out Rich Clementi, kicking off a two-year run during which he would go 9-1. During that stretch, he was by acclamation one of Top 5 lightweights fighting, and on the night he sparked the previously undefeated Josh Thomson with a highlight-reel finish for the ages at UFC 49—more on that later—a very good case could be made that he was the best 155-pounder on the planet.

With no UFC title on the horizon even after the Thomson win, one of MMA’s ultimate road warriors hit the road again. The second half of his career reads like a list of every major fight organization of the era, as he split time between such promotions as Pride Fighting Championships, EliteXC, Strikeforce and Bellator MMA before returning for one more UFC run.

For much of that time, Edwards remained a borderline contender as well as a fan favorite, but eventually, the years, miles and who-knows-how-many fights finally caught up with him. His final stint with the UFC would have ended with five straight losses if not for a no-contest resulting from Yancy Medeiros testing positive for cannabis. True to form, Edwards’ response was a hilarious and self-effacing “I still count it as a loss. Weed didn’t knock me out.” Electing to get out with his faculties and dignity intact, Edwards called it a career in November 2014.

In retirement, Edwards has remained deeply involved with the sport. The same intelligence and wit that made him a great interview subject have served him well in roles with Fox Sports and the Professional Fighters League; and in 2019, Thugjitsu finally got its moment at the summit, as Dustin Poirier, longtime teammate and designated heir to the mantle of “Thugjitsu Master,” defeated Max Holloway to win the UFC interim lightweight title.

SIGNATURE MOMENTS: Edwards offers much to choose from here, as one might expect of a man with 33 career finishes. True to the zen of Thugjitsu, they are as evenly split as can be, with 16 knockouts and 17 submissions. He was the second UFC fighter—after Chris Lytle, a fellow HOFA inductee—to complete a career bonus trifecta by picking up “Knockout,” “Submission” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses. His flying knee knockout of Edson Berto at Elite XC “Street Certified” is one of the most memorable highlights of the short-lived promotion. Rather than an elegant piece of high-flying ballet, it was a clinic in simple, ugly physics: Edwards launched himself skyward while pulling Berto’s head directly into the path of danger, and the results were as brutal as they were predictable.

However, Edwards’ greatest highlight also happens to represent perhaps his competitive apex. Heading into UFC 49 in August 2004, Thomson was 7-0 with one no contest and was seen as a monster on the rise, a combination of solid wrestling, freak athleticism and impressive size and strength for the division, especially by the standard of the day.

Late in the first round, Edwards took Thomson’s back standing. “The Punk” did an impressive job of denying Edwards a high-amplitude slam, instead letting himself be hauled down to all fours. Thomson exploded to his feet and worked to escape Edwards’ rear waistlock. He succeeded—or so he thought—and turned to face his counterpart, just in time to take a flying kick to the chin. Edwards had let go on purpose, allowed Thomson to create separation and launched a picture-perfect head kick. Thomson crumpled to the ground, the flurry of follow-up punches purely academic.

What felt like the coronation of a new presumptive lightweight champion instead put the division on ice. The UFC would not put on another 155-pound fight for almost two years; fittingly, its rebirth at UFC 58 in March 2006 would feature Edwards in his own return to the promotion. For now, however, the king would remain uncrowned, as he moved on to Japan and beyond, having made his greatest statement in the Octagon.

THE HOFA COMMITTEE SAYS: Edwards is the shoo-in of all shoo-ins. Much like Lytle, the confluences of circumstances that kept Edwards from winning or at least fighting for a major title and the long career with ups and downs reflected in his record make him exactly the kind of fighter casual historians might forget. That would be a tragedy. Edwards was not only a thrilling fighter and a unique, compelling character for nearly two decades, but he was also one of the very best fighters in the world for much of that time.

It is with great pleasure that we say: Yves Ed’Duvill Edwards, you are [email protected]#$%&g awesome.

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