Little Big Man
Frankie Edgar's Wild Journey Continues With Title Fight in Japan
There was a time not long ago when Frankie Edgar was considered too small to compete as a lightweight. There was a time his fights were considered a bit uneventful.
After capturing his division's championship and engaging in two of 2011's Fight of the Year contenders, Edgar has won over nearly every last one of his doubters. Even the ones that sign his paychecks.
UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta still likes to tease the 5-foot-6 Edgar about his size, but like everyone else, marvels over what he's accomplished against all odds.
"In my opinion, he's right up there, he may be pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world given what he's accomplishing in his weight class," Fertitta said earlier this week.
MMA is a sport filled with hyperbole, but Fertitta's claim isn't that far off. Most close observers of the sport have him ranked inside the top five. With a 14-1-1 record, Edgar has been undeniably brilliant so far despite nearly always being outsized.
The UFC recently confirmed he would defend his title against Ben Henderson at UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan in February, a fight that will see him giving up size yet again. Already the naturally bigger man, the 5-foot-9 Henderson recently said he would work to put on more muscle before the February 26 date in hopes of bulling Edgar around. What is not known is whether Edgar has finally earned the right to be considered the favorite in the fight. Incredibly, he has been the underdog heading into five of his last six fights, yet he's never lost during that time.
His most recent performance in October might go down as the defining moment of his career. After being knocked down and nearly finished by challenger Gray Maynard in a harrowing sequence of the first round's early seconds, Edgar survived the blitzkrieg and seized momentum in the middle rounds, then eventually stopped Maynard on strikes late in the fourth.
It was his second straight war, and afterward, UFC president Dana White again hinted at a possible weight-class change for Edgar, saying he was worried about long-term damage suffered over a sustained period at the hands of bigger men. Not surprisingly, White's words fell on deaf ears. Edgar is about as interested in moving down to featherweight as he is about taking more punishment; that is, not at all. He'll only do it if he's forced to.
"I'm not trying to make a habit of it, taking the punishment I've been taking the last couple of fights," he said. "It's like a cat's got nine lives. I don't know how many lives I've got to get out of that first round again. It does make for exciting TV and it's definitely building my legend, so as long as I come out the victor, I'll get beat up for four or five rounds. As long as I come out the winner. I'll do it every time."
In Henderson, he will be facing a former WEC champion who has looked spectacular since coming to the UFC, winning all three of his bouts handily.
Edgar, who is known to offer succinct responses to most queries, does the same when it comes to Henderson.
"He's young and he's hungry, so I know I got my hands full," he said.
Of course, there is much more to worry about than Henderson's age and motivation. He's a southpaw with a versatile game, equally capable of wrestling or striking. He's lightning fast in scrambles, and judging from his recent performances, it seems virtually impossible to submit him on the ground. He also seems to have an endless gas tank.
For Edgar, that list of attributes is nothing more than another challenge, no greater or lesser than trying to solve someone like, say, MMA legend BJ Penn, who he defeated twice within four months in 2010.
Another challenge? Fighting at an absurdly early hour. While most events are held late at night, the time zone differential has caused the UFC to set an early AM start time for UFC 144, meaning that Edgar may be defending his title shortly after noon in Saitama. Given that most fighters are slaves to their training skills and programmed to fight at night, that will be a legitimate concern for most, but in typical Edgar fashion, he shrugs it off.
"It's something I have to prepare for," he said. "But s---, I should be able to get out of bed and whip someone's a--."
That is about as animated as Edgar gets when he speaks. For him, the only show that matters is the one he puts on after the opening horn sounds. Whether he wins or loses, he's already won over most skeptics, so now he only concerns himself with pleasing the fans.
"Ben and myself are both very aggressive guys, determined to win, so I don't think it can be anything but exciting," he said.
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