The pain’s gone by now for Frankie Edgar. Not from the bruises in training camp or from the injured back that has kept him on the sidelines since the beginning of the year, though those aches have faded too. No, it’s the pain that the UFC lightweight champion felt after going five grueling rounds with number one contender Gray Maynard at UFC 125 in January, only to get a draw.
If the old sports adage is that a draw is like kissing your sister, then the look on Edgar’s face after the verdict was rendered meant that his proverbial sister was 675 pounds with a mustache and a bad case of warts. In other words, he was inconsolable.
“I was just super disappointed,” said Edgar. “It was a draw and I was still the champ, but it felt like a loss to me. I hate losing. And I don’t think I really took into consideration the performance I put on after going through what I did in the first round, so I was proud of what I was able to do and how I was able to bounce back, but I didn’t win a fight. I may not have lost, but I didn’t win, and that’s always my main objective and the most important thing.”
Edgar had no right surviving that first round, let alone fighting back to get a draw in a bout many believed he deserved to get the nod in. In boxing terms, it was Juan Manuel Marquez bouncing back from three first round knockdowns to earn a draw with Manny Pacquiao in their first fight. But then again, Edgar’s legs were so wobbly after getting dropped by Maynard, that perhaps a boxing referee would have stopped the fight after delivering a count. Yet in mixed martial arts, a fighter can control his fate for the most heart, and with a mix of heart and determination, the scrappy kid from Toms River, New Jersey made it through the opening five minutes, righted his ship, and got back into the fight.
And what a fight it was, 25 minutes of high-level MMA from the two best lightweights in the division. It was almost fitting that the fight was a draw, because there were no losers in the Octagon in Las Vegas that night. Saturday in Houston, they do it again, and a fight that had little buzz around it in January is suddenly a hot ticket as Edgar and Maynard meet for the third time. And to think, they did it on the strength of their fists and their previous bouts, not on any trash talk or ill feelings. That’s the way Edgar likes it.
“That (trash talk) always gets the people going and it sells fights, but for myself, and being the kind of person I am, I’d rather do my work in the cage,” said the champion. “Gray’s a pretty reserved dude, and so am I, and I think our fight will speak for itself.”
It’s a trilogy that fight fans have been waiting to see resolved, one where Maynard holds a 1-0-1 lead after handing Edgar his lone pro loss in 2008, but the ones who want to see the two part ways more than anyone are the lightweight contenders waiting to get their shot at the belt after the title’s been held in limbo pending this weekend’s bout. Edgar knows that there’s a line of hungry fighters waiting to get at him should he successfully defend his crown for the third time, but he can’t worry about that now.
“You can’t help but notice the guys that are creeping on the door, but I try to not get distracted by that,” he said. “There’s always gonna be the next guy. No matter what I do, whether I win or I don’t, there’s always gonna be the next guy. I’ll worry about Gray and take it from there.”
And hey, if he wins, everything’s even. Do we see fight number four?
“Let’s just take this one first. We’ll take it from there.”
You can’t blame either fighter for wanting to be done with each other. As great as the second bout was, and as intriguing as this rivalry has become, there comes a point when you just want to move on. Edgar has heard nothing but Gray Maynard for over a year, and it’s the same with Maynard hearing about Edgar. Ask the champ if he’s watched film of the rematch, and he says with a chuckle, “if my coaches force me to sit there and watch it, I’ll do so.”
So at this point, expect both men to pull out all the stops to make sure the end result is a decisive one. For Edgar, that means building on all his skills and upping the intensity with each training session. In his favor, the 29-year old has gone the five round distance in each of his last three bouts, so he’s comfortable going into the championship rounds. Just don’t say going 25 minutes is easier each time.
“I don’t know if it gets easier; the preparation sure as hell doesn’t,” he laughs. “I think every camp’s gonna get harder and harder just because I know what it takes to get through a five round fight and become a winner and make sure that you’re still there and still able to push the pace in the fifth round. So if anything, the preparation gets harder, and I think it all matters on how the fights go whether it’s easier or not.”
“But I think I’m on the right track,” Edgar continues. “Nothing changes in between my fights. I just try to become a better fighter than I was the last time. If I know that I’m a better fighter than I was my last time out, I did my job and I improved in all areas. And again, I felt like I accomplished that. I feel like I’m better at jiu-jitsu, better at boxing, better at Muay Thai, and better at wrestling, and I’m better at putting it all together. It’s showing in the room and showing in my confidence.”
In fact, the only time the perennial underdog looks over his shoulder is when it’s brought up to him that in the MMA community, he is the top 155-pound fighter in the world. The whole world. How does that feel?
“It makes me nervous more than anything,” he said. “It makes me want to get up and train. I don’t get a bigger head from it; if anything, I get more nervous about getting knocked off, I guess. But it’s more motivation for me. Some people, I think once they get there they relax and that’s why they don’t stay there. For me, I’m definitely on my toes at all times.”
And ready to put the Gray Maynard chapter of his career to rest.
“I feel like I’m closing the gap,” said Edgar. “The first fight, he won a unanimous decision. The second fight he had a big, big first round but I was able to close the gap and make it a draw which could have gone either way. So hopefully I’ll keep closing that gap and I’ll be on top this time around.”