October 18, 2011.
Frankie Edgar makes his way out to the Octagon, a familiar foe in Gray Maynard already waiting in angst for the champion. The crowd in Houston's Toyota Center is up on its feet, eagerly awaiting the third chapter of what has been an epic trilogy.
The scene is nothing new to Edgar. Bright lights, thousands of screaming fans, blaring music and a bigger and badder fighter than himself in the Octagon–just another day in the office. Been there, beat that.
Except Edgar hasn’t beaten that. Not this bully. Not “The Bully.” No, Gray Maynard remains a test not yet passed. And with unfinished business left to be solved, the UFC lightweight champion still has his doubters, those who refuse to acknowledge him as a pound-for-pound dynamo, despite all that he has accomplished.
February 3, 2007.
The future of the UFC’s lightweight division is who Frankie Edgar is welcomed with in his debut for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Tyson Griffin is a hot prospect and a rising star in the MMA business. Fresh off a TKO victory of Duane Ludwig in Strikeforce and a submission victory in his UFC debut against David Lee, Griffin has his eyes set on UFC gold and has all the hype to get him there.
Sorry, Tyson. Not at Edgar’s expense. Not on this night.
The fight was exciting, at times going back and forth between the two fighters. For two rounds, despite a few spikes of momentum from Griffin, it was clear Edgar was getting the better of his opponent. It was in the third round, however, where Edgar showcased something that has become his staple in the Octagon, and that's heart.
After getting stuck in a brutal kneebar with only a matter of seconds to go, it looked like a real possibility Edgar’s hard work in the first two-and-a-half rounds was about to be for naught. Tyson Griffin pulled back so hard and so far, it looked like Edgar’s knee might pop through the back of his leg.
But Edgar held on, and after limping back to the referee, Edgar’s hand was raised in victory. Griffin’s stock was never the same.
The rest of the year went by quickly and easily enough. Two fights, two wins and Edgar was well on the path to becoming a champion, Edgar would draw Gray “The Bully” Maynard to welcome in 2008. It would be his first and only loss of his professional career. He was out-muscled and out-wrestled by a fighter who seemed to be out of his league.
The fight would serve a bigger purpose. Not only would it inspire Edgar to be better, but it was a tape to study, a tool to help Edgar who almost always was going to be the smaller fighter going into lightweight bouts. It would help him overcome his size deficiencies, maybe even become the bully.
May 23, 2009.
An angry former champion awaits. Sean Sherk needs a victory to be thrust back into title contention, having lost to B.J. Penn just a year ago. The naysayers are out in full force against Frankie Edgar.
Edgar’s too small to hang with Sherk. Edgar's striking isn’t remotely where it needs to be to beat a fighter the caliber of “The Muscle Shark.” And where Edgar excels the most at wrestling, Sherk does too.
“I never give predictions on fights,” the UFC president said. “But in my head I kept saying 'There's no way Frankie Edgar can win this fight.’”
But win he did. Thanks to an improved striking game, Edgar didn’t allow Sherk to use his strength and size to overpower him. Even Edgar’s wrestling was better than the former champion. Not only was Edgar not taken to the ground until the last round, but Edgar also stifled multiple takedowns. Sherk’s days of relevance were done.
Edgar should have been flying high. Sherk was a huge stepping-stone, and after choking out Matt Veach, the New Jersey native finally had his shot at B.J. Penn, the UFC lightweight champion.
But if the doubters were bad for Sherk, well, they were a nightmare for the B.J. Penn fight. Edgar was, by all accounts, a sacrificial lamb. He had earned his title shot, to be sure, but no one was laying down money on Edgar. Penn had all the tools to beat the challenger: solid wrestling, great striking and world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Add in that Penn had only lost to one lightweight his entire career (Jens Pulver), and the fight seemed, frankly, like a big mismatch.
But that’s the beauty of MMA. Fights don’t happen on paper, they’re pounded out in the Octagon.
Edgar not only held his own against the future hall-of-famer, he scored a unanimous decision against a fighter many thought was invincible at lightweight. The fight showcased the continued growth of Edgar, who stood and fought with Penn, something no one would have predicted he’d be able to do and win.
Yet, it still wasn’t enough. Considered a fluke win by many, Edgar still was not considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters. Questions still loomed, enough apparently to warrant an immediate rematch four months later.
There was no doubt this time.
Edgar not only controlled the pace of the fight, he dominated B.J. Penn, continuously taking him down to the ground and out-striking one of the best strikers in the UFC.
Another fighter, another man’s clout that was never the same.
Frankie Edgar had reached the pinnacle of the UFC lightweight division.
January 1, 2011.
“The Bully” is back and so is that creeping little doubt in fight fans’ minds. It’s starting to seem that no matter what Edgar does, he will always have his doubters.
The first round of the fight does nothing to ease those doubts. Edgar is tagged early and Gray Maynard physically manhandles the champion. It’s a small miracle the champion makes it out of the first round in one piece, let alone able to continue on. Maynard likely just gave himself a two-round lead.
The champion rebounds. Maynard appears to have gassed himself after the first round. But now, after making it through four more rounds in which Edgar was able to land solid strikes, stuff Maynard’s takedowns and take “The Bully” down at will, he had a real shot at winning this fight.
The first judge scored the fight for Maynard, the second for Edgar and the all-important third judge? He ruled it a draw. Really?
The bitter taste of the draw was quickly rinsed away. There would be a rematch. One last shot to put an end to this lone blemish on Edgar’s resume. One more time to truly stick it to all those who doubt him.
Edgar has made his way to the Octagon. He stares across at the only man to have beaten him. The only one Edgar can’t seem to get past. Things are different this time.
Not so much. Just like in their last fight, Edgar is tagged again by Maynard in the first round, and it appears as though he could end up done for good. But the little man perseveres yet again, showing a tremendous amount of heart and narrowly getting out of the first round.
Maynard’s failed attempt to knock out the champion would prove to be his demise this time around. Edgar would bounce back even bigger than in the second fight. Rather than letting it go to the judges for a third time, Edgar landed a stiff uppercut, followed by a flurry of punches on the ground, rendering Maynard unconscious in the fourth round.
Edgar had out-bullied “The Bully.” Another hype train derailed at the hands of the lightweight champion.
“The Answer” for hype, if you will.
Now, Benson Henderson is on the docket. The story lines are the same as they’ve always been. Henderson is a big lightweight, while Edgar is definitely one of the smaller ones. Henderson is the stronger fighter, and although Edgar did just knock out Maynard, strength and knockout power is not what Edgar is known for.
Even the wrestling seems to be close to a wash. While many are giving the edge to Edgar, there are still more than a fair share who seem to think Henderson has enough wrestling prowess to stump Edgar enough to turn the tide in Henderson’s favor.
It certainly appears as though Henderson is riding the hype express all the way to Japan.
Hype that Frankie Edgar knows is well-deserved.
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is no measuring what heart, will, and unrelenting determination will do for a fighter in the Octagon. And nobody has more of that than Edgar.