Frankie Edgar: 'Pressure Brings out the Very Best in Me'
In a sport as rigorous as mixed martial arts, where a fighter's physical and mental mettle is tested in constant fashion, the ability to bounce back from adversity can either define or break an athlete's career.
It just so happens resilience is a something Frankie Edgar carries in large supply.
The former UFC lightweight champion's battles are well-noted, and his countless displays of heart and grit are stamped into the history of the sport itself, but despite the accomplishments of his impressive resume, these days "The Answer" finds himself in a situation far different than he's ever known in his professional career.
After an impressive run atop the highly competitive 155-pound division, the 31-year-old has experienced a tough run of setbacks inside the Octagon, coming out on the losing end of his past three showings on the sport's biggest stage—each time with championship gold on the line.
His two losses to Benson Henderson were close—one downright controversial—but nevertheless, Edgar carried on. Back-to-back losses could have prompted him to look for an easier path to travel, but when the opportunity to compete for pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo's featherweight title arose, the "fighting pride of Toms River" once again put himself in a position to show and prove.
Unfortunately for Edgar, five rounds weren't enough for him to tip the scales on the fight, as Aldo walked out of their main-event tilt at UFC 156 with his title intact.
In the aftermath of the fight, Edgar was undoubtedly gutted by the loss. The former title holder was now staring down the barrel of a reality where in one year's time, he had gone from champion to the owner of a three-fight losing streak, with his place in the sport lingering in doubt and uncertainty.
But if Edgar has proven anything throughout his nearly decade-long career, it is that his resolve is unbreakable—a quality that has come from being a perpetual underdog. Where some fighters have lingered on merit and accomplishment, Edgar has had to consistently prove he belongs at the highest level of the sport. And while he has come out on the losing end of those battles in this most recent run, Edgar is determined to get back to where he believes he belongs.
He's defined by heart, but not just the heart he shows in the tense moments of a closely fought battle. The real measure of his heart is Edgar's ability to step forward and weather the criticism that comes in the midst of a three-fight losing streak where many are writing off the former champion.
There is no doubt the pressure is on, but it is nothing new to Edgar. He's spent a lifetime in the fires of competition and truly believes this adversity will only serve to make him stronger.
"You put my back against the wall, and that is when I'm going to come out with something great," Edgar told Bleacher Report. "When everything is stacked against you, I think that is when greatness truly comes out. When things are going your way and in your corner, it is a different situation. But I'm the type of guy—when the pressure is on and my back is against the wall—it is going to bring the very best out of me."
The opportunity for Edgar to break his recent skid and begin his climb back to the top of the division will come against Charles Oliveira at UFC 162 in July. It will be his first non-title bout in three years, and while the circumstances surrounding the fight will have a different feel, Edgar sees the matchup with "Do Bronx" as the ideal situation to get back to the win column.
That being said, the former lightweight champion-turned-featherweight contender is taking nothing away from the talented young Brazilian. The 23-year-old presents some interesting stylistic challenges, and Edgar is looking forward to mixing it up in Las Vegas.
"I think [Oliveira] is very dangerous," Edgar said. "He's a really long fighter. He's almost six foot tall, and for a short guy like myself, that presents some challenges. He's willing to throw diverse strikes with kicks, knees and punches, then he has a go-for-broke style of jiu-jitsu. He's going to throw submission, and it doesn't matter where he is—he's going for them. I don't know how high his level of jiu-jitsu is going to be, but those guys who go for broke and are willing to go all-in for a submission attempt are dangerous.
"I just need to get back to my winning ways. I need to get back into a rhythm I guess you could say. It's tough because I have three losses. Yeah, they were three pretty tight losses, and some people say I won some of those fights, but it doesn't matter. At the end of the day I lost. At the same, time those losses came against some of the best fighters in the world.
"It sucks having three losses in a row, but I have to play it for what it is," Edgar added. "I don't think I had any bad performances in that run. There are some things I need to work on technically and strategically, but I feel like I'm still on my way up. This is just a bump in the road, and I'm going to get back on track. This fight is my opportunity to get that done and get back into the win column."
Edgar's championship run in the lightweight division made him one of the most recognizable names in the sport, and dropping down into a weight class that has become increasingly competitive over the past year, the high-profile name he carries is an appealing bounty to the rising stars in the featherweight division.
Nevertheless, having a target on his back is nothing new to Edgar. He knows he will face some tough challenges in order to get back to where he wants to be. In order to accomplish this task, the scenery may look a bit different with no main-event billing or an opponent who doesn't carry the same amount of name recognition, but those are minor details at this point.
Winning is what matters, and Edgar will do whatever it takes to get his career back on track.
"For sure there are fighters in this division who see me as someone they can try to make their name on, but if I want to be a top fighter in this weight class, I have to be able to beat anyone I get in there with," Edgar said. "It doesn't matter who I fight. If I want to be number one—and that is always my goal—I should be able to beat whoever I face. That is how I approach it, and that is how I'm looking at my next fight."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained first hand unless noted otherwise.
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