Frankie Edgar has never been lacking in ambition or determination.
The "undersized" fighter with an "oversized" heart has built a solid career on the strength of those particular intangibles as he's engaged in some of the most memorable scraps in the history of the UFC lightweight division. In the process of doing so, "The Answer" made doing the unthinkable simply what he does. He became the fighter that could never be counted out, no matter how grim the circumstance or how far uphill the battle appeared to be.
A gritty, all-out affair is what fans have come expect from a fight Edgar is involved in, and it is what he's delivered time and time again.
"It's just who I am," Edgar told Bleacher Report. "I am definitely going to go out there and leave it all in the cage and make sure I have no regrets afterwards. I like action and there is never going to be a stale point in my fights. I like to go in there and get after it. I feel like I've trained so hard to get there, I might as well put it to use."
Despite a rising profile in the lightweight ranks, few gave the former Clarion University wrestler much of a chance when he squared off with B.J. Penn for the lightweight strap at UFC 112 back in April of 2010.
"The Prodigy" had been destroying top-tier opposition during his reign as champion. On the strength of such a run, Penn became widely regarded as the best 155-pound fighter on the planet (if not the best in the history of the weight class). The sum of those elements created a heavy mystique for a fighter well on his way to legendary status, and the presence of such things defeated a handful of fighters before the cage door ever closed behind them.
This wasn't the case with Edgar, and when the referee stepped aside to get things under way in Abu Dhabi, he came out determined to make that night his crowning moment. While the two lightweights exchanged leather throughout the entire 25-minute affair, it was the New Jersey native who emerged with the championship belt.
There was controversy in the aftermath due to the close nature of the fight, and with that in mind, the UFC booked an immediate rematch for August at UFC 118 in Boston. The stage was set for Penn to prove what happened four months prior was a fluke, but it would be Edgar who made the definitive statement in Beantown as he dominated the former two-divisional titleholder every round of the fight.
In the four years that have passed since his matches with Penn, numerous chapters to Edgar's story have been written.
There were two memorable tussles with rival Gray Maynard where the 32-year-old walked through the proverbial fire to keep his title reign intact and further his own storied measure of grit and moxie. While Edgar would survive early onslaughts from "The Bully" in those matchups to retain the strap, a pair of showings against upstart Benson Henderson would see the tenacious Edgar come out on the opposite side of fate in those fights.
The scrappy lightweight would be edged out by razor-thin margins in both affairs despite the judges' decisions in both fights being debatable. Back-to-back losses pushed him out of title contention in the lightweight division for the first time in over three years, and that situation prompted Edgar to make the drop down to featherweight where he found himself in a showdown with 145-pound king Jose Aldo in his divisional debut.
When the cage door closed at UFC 156 in Las Vegas, it was the same resilient Edgar with heart and determination. Unfortunately for the former lightweight champion, time ran out before he could swing the momentum fully in his favor, and Aldo exited the Octagon with his title in tow.
His loss to the Brazilian phenom put Edgar in uncharted territory as he faced a three-fight losing streak for the first time in his career. This circumstance created an added element of pressure heading into his next fight against Charles Oliveiria at UFC 162, but if there is anything Edgar has proven over the course of his career as a professional fighter, it's that pressure only serves to bring out the best of him.
"It was nice to get the win," Edgar said. "I was coming off three losses—and whether they were close or not—they are still three losses. That was a bit tough to deal with, but to get back into the win column was nice. It provided a little bit of relief."
He would go on to defeat "Do Bronx" in Las Vegas, and the victory immediately launched him back into what had become a crowded upper tier of potential title contenders in the featherweight fold. With Edgar's resume and skill set, there were a number of possible matchups that would have been compelling, but shortly after his win over Oliveiria, the UFC came calling with an opportunity few in the fight game saw coming.
The organization not only tapped him to coach the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter, which debuts Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1, but pitted him against the man that launched the biggest chapter to date in his career in B.J. Penn. While Edgar found the offer a bit on the curious side, the chance to coach in the TUF franchise was simply too appealing for him to turn down.
With that in mind, he put his signature on the dotted line and mentally prepared to face Penn for the third time at The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale on July 6.
"It definitely came out of nowhere," Edgar said. "They were talking about me doing the show and B.J. wasn't the guy they were talking about me coaching against. They were talking about it potentially being against Urijah [Faber] but he was in a different weight class and things just didn't come together for that happen. Then I thought I wasn't going to get the show at all then Dana called and asked if I'd be interested in doing the show with B.J. I told him if that works and it's at 145 I'm down.
"I've defeated B.J. twice and everyone is asking why I'm fighting him a third time. There was a big upside with the show being on the table and B.J. is no joke. He hasn't looked great in recent fights but those were at 170-pounds against much bigger guys. Things are much different now than they were back when he used to be the champion at 170. Guys are more athletic and technically better than they were back then. Fighting up at that weight class was a little tough for B.J. but he's still dangerous. He has an aura about him and he's still B.J. Penn. I have to prepare for him just like I would for any fight."
Where Edgar is certainly as experienced as they come when mixing it up inside the Octagon, taking on coaching duties for the reality-based fighting tournament presented new challenges. Rather than just focusing on his own training or assisting his teammates as they prepare, the former featherweight title challenger had to find a balance between both worlds.
He knew his coaching duties were going to require a hefty personal investment in the time department, but it wasn't going to stop him from continuing his own progression as a mixed martial artist. Throughout his career inside the cage, Edgar has proven to have a remarkable ability to adapt to the challenges coming at him, and being at the helm of Team Edgar became just another situation he had to navigate through.
"It was a cool and unique experience that was good to do for my career," Edgar said. "If you look at the guys who have done it in the past, they are all pretty big names or former champions and I felt coaching TUF was just the next step in my career. I enjoyed it. I didn't realize how big (of a commitment) it was going to be because I personally trained throughout the entire process and it was tough doing the team training and all the fights. It ended up being a pretty hectic schedule but it made things go by quickly. I obviously can't say too much about what went down on the show but the guys I worked with on my team were all good kids and it was a great experience."
While he admits the process didn't come stress-free, it proved to be a rewarding experience. The opportunity to coach a season of The Ultimate Fighter was something he had always wanted to do, and Edgar saw it as the right move at the right time for his career. With the show his primary focus, a trilogy fight with Penn became an added bonus of sorts in the larger scheme of things.
That said, the extended layoff created by doing the show and the bout that would follow wasn't something he was initially very keen on. Edgar had put things back on track with a solid performance at UFC 162, and having his next fight against Penn coming exactly one year later wasn't something that sat too well with him initially. Nevertheless, the opportunity to do the show ultimately outweighed the negatives, and Edgar chalked it all up to being part of the process.
"I knew there was going to be a little bit of a layoff but I was willing to trade that to coach TUF," Edgar said. "To be honest, though, I didn't think it was going to be as long as it ended up being. For some reason I thought I was going to be fighting in April and not the show debuting in April. I got a little confused but I probably would have said 'yes' anyway. The opportunity to do the show and the experience was something I thought was good for my career."
Once the show has run its course, it will be time for Edgar and Penn to step in for their third (and most likely final) meeting inside the Octagon. Edgar is no stranger to trilogy bouts, and he sees the upcoming tilt with Penn much the same as his third fight with Maynard at UFC 136. He has every intention of making this fight their last and will do everything in his power to close out the series in definitive fashion.
"I'm planning on getting ready for the hardest fight of my life," Edgar said. "That is how I always look at my fights. I'll make sure I'm prepared and then make it a hat trick. I'll make it 3-0, be done with it and move on."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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