It is no secret throughout the sport of MMA that enthusiasts, competitors, analysts, and reporters alike all see B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn as an immovable obstacle atop the UFC lightweight division.
The conversation is usually a short one when speaking about clear and apparent challengers to Penn's throne. It starts with a question of who can, and will, challenge the champ, and usually ends with a simple and abundant answer: nobody.
The consensus is that Penn is just too strong on paper at 155 lbs to be dethroned. While anyone can be beaten on any given day, the odds tell fight fans, and the sport of MMA, that Penn will not bow to the fleeting chances that such a time will come while he is the best lightweight.
So there is the foundation of the UFC lightweight landscape: a champion who has no intentions of relinquishing his title, has a talent level that can rarely be matched, has a following like the Pied Piper, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Quite to the contrary, Penn is gaining momentum.
So where does that leave the next guy in line for a title shot?
Is the point really that moot? Is the outlook for someone giving Penn a real fight that remote?
Are fight fans left hopelessly watching as Penn gives instructional MMA pay-per-view headliners on how to dominate a division?
Some might disagree with that notion. Some might jump to point to the fact that what makes MMA so exciting and enticing is the fact that anything can happen. Ask Georges St. Pierre or Matt Serra about deciding a fight on paper. Their first fight is all the proof needed to realize that these things are never certain—not in this sport.
There is a reason these warriors fight: if someone were able to predict every outcome, what would be the point? Where there is a will, there is a way, and an upset is always one mistake away.
All that being said, there is a fighter feeling very alone, and very underestimated at this point in time. A fighter who has impressed and improved all in the sake of gaining a shot at the lightweight title. His recent victories were exciting and hard earned over top competition in the UFC.
That fighter is Frankie "The Answer" Edgar.
Edgar has been given the nod as the No. 1 contender to Penn's throne. This is a guy who is a phenomenal fighter with a level of talent that is undeniable. A genuine class act, and very technical fighter who has been making his name known throughout the lightweight division.
Make no mistake, when Penn is excluded from the rest of the lightweight division, the division is stacked and highly competitive. With names like Florian, Guida, Sanchez, Griffin, and now Gomi, this division is a tough one to compete in, and Edgar has been dominant.
Now add Penn back into the picture and all those performances, all those names, all those talents are paled in comparison. Does that take away from the accomplishments of a guy like Edgar?
The answer is no.
When compared next to a guy like Penn, many fighters may not add up, and may not hold their own. That is not to say that there are not many fighters who are at the very least elite and world class. This is the boat Edgar is riding in, and it is up to him to prove that statement true when he takes his corner in Abu Dhabi at UFC 112.
See, what people won't say when talking about a champ like Penn is that they believe he can be beat. Rarely will an enthusiast be the first to jump up and say a fighter of that magnitude will lose.
With the proven track record of success found on the resume of a fighter like Penn, a person would have to be stone crazy or a fool to go out on that limb and claim he will fall.
They risk looking foolish for believing anything but his dominant victory is what is at hand. While the odds of what is being debated lean heavily in Penn's favor, try telling an elite fighter like Frankie Edgar he doesn't stand a chance, and see how much he buys into that theory. He may have an alternative for you to consider.
What the fight fan misses in their lock pick of choosing Penn over anyone is that he is not invincible—he has been stopped, and he has been beat. Just because it hasn't happened in a long time at this weight doesn't mean it can't happen again.
There are no slouches at this level, and when Penn gets in the cage with Edgar he has to answer some questions of his own.
Anyone who thinks Penn will continue to steamroll though the fighters put in front of him is not paying enough attention to the sport. The odds are what they are, there is no denying that, but again, why do you watch?
Will you really tune in to see Edgar destroyed by Penn, or will you tune in with the notion that maybe, just maybe, Edgar can shock the world?
The point here is not to blow Penn up more than he already is, or to shame Edgar by saying he doesn't have a prayer of taking that belt.
The point here is only to say the topic of two elite world class fighters meeting in a cage is what is being discussed, and no one at all is giving Edgar a chance, no matter how skilled and crafty he seems against anyone else.
It may not be apparent, it may not be obvious, it may not even make sense to a fight fan when they break down this match up.
One thing is certain though: Frankie Edgar has the "Answer" to Penn's questions. This fighter is talented and sharp enough to find his edge in this match.
It's a matter of whether or not he anticipates the questions accordingly to execute the game plan he brings to the table come fight night.
No one is saying Edgar is a lock to beat Penn, but on the flip side of the same token, underestimating the talent and capabilities of Edgar is just short sighted. You don't have to root for him, but surely you have seen enough to not count him out indefinitely.
I guarantee you Penn is taking him more serious than anyone else who is breaking down this match, and he is right to do so. Maybe those looking on should give Edgar some more credit also.