Frankie Edgar has been doubted his entire career.
The 28-year-old Toms River, New Jersey native spent his climb up the UFC lightweight ladder listening to critics discussing how successful he could be if he were to drop to the featherweight division and fight at 145-pounds.
Edgar proved he belonged by upsetting lightweight champion BJ Penn when the two met at UFC 112 in April. Despite earning a unanimous decision from the three judges at ringside, “The Answer” still faced a litany of questions following the biggest win of his career.
Two of the more prominent challenges facing any new champion are the “you should have to knock out or submit the champion to win the belt” argument and the “you’re not really a champion until you defend the title for the first time.” With 12-plus pounds of gold around his waist and a chance to defeat Penn for a second time only days away, Edgar offered his opinion on both statements.
“A win’s a win, man, and that’s why we have judges,” replied the UFC lightweight champion when asked about the first of the two challenges to his new place atop the 155-pound division. “Obviously, a knockout or a stoppage will put a stamp on it.
“Looking at BJ and what he’s been doing to everybody in the division,” continued Edgar, “stopping everybody and pretty much running through everybody, I guess what I did was the next best thing you could do and just beat him.”
What Edgar did was more than just “the next best thing.” His victory was one of the biggest upsets of the year, not only in MMA, but in all of sports, and was acknowledged as such with an ESPY Award nomination earlier this summer. Previous to their meeting in Abu Dhabi, Penn was fresh off his annihilation of Diego Sanchez and hadn’t been beaten in the division in nearly eight years.
As for the second challenge, Edgar agrees with the assertion.
“It’s true, and I don’t want to be a one-and-done dude for sure,” said the Rutgers University wrestling team assistant coach. “We’ll see though; I’ve got a tough task ahead of me.”
Despite entering the fight as the reigning and defending champion, odds-makers have made Edgar the underdog for this fight, believing that beating Penn twice in a four-month span is indeed a tough task. The lingering doubt that remains for some was part of the reason Edgar was quick to accept the rematch.
“Dana called me and said, `I’d like to have you fight B.J. in August,’ and I said alright,” recalled Edgar of the conversation with UFC President Dana White that brings him to Boston this weekend. “He thinks it’s a more marketable fight than anything else in the 155-pound division, and again, B.J. has been on top of this division for such a long time that if anybody deserves an immediate rematch, it’s him.”
Many observers believe that Edgar beat a less-than-100% Penn that night in Abu Dhabi, and see that as another reason to move ahead with an immediate rematch. After the bout, reports from the former champion’s camp made reference to a possible sinus infection that took a toll on Penn’s abilities in the cage. While it very well could have played a part in Penn’s performance, Edgar still became the first lightweight to defeat Penn since Jens Pulver earned a majority decision over “The Prodigy” at UFC 35.
“It’s not like I train with the guy or I fought him before,” offered Edgar to the question of whether he felt Penn was at his best on April 10th in Abu Dhabi. “For me, he was pretty tough. You look at all the blogs and everything leading up to the fight, he seemed to be on his A-game; everything seemed to be going good.
“Again, sometimes if someone is hurt, they’re not exactly going to tell everyone about it,” continued the current top-ranked lightweight in the world. “You know, who knows? Maybe he was sick, maybe he was hurt, maybe he wasn’t. I really can’t tell you that.”
What Edgar can say is that his approach isn’t going to change the second time around. While many have speculated that we’ll see a more aggressive Penn this weekend in Boston – an idea Edgar agrees with – the defending champ is definitely going to bring the same style to this fight that got him here in the first place.