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Flashback - Yves Edwards Comes Home

Even if you didn’t see it live, few people will forget UFC 49 on August 21, 2004, and it had little to do with the main event that saw Randy Couture regain his light heavyweight title against Vitor Belfort, or even stellar wins by Chuck Liddell, David Terrell or Karo Parisyan.

The reason everyone remembers that night is because of a finish that has remained in highlight reels over the last 15 years, the knockout of Josh Thomson by Yves Edwards. And while it was spectacular, that fight would mark the last 155-pound fight in the Octagon for nearly two years.

During that time, Edwards went 3-1, a stretch that included two fights in PRIDE – a submission of Dokonjonosuke Mishima and a split decision loss to Joachim Hansen. Add in his 6-2 UFC record, and it was clear that the “Thug-Jitsu” master was one of the top lightweights in the world. Thankfully, he got a chance to prove it in the Octagon when the division was brought back for UFC 58 in March 2006, and I got to chat with Edwards before that bout to help introduce him to fans who may have never even seen a 155-pound fight in the UFC.

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Like many of us, Yves Edwards sat back and was amazed.  Show after show, he watched fighters that didn’t have nearly the skill level he had fight in the UFC; athletes who were given that opportunity not because they were better than he was, but because they were genetically blessed with bodies that checked in at 170 pounds or over.

Was he frustrated?  Yes.  Disappointed.  Yes. Angry? Not really.

“When you know that you’re a good fighter, and you know that you’ve got skills that people would like to see – you definitely get disappointed when you see two heavyweights that have no gas, no cardio, and they look horrible,” said Edwards, the flag bearer for UFC 58’s return of the lightweight division on March 4th.  “And while the lightweights were gone, the UFC had a few really good shows and I would venture to say that on almost every show they had a heavyweight debacle.  And you’re not gonna get that with the lightweights – even if the fight goes the distance, you’re gonna get an action-packed fight that’s gonna be pretty exciting.  So, you feel bad about seeing somebody there and it feels like these guys are taking my spot and wasting people’s time.”

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You don’t find too many people in any sport who tell it like it is like Edwards does.  And at 29 years old, you can’t blame him.  He’s paid his dues in this game since he made his mixed martial arts debut eight years ago in 1997, and even though he’s one of the sport’s best, pound-for-pound, and has faced perhaps the highest level of competition of anyone in the game, he is virtually unknown to mainstream fans, some of whom may have never even seen a fight waged at the 155-pound weight limit.  Being the first lightweight back is a lot of pressure, isn’t it?

“I guess somewhere I thought about it and there are a lot of new fans, but here’s the thing – one reason why I’m so comfortable in a fight, whether it’s in an Octagon or a ring, or anywhere, is that I have very few things on my mind,” he explains. “I’ve got the guy in front of me, I’ve got the referee – and when I’m fighting, the referee is just like a voice in my head – and then I hear his corner and my corner.  So that’s my world when the fight’s going on.  Everything else is irrelevant.  It’s really strange, because watching a fight later, it’s different.  I never feel that these many people are watching me when I’m fighting.  So I don’t think it’s gonna be an issue for me.  Before, after – I would love to impress those people and I would love for them to see a good lightweight fight and be excited about the lightweight division.  But if it’s a concern, it’s very small; it’s not a big part of my mindset when I’m in there.”

Yet the fact remains that the Bahamas-born Texan is not only returning to the UFC as perhaps THE premier lightweight in the country right now, but he will be expected to perform up to that level on a consistent basis beginning a week-and-a-half from now against Canada’s Mark Hominick. 

“I don’t have a problem with that at all,” said Edwards.  “What I try to do when I go out there and fight is give my best performance every time.  If that’s gonna make people like me, then so be it – I can take that.  I don’t fight because I want people to like me; I fight because I love it.  If people like me because of that, then that’s just a bonus.  And if they want to support me, I appreciate it, but I take every fan’s comment – positive or negative – with a grain of salt.  All of their compliments aren’t gonna get me to the next level.  I’ve got to take those comments, appreciate them, and perform for the fans, yes, but at the same time I’ve got to get to the gym and get the work done.”

That’s never been an issue for the creator of “Thug-Jitsu,” who counts among his victims such stalwarts as Aaron Riley (twice), Rich Clementi, Hermes Franca (twice), Josh Thomson and Dokonjonosuke Mishima.  But after his spectacular knockout win over Thomson at UFC 49 in August of 2004, it all ended, as the UFC lightweight division disappeared and the higher weight divisions took center stage, sometimes with mixed results – most notably, the dismal UFC 56 bout between Gabriel Gonzaga and Kevin Jordan, a snoozer that drove even the most diehard heavyweight fan to tears.

Edwards didn’t sit in the corner and cry “woe is me” though.

“You’ve got to take the punches as they come and deal with them,” he said.  “I can’t sit at home and be upset.  I wasn’t so much angry about it; I was disappointed because that’s not gonna make anybody look good.  That doesn’t make the UFC or the sport look good at all.  And the UFC knows that.  They’ve got to roll with the punches too.  They don’t always get their way – they’re the guys with the power, but even then, some things are out of their control and once they get a taste of something and they don’t like it, they’re not gonna have anything to do with it anymore.  I think that has a lot to do with it – the fact that (UFC heavyweight champ Andrei) Arlovski’s so dominant and there are so many heavyweights out there that really aren’t on that level.  With more shows and so few good heavyweights, they’re gonna bring back the lightweights and have a weight class where the top ten guys are great.  The lightweights are so deep that we can go down the top 20 to 25 guys and still get great fights every time.”

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For Edwards, there was still the over year-long drought to wait out in the meantime, and he stayed busy by fighting for the PRIDE and Euphoria promotions, going 3-1 in the process (his only loss coming via split decision to Joachim Hansen).  And he had faith that he would be back in the Octagon eventually.

“I knew I would fight some more fights in the UFC because (UFC President) Dana (White) offered me a few more fights,” said Edwards.  “I didn’t know it was gonna be the whole division coming back.  I thought I would come in every so often and fight a few fights.  But I did think I was gonna have to stay over in Japan.  I was worried for a while that the lightweights weren’t gonna have a venue here where basically the whole world would get to see us, but I was happy that I was able to fight in PRIDE and still keep my name out there, still fight some of the best guys in the world and still be seen doing what I love to do.” 

The success of The Ultimate Fighter series and the subsequent explosion of the UFC - not only on pay-per-view, but also on Spike TV – provided the opportunity to bring the division back and put Edwards on U.S. television on a regular basis.  Yet for a fighter like him, this isn’t about exposure or fame, it’s about the fights, and he’s excited about the matchups that could be in store for him in the future.

“It’s kinda like coming home,” he said.  “I’m real excited about that, and then I see a lot of good guys with contracts now – guys like Spencer Fisher, Kenny Florian, Jorge Gurgel, and then there are the guys who were there before the division got pushed aside – guys like Josh (Thomson) and Hermes (Franca) and possibly even (Caol) Uno and Genki (Sudo).  (Former UFC lightweight champ) Jens (Pulver) is still a great fighter, and I really hope the UFC does something with Jens because he really is the champion.”

With matchups like these, fight fans – especially newer followers of the sport – will suddenly have a host of new heroes to root for, but the added fame that comes with such notoriety may take some getting used to for guys like Edwards.  Is he ready for it?

“I don’t know because I don’t know exactly what it’s going to entail,” he admits.  “It could be overwhelming, it could be the same as what it is now, I’m not sure.  I could tell you that I’m prepared for it, but that’s an uneducated guess.  All I’m prepared for is Mark Hominick.  The kid looks good, looks strong, and he looks like he’s coming to fight.  That’s the only thing I can prepare myself for.  Everything beyond that is just conjecture, and I’ve got to take it as it comes.”

Mark Hominick.  In all the talk about Edwards leading the lightweights back to the UFC, we can forget that there is actually a fight taking place on March 4th, and that Edwards is in tough against “The Machine.”  But Hominick is coming up from the 145-pound division against one of the 155-pound class’ hardest strikers.  That could prove to be a factor come fight night.

“I think strength’s always gonna be an issue with the fight,” said Edwards.  “Some guys are equal in strength and some guys outclass guys in strength, and if I’m stronger than him, and his game plan’s gonna be to neutralize that, to do things that won’t allow me to be stronger, then if it comes to that point where I’m able to use that strength against him, I’m definitely gonna take advantage of it.  But then again, you don’t know until you get in there.  You see things on tape, but you don’t know exactly how strong a guy is until you lock up with him.  I’m gonna take it as it comes and see what happens.  I’ve seen some of his fights, and what I like about him is that he’s always coming.  He’s got good stamina, and if the fight’s 15 minutes long, he’s gonna fight for 15 minutes.  There’s not gonna be a second where he’s trying to catch a break or backing down from anybody.  So I look at that – I can’t look at the weight, I can’t look at anything else because it only takes once punch.  I’m definitely focused on what his strengths are, trying to neutralize them, and trying to exploit the weaknesses I can find and use my strengths against him.”

And at the end of the day, Edwards-Hominick is going to be a fight – no dancing, no stalling, and no circling.  The lightweights are back, and Yves Edwards couldn’t be happier.  Like he said, it’s like coming home.

“I really missed being in the Octagon,” he said.  “The night before the fights, I go down to the Octagon, move around a bit and I just feel so comfortable in that cage – it feels like home.  The first time I felt extremely comfortable in that cage was when Hermes and I fought.  I actually went to the cage before that fight to warm up and feel it out, and it felt so good to be in there.  I miss that feeling the most, just being in the cage.  In the back of my mind, I know there are 8,000 to 12,000 fans sitting there watching, and thousands watching at home, but it’s so irrelevant until everything’s done. “

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