“You can’t go into a fight with BJ Penn and say you’re gonna stop him because you’ll totally mess yourself up mentally. So I went into that fight knowing that I’m gonna have to fight five hard rounds, stay active, and execute my gameplan.”
What makes a champion? In the case of UFC lightweight boss Frankie Edgar, it not only took years of training and dedication, but the willingness to evolve his style, learn from his mistakes, and not dwell too long on his successes. With his August 28th title defense against BJ Penn looming, we look back at five fights that led him in one way, shape, or form to the top of the 155-pound weight class.
Tyson Griffin – February 3, 2007 - UFC 67
Result – Edgar W3
Just 5-0 as a pro when he got the call for his UFC debut against Tyson Griffin, Frankie Edgar was pretty much unknown out of the tri-state area, despite wins over Jim Miller and Deividas Taurosevicius. But 15 hard-fought minutes against Tyson Griffin later, Edgar’s name was on the lips of every diehard MMA fan, as he pounded out a unanimous decision in one of 2007’s best fights. Even more impressive than his overall performance that night was the heart he showed in gutting out a late kneebar attempt from Griffin.
“I hate to lose,” admitted Edgar. “I put so much on the line in that fight, it was balls to the wall the whole way, and then with 45 seconds left I get caught in that. But there was no way I could tap. It did pop a couple of times, but once it popped once, I said, ‘hey, the hell with it.’ I’d rather limp around for a while and get this ‘W’, then take a loss.”
Gray Maynard – April 2, 2008 – UFC Fight Night
Result – Maynard W3
When Gray Maynard rolled over Edgar en route to a clear cut unanimous decision victory in the high altitude of Colorado, many wondered whether Edgar was too small for the lightweight division, where his peers routinely cut huge amounts of weight while the New Jersey native barely had to cut any. Edgar wasn’t about to give up on his goal of becoming champion though, and that required reworking his techniques and gameplans to deal with stronger 155-pounders. He would get a test of this new career strategy a year later…
Sean Sherk – May 23, 2009 – UFC 98
Result – Edgar W3
Despite being always willing to stand and scrap, Edgar’s bread and butter was still his Division I wrestling. But against a powerhouse wrestler like former lightweight champ Sean Sherk, Edgar would have to have a plan B, and on this night in May of 2009, not only did he have such a plan, but he executed it to perfection as he showed off a striking game that was a revelation to everyone outside of his inner circle. And with this new dimension to his game, he not only defeated Sherk, but he sent a message to the rest of the division that he was a legit contender and not going anywhere anytime soon.
“It’s just a natural progression of everything,” said Edgar. “By no means did it just come overnight. Every fight, even before I was in the UFC, I was willing to throw my hands, so I think I had that naturally on my side. But I think it was the Sherk fight, where I knew that a takedown wasn’t gonna come easy, so I knew I had to rely on my boxing. And that really gave me the confidence that I could do it at anytime.”
Matt Veach – December 5, 2009 – TUF 10 Finale
Result - Edgar Wsub2
As an almost perennial underdog, Edgar would never have any problem getting up for fights against guys like Griffin, Maynard, or Sherk. But when an all-Jersey showdown against Kurt Pellegrino was scrapped due to injury, Edgar was thrust into one of those no-win situations when matched up with tough Midwest battler Matt Veach. Win, and he was supposed to win; lose, and it was off to the end of the line in the lightweight contender’s race. And while Edgar survived some dicey moments early on, he made some adjustments in the second round and hurt Veach before finishing him with a rear naked choke.
BJ Penn – April 10, 2010 – UFC 112
Result – Edgar W5
Edgar, back in the underdog role, was given little chance of unseating Penn in their April championship bout, mainly because “The Prodigy” was fresh from two dominating finishes of Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez. And Edgar knew that to win, it wasn’t going to be due to a flash knockout or submission, but by walking the tightrope of a perfect fight for 25 minutes.
“You can’t go into a fight with BJ Penn and say you’re gonna stop him because you’ll totally mess yourself up mentally,” he said. “So I went into that fight knowing that I’m gonna have to fight five hard rounds, stay active, and execute my gameplan.”
He did just that, using movement and quick striking to keep Penn off balance, and throwing in a couple quick takedowns for good measure. It was a career-defining performance when he needed it, and when the judges rendered their verdict, there was a new champion in town, and his name was Frankie Edgar.