The year 2018 didn’t start out great for former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
In March, his long-awaited bout against Max Holloway for the featherweight crown was cancelled for the second straight time due to an injury sustained by the Hawaiian less than a month from the fight. Edgar remained on the card and accepted a fight with Brian Ortega instead - and that ended up with him being knocked out for the first time in his career by “T-City.”
“All of us around Frankie did not expect that to happen because he had been in so many fights where people dropped him and he just wouldn’t fall,” said Edgar’s jiu-jitsu coach Ricardo Almeida. “So you don’t know how the fighter is going to react mentally and also physically, if the next time he’s caught, he’s going to have a glass chin. But Frankie immediately wanted to fight again.”
So, less than 50 days after his loss to Ortega, Edgar stepped back in the Octagon to fight the always dangerous Cub Swanson in a rematch of veterans looking to bounce back from losses.
The bout was held in Frankie’s home state of New Jersey, and fighting in his backyard for the first time in over 10 years, he answered any questions about the after-effects of his first knockout loss by beating Swanson in three rounds.
“It was good for me to come back fast; it was the best thing to do”, said Edgar. “You never truly get rid of the feeling of defeat, but going back there and getting a win helped to ease that.”
“Seeing it as a coach, he made very few mistakes,” added Ricardo. “After the fight, I kept thinking how does he do that, how does he put all his legacy on the line for a fight right after getting knocked out. But I think the guys that really leave their mark in this sport are like Frankie, who don’t think much about the safe choice; they take risks and write their own history.”
The “reward” came right after, with Edgar being chosen to lead the historic UFC 25th Anniversary event in Denver on November 10, when he’ll fight “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung.
“It’s funny, because in February I’ll be in the UFC for 12 years, so considering this is the 25th anniversary, I’ve been in the company for almost half of its existence. It’s nice they chose me to lead an event like this,” he said. “I’m excited, The Korean Zombie is the perfect opponent and it’s going to be a great fight for the fans.”
The Korean Zombie had been away from the Octagon for nearly four years, as he was serving in the South Korean Army, but he returned willing to get right back to where he left off in February 2017, when he knocked out Dennis Bermudez in the first round, claiming a place back among the 10 best featherweights in the world.
After another long hiatus, this time due to injuries, Jung, who has finished 12 of his 14 career wins, will certainly be looking for another impressive performance to shorten his way towards a title shot.
“He’s a warrior,” complimented Frankie, “He takes the fight where it needs to go. Everyone saw all the battles he was in. He has a lot of power in his hands, great submissions and a very unorthodox submission game, so he’s dangerous everywhere”.
At 36 years old, with three successful lightweight title defenses and two featherweight title fights on his resumé, Frankie Edgar has likely secured his spot in the UFC Hall of Fame. Yet he treats questions about his motivation to compete and his career goals very naturally, with his answers not going anywhere near to the expression “time to stop.”
“I want to keep adding to everything I have already accomplished and keep improving. I still have fun with it,” he said. “Obviously, my main goal is to be champion again, but day to day I want to keep improving, to be a different guy in every fight.”
Over a decade ago, when Almeida and Edgar started working together, “The Answer” was only a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, and now he is a black belt, which means his Brazilian coach saw and participated in deep changes in Edgar as a fighter.
One thing, though, never changed, according to him.
“Everybody has the will to win, to go in there when the whole world’s watching and make the money they make, but the will to train hard is something else,” said Almeida. “I’ve never seen Frankie slow down in all of these years. His competitiveness is the same from the first to the last minute of training. His will to compete, to be the best in the world, that’s his biggest motivation.”