"It’s still fun. I’m still having a good time. I don’t not enjoy it." - Yves Edwards
Yves Edwards’ fighting career is just about old enough to drive.
The 36-year-old lightweight veteran had his first official fight in October 1997, though there were surely a couple other fights before that which don’t appear on his resume. Over those 16 years, Edwards has traversed the country, and made trips to Canada, Japan, and Russia, amassing a 42-18-1 record competing in organizations big and small against recognizable names and relative unknowns alike.
At one point early in his career, he was viewed as the uncrowned king of the UFC lightweight division, and his flying head kick finish against Josh Thomson at UFC 49 remains immortalized in the company’s pre-main card hype video.
In addition to mastering Thugjitsu -- which is officially defined as “the modern art of the beatdown” -- Edwards has also become proficient in the art of pre-fight psychological warfare.
On the day of weigh-ins, while everyone else is waiting to step on the scale, counting down the seconds and minutes before they can once again let food pass through their lips, you’re likely to find Edwards in the back, snacking on a candy bar or cookies, an early reward for making weight without issue.
“There are times where on the day of weigh ins, I’ll get down to 152 pounds, but the next day, I’m still 175, so I feel real good about the cut, and I still feel strong the next day,” said Edwards, explaining the origin of the on-the-scale snacking routine that has become his signature in recent years. “If I get down to ’52, I go ahead and eat before the weigh ins, and I can enjoy myself while everybody back there are a little bit miserable.
“I just remember cutting weight for Golden Gloves and other stuff as an amateur, and then getting on the scale as a pro realizing that I made my weight cut, and this is a really miserable time. Everybody is uncomfortable, everybody feels bad, and I’ve learned how to make the weight cut best for myself.
“I like trying to make myself as comfortable as possible, as soon as possible, and I love sweets. Getting on the scale while I’m eating something delicious and that other guy is miserable – it may not affect him in the fight itself, but it might piss him off a little bit. He’s back there miserable and I’m nibbling on something while he’s still spitting into a cup to make sure that he’s under.”
This weekend, the seasoned professional welcomes former Strikeforce fighter and Team Jackson-Winkeljohn member Isaac Vallie-Flagg into the Octagon. While Valllie-Flagg made it known that he likes “anything chocolate,” the UFC newcomer better not be expecting Edwards to share his snacks on Friday.
“I stopped giving people my food after I gave Sam (Stout) one of my Oreos,” admitted Edwards, who was knocked out by the Canadian with a vicious left hand at UFC 131 one day after the two chowed down on cookies during their pre-fight face-off. “It’s not going to happen again, but it’s nice to know that he likes chocolate. Maybe I’ll have some chocolate and not let him have any; that will piss him off.”
At a time when many veteran fighters are showing signs of decline, cashing paychecks on the regional circuit, or have already hung up their four-ounce gloves for good, Edwards is still in the thick of things in the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC.
His blistering first-round knockout win over Jeremy Stephens two months ago lifted his record to 4-2 during his second stint on the biggest stage in the sport, and continued to show that while he may be the senior statesman of the active competitors in the lightweight division, he continues to be a tough out for anyone who stands opposite him inside the cage.
Part of what has contributed to his longevity and ability to continue to compete at a high level is Edwards’ approach to training.
“When I game plan for my opponent’s strengths, I game plan like I’m fighting the best guy at that thing, no matter what his strength is,” explained Edwards, who is based in Austin, Texas, but also trains with the all-star collection of athletes at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.
“If his strength is kickboxing and his wrestling is not the best, I’m not training just to beat his wrestling; I’m training to try and be successful against a guy at (Georges St-Pierre’s) level. That’s what my mentality is. I know I’m not at GSP’s level of wrestling offensively or defensively, but that’s what I look at when I look at an opponent. I try to train for that level of guy in that aspect of the game.
“If I’m worried about wrestling, I’m worried about GSP. He’s a weight class higher and someone I will never fight, but that’s the guy I’m training for, you know? I’m training for Anderson Silva when it comes to standup. I’m training for Marcelo Garcia when it comes to straight jiu-jitsu.”
More than anything, though, the fact that Edwards continues to enjoy the process of preparing for a fight and the day-to-day quest to improve in all areas is what keeps him adding more fights to his already lofty appearance total.
“It’s still fun. I’m still having a good time. I don’t not enjoy it,” laughed Edwards, who has earned stoppages in 33 of his 42 career wins. “I think about that sometimes. A couple months ago I was training with Gleison Tibau, and he was throwing a little bit hard. We were wearing (MMA training gloves), but he was hitting me a little hard in the face – he was on top, and I was trying to get up – and it was hard to get up. I was thinking to myself, `He’s hitting me hard.’ Right after that, I thought, `Oh well. I guess I gotta get up because this is still kind of fun.’ That’s the thing, you know?
“I’m never not having a good time. Even if I’m in the gym, I’m extremely tired or getting beat up, I’m still having a good time. I’m sure I would be having a better time if I were winning the round or winning the moment, but even at that point I’m still enjoying it. It’s still a challenge, it’s still a lot of fun, and I still want to get better – and I feel I am still getting better – so I guess that’s motivation. When I feel like I’m not improving and I can’t make any more gains, then I guess the desire may start to fade.”
For now, that desire is still going strong, and is bolstered this time around by the opportunity to compete on the same card as his close friend and long-time training partner Tyron Woodley. The two always corner each other, and have discussed the possibility of fighting on the same event for a number of years, dating back to Edwards’ days with EliteXC.
With Woodley, a former Strikeforce welterweight title challenger, moving to the UFC roster and stepping up to replace Erick Silva opposite Jay Hieron later in the night on Saturday, the two will get to cross another item off their individual Bucket Lists.
“As soon as the Strikeforce-UFC merger was going to happen, I got excited about the fact that I would possibly get to fight on the same card as my big baby brother. For it to be for his first time up, I’m excited about it.
“I’m really excited to be sharing it rather than having one of us there supporting the other. We’ll both be out there at the same time; we’ve got our own things to take care of and we’ll be there together all the way through. I plan on opening the show and setting the stage for him to come out and close it in a very similar fashion.”
Having spent nearly 16 years inside the cage trading leather with some of the best in the business, Edwards has a very firm grasp on where he stands and what his prospects look like going forward.
It’s that understanding continues to make him one of the most entertaining fighters in the lightweight division, and promises to make his bout this weekend a can’t-miss engagement.
“I don’t feel like my window is closing, but I completely understand that I’m 36 now, and it probably is. At the very least, I know it’s not as open as it was 10 years ago, so I want to go out there and make it as exciting as I possibly can, and demonstrate what thugjitsu is at its highest level while the sport is at the highest level its been at. I want to go out there and put on a show, man, and I’m not going to hold anything back, that’s for sure.
“Once thugjitsu hits, don’t blink.”