"I still feel competitive and like I can go out there and compete with
some of the best guys in the world." - Yves Edwards
To put that into perspective, I Know What You Did Last Summer was atop the box office the night he defeated the amazingly named Todd Justice by rear naked choke at World Pankration Championship 1 in 1997. Two of his current main training partners, Dustin Poirier and Will Brooks, had yet to hit their teens, clocking in at eight and 11, respectively.
Saturday in Albuquerque, Edwards will compete for the 65th time. He’ll share the cage with Piotr Hallman, a Polish lightweight 11 years his junior with 75-percent fewer fights to his name, and yet the two combatants are at similar places in their careers, each man looking to rebound from a poor performance the last time they crossed the threshold into the Octagon.
“It’s called a No Contest, but I didn’t get hit with weed - I got hit with an uppercut,” says Edwards of his November meeting with Yancy Medeiros as part of the third UFC Fight for the Troops event.
Midway through the opening frame, a swift uppercut put him on the canvas and brought the fight to an end. Later, news of the Hawaiian testing positive for marijuana in his post-fight drug screening would alter the official result, but not the way Edwards sees it.
Not that he dwells on the setback.
In fact, in a career that includes two different stints on the UFC roster and spans several eras in the history of the sport, Edwards doesn’t have many regrets. Save for wishing he had learned how to wrestle at an earlier age - “23 instead of 33” as he puts it - the only thing that stings is that his bout with Josh Thomson at UFC 49 wasn’t for the lightweight title.
“If there is anything I regret or anything that hurts, it’s that at that time that fight wasn’t for the belt,” he says of the August 2004 encounter with “The Punk,” another early UFC lightweight that has since found his way back to the Octagon. “That’s probably the biggest moment for me - the opportunity to fight for the belt and have a fight like that be for the belt; that’s the hardest thing.
“To this day, it almost makes me want to cry.”
Unfortunately for Edwards, he’s reminded of it any time he competes or takes in a live UFC event, as the finishing sequence has been immortalized in the pre-main card video montage set to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” that plays at practically every show.
“That’s one of those things that has stood the test of time and hopefully it sticks around for a long time to come.”
He’s planning on doing the same as well.
Though Edwards is the most senior member of the lightweight ranks and one of the oldest active competitors on the UFC roster, don’t expect the “Thug-jitsu Master” to hang up his four-ounce gloves just yet.
For one thing, he’s managed to stay relatively healthy over the course of his career, fighting at least three times in all but two years between 1998 and 2013, something he credits to good genes and never getting caught up in the party lifestyle that traps many professional athletes.
More importantly, he just not ready for this to be over.
Working on a daily basis alongside the likes of Poirier, Brooks and the rest of the all-star ensemble at American Top Team means he’s continually learning and improving, and despite entering Saturday’s showdown with Hallman on a three-fight slide, Edwards knows he’s still capable of hanging with the best the lightweight division has to offer.
“Having more and more success with guys that are beastly like Poirier and Brooks and Nik Lentz, and learning things from them and being able to help them out,” cites Edwards when asked what keeps him motivated and hungry at this point in his career. “And not wanting this to be over.
“I’m still enjoying it. When I get to train with guys like that and they can push me and help me learn new things, it’s like I haven’t hit my ceiling yet and I want to know where the ceiling is.
“I’ve got these guys out there - young guys - and they’re pushing me, and it feels good. While I’m out there, I don’t feel like I’m 37. I don’t know what you’re supposed to feel like at 37 - I’ve never been 37 before - but I don’t feel like I’m that much older than these guys.
“I wish Mike Brown would get back on the mat instead of coaching,” Edwards says of the former WEC featherweight champion and his long-time teammate at American Top Team. “He doesn’t have anything lined up right now, so he’s just in a coaching role, and it’s like, `Man, I wish Mike would get back on the mat’ because I don’t like being the oldest guy on the mat.
“I look around and there is no one else that is older than me,” he adds with a laugh. “I wish Din Thomas would come down - I wish there was somebody that was at least two days older than me on the mat.”
Jokes and dreams of not being the elder statesmen on the mats in Coconut Creek aside, Edwards isn’t harboring any delusions of being the lightweight Randy Couture and competing in the UFC into his late 40s.
He knows the time will come when he has to stop slipping on the four-ounce gloves and taunting his famished opponent with cookies and candy bars on the scale during weigh-ins, and when that day comes, he’ll be ready.
It’s just not happening yet.
“I don’t want it to be over, man,” he says softly, almost as if in saying the words he’s sharing his innermost secret.
The jocular tone that carried the conversation has been replaced by that of a man speaking earnestly; a man that is closing in on the end of his career but isn’t ready to walk away just yet.
“I still love it,” he adds, energy returning to his voice. “I know it will be eventually, but when it’s time to cross that bridge, I will and I’m prepared for that, but I’m just not prepared for that to be this month or this year.
“I still feel competitive and like I can go out there and compete with some of the best guys in the world. I’m 37, but physically, I’m no different than I was five years ago or even eight or nine years ago.
“If my game is elevating and I’m still competitive, there is no point in hanging it up,” surmises Edwards. “I haven’t hit my ceiling. I’ve always said that if you’re not getting better at something you already know every day, you just wasted a whole day and I still feel like I’m doing that.
“As long as I still feel like that and I’m still doing that, there is no reason to hang it up because I’m still in love with the game.”