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Let's (Preemptively) Remember A Guy: Frankie Edgar
It's the Old Man's last dance. You know, allegedly. Seems only fitting to take a moment and appreciate his body of work.
Hello and welcome to Let’s Remember A Guy, a possibly regular feature in which we hit pause on the ceaseless MMA carousel of weekly fighting events to reflect on some figure from the sport’s past. This is not meant to imply that they are dead, retired, a good (or bad) person, or really anything else. It’s just an opportunity to remember a fighter who might not be all that well-known or understood by newer fans, while also giving those us who do remember him/her the chance to go, oh yeah I remember that guy. This week: Frankie “The Answer” Edgar
Believe it or not, there was a time when anyone who wanted to fight in the UFC at any weight class under 155 pounds was simply shit out of luck. Stupid, I know, but it’s true. For a while there, the UFC brass wasn’t even convinced that the 155-pound lightweight division was worth the trouble. The big boys, that’s where the real money was. These little fellas simply didn’t move that pesky ol’ needle.
Now, of course, we recognize this as total bullshit. But way back when, if you wanted to go lower than 155 pounds you really had no choice but to fight in other organizations like the WEC. And hey, that could be fine, right? You could win a WEC title and the hardcores would understand that it was basically like being a UFC champ. Sure, you’d probably get sick of explaining that to every casual-ass joker who asked if you were ever going to make it to the UFC, but what else were you going to do? It’s not like you could fight way out of your natural weight class just to get in the big show. And if you did, it’s not like you’d ever stand a chance of winning a championship up there.
Nope, no way. Not unless you were Frankie fuckin’ Edgar.
These days, we know this man as a bantamweight. That’s 135 goddamn pounds. That’s where he’ll fight what he swears is his final fight at UFC 281 in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. And you know something? He fits in pretty well there, physically. Doesn’t seem like a giant. Doesn’t typically look especially skeletal on weigh-in day, the way some sad bastards do when they’re try to go as low as they possibly can in an effort to prolong their careers. When he shows up to fight, he looks like a bantamweight. All of which makes it kind of unbelievable that Edgar made his name in this sport at a division two weight classes above this one. That’s simply not supposed to happen.
As a college wrestler Edgar competed at 141 pounds. Makes sense, when you look at him. He stands five feet, six inches tall (and that might be a little generous, honestly). As a lightweight in MMA he was clearly undersized from the get go, but somehow it never seemed to matter. He fought his way up the ranks on the Jersey scene of the mid-2000s, which naturally peaked with a win over Jim Miller in Atlantic City, because why the hell wouldn’t it. Then he made the leap to the UFC and lost all of one fight (to Gray Maynard, via decision, which he later avenged) before capturing the UFC lightweight title.
Just that, right there, is a great career in the mixed martial arts. Edgar did it all in his first five years as a pro, culminating with back-to-back championship wins over B.J. Penn, the man who many thought of as the father of the division and the best to ever do it at 155 pounds. The fact that Edgar went on to have a whole second and third act after that, fighting 20 more bouts over the next decade-plus, it boggles the damn mind.
In a world with just the major pro sports – football, basketball, baseball, maybe hockey, depending on your latitude/attitude – there’s probably no way a guy like Edgar makes his living as a professional athlete. Even in this sport, one of the appeals of which is supposed to be the chance to compete against people your own size, it wasn’t a given, considering that weight class situation when he first started.
But Edgar always seemed like one of those guys who was genuinely happiest with his life when he was spending it in the meatgrinder. That’s one of the things that has made Edgar so tough to deal with as an opponent. Here’s this little guy, not a terribly imposing physical presence, darting to and fro like a crazed mongoose but also capable of dragging you down and gradually hammering out your will to live. With what would you hope to frighten or intimidate such a person? With what can you threaten him? You might beat him up a little, bloody his nose, rearrange some of his facial features. He hardly seems to notice, much less care. He even seems to almost like it at times.
I remember talking to Gray Maynard about his rivalry with Edgar once. They fought three times, with Maynard winning that first decision, followed by a rare but awesome title fight draw three years later, and finally culminating in a knockout win for Edgar in the last bout 10 months after that. The mistake he made, Maynard told me, was trying to change too much between the second and third fights. He felt like he had to do something different to make sure he beat this guy. But Edgar? He didn’t change anything, Maynard said. It was as if he knew he was right, even if the results had yet to prove it. He had faith in that. He stuck with it. He trusted that, if he just got enough chances, sooner or later the right result would stick.
Edgar has earned the love and respect of fans and his peers after all this time, but it’s not because he won them all. Especially in the last five or so years of his career, you see a lot of pink on the Wikipedia record. But it didn’t matter so much, because putting Frankie Edgar on a card meant you were guaranteed to see at least one person fighting his goddamn heart out. Everything he got in this sport, he paid for it in blood – his own or someone else’s. This is a guy who, at 41, all you have to do is look at his face and you can see that he never once learned a lesson easily. Now it seems like the hardest news for him to hear is that eventually he has to stop.
Will this really be his last fight? You never really know for sure. Especially these days, a fighter could go sit in his rocking chair for the next five years and still wake up one morning thinking it sounds like a fine idea to box some YouTuber. But I do know that Edgar’s success and his longevity are both some against the odds shit that he essentially willed into existence. His whole career is practically a study in stubbornness.
It’s never easy for those guys to quit. It takes reimagining their entire lives and maybe even coming up with a new sense of self, which is typically not something you do overnight. You do, however, have to start somewhere and at some time. And maybe a goodbye at MSG, when everyone knows it’s their last chance to tell you how much they appreciated you, isn’t such a bad way to do it.
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