LAS VEGAS — When Frankie Edgar makes the long, lonely walk to the octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center for the biggest fight of his career on Saturday night, he might experience a flashback to the other time he made the long, lonely walk to the octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center for the biggest fight of his career.
It was six years ago almost to the day, at the traditional Super Bowl Weekend fight card on Feb. 3, 2007. Edgar was 6-0 at the time, but he’d fought outside his native New Jersey only once, in his first professional bout on an unsanctioned card in a dingy gym in the Bronx. Now he was under the sparkling lights of Vegas for UFC 67, making his debut with the sport’s behemoth fight promotion.
So while the then-25-year-old’s fight with Tyson Griffin was one of the early prelims — not the main event, as will be the case this weekend when Edgar (15-3-1) tries to dethrone featherweight king Jose Aldo — it sure was a big deal to Frankie. Griffin was also unbeaten, with wins over Duane Ludwig and Urijah Faber. Edgar, meanwhile, took the fight on four weeks’ notice and had his training interrupted by “the worst sinus infection of my life.”
“I remember just coming here and that week I felt like I still had to get in shape to fight on Saturday,” he recalled in a conversation with reporters on Thursday. “It was wild, man.”
Edgar was referring to his experience, but that last part might have been him talking about the ferocious fight with Griffin. After three back-and-forth rounds, Frankie walked away with a unanimous-decision victory. But both fighters were recognized with Fight of the Night bonuses on a card that featured middleweight champion Anderson Silva and also the UFC debuts of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic as well as future champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Edgar and Griffin put on such a show that their fight ended up being shown on the pay-per-view following the Silva vs. Travis Lutter main event.
Considering that his fight was televised after the evening’s final live bout, it was suggested to Edgar, that would make his fight the main event, no? He smiled and said, “Main event, baby!”
That’s what it was for him, anyway. “It felt just a big as this does now,” said Edgar. “It was my first fight, so to me it was everything. Everything was on the line. Was I good enough to be a UFC fighter? Now I want to know if I’m good enough to be featherweight champion.”
Edgar should feel fortunate to be in position to ask and answer that question. The former lightweight champion has lost his last two fights, though both of the decisions he dropped to the man who dethroned him, Benson Henderson, were closer than close. Still, even the most disputed loss still is an “L” on the resume, and when you tie those two in with Frankie’s previous two fights — a draw with and then a win over Gray Maynard — it adds up to a meager one victory in four fights. So why is he here?
“They were questionable [decisions], whether people felt I won or lost,” said Edgar. “And Dana [White] has been talking about this fight for a long time, me versus José. Plus, I’m an exciting fighter: five Fight of the Nights, a Knockout of the Night.” He paused, done with his uncharacteristic spree of selling himself, and his scarred brow furrowed as he continued: “And I get beat up a little, too. Maybe people like to see that.”
Edgar will leave it to others to assess his qualifications as a challenger. He’s putting his energy into preparation … and gratitude. “It’s a great opportunity,” said Frankie. And then, without a trace of irony in his voice, this man whose last six bouts have been for a championship belt added, “You’re not going to have too many of these opportunities in a career, so I’ve got to make the best of them.”
– Jeff Wagenheim