Frankie Edgar: The Underdog Days Are OverPosted on January 4, 2011, 12:25 PM by overhand right
It's not often a fighter becomes champion and is still plagued with so much criticism and doubt from the media as Frankie Edgar has. It's by no means been an easy road to the top. The New Jersey native failed to make it past the selection stages of the Ultimate Fighter Season Five, in a bid to enter the UFC. But Edgar was given his chance against Tyson Griffin back in 2007, a fight he came into with little preparation due to having been ill for the weeks preceding it. Edgar made the most of the chance that had been given to him and got his career of to a stupendous start by taking the unanimous decision over Griffin.
Edgar continued his winning ways for his next two fights, with a TKO stoppage against Mark Bocek and another judges' decision, this time coming against Spencer Fisher. But Edgar was to find his greatest obstacle and the only man he has been unable to find 'The Answer' for to date in the form of Gray Maynard. Maynard got the better of Frankie in that fight, using his exceptional wrestling abilities to take The Answer down almost at will and control the fight. Edgar tasted defeat for the first time in his career, and it was a bitter taste. Unfazed by the doubts that may have circulated following this defeat, Frankie went on to win his next 3 (with former lightweight champ Sean Sherk among his victims) and earn himself a shot at UFC gold.
But there was still one more man standing between him and his goals. BJ Penn is considered by general consensus to be the greatest lightweight of all time and would make a claim for being mentioned among some of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. Penn seemed unstoppable, having defended his belt three times already, he ranked near the top of most 'Pound for Pound' lists. So unsurprisingly, Edgar once again stepped into the octagon as the heavy underdog, and once again, he proved the critics wrong, grinding out a unanimous decision win. Penn and his fans claimed the decision was a controversial one, with Edgar getting little credit for what he had achieved as usual.
And so a rematch was scheduled to settle whether this newcomer really was champion material, and The Answer was more than happy to oblige. Most wrote the first fight off as a blunder on Penn's part, and once again Edgar was the underdog. Not only did Edgar prove his worth once more, but he did so in dominating fashion, exhibiting his supreme footwork and boxing skills. This time there could be no question of who the better fighter was and Edgar's stake to a spot as a pound-or-pound fighter began to become all the more unquestionable, having twice bested one of the best in the world.
Edgar had achieved the pinnacle of fighting greatness for a lightweight in the sport, but he still had one mark on his otherwise glistening record. Gray 'The Bully' Maynard had arguably achieved more since the two had last met in 2008. Boasting a 10-0-1 record (a no contest he'd accumulated thanks to slamming his opponent so hard into the mat that it left both of them unconscious), many had Gray touted as a favourite against Edgar and believed that he was the real cream of the crop at 155. The two certainly had their own agendas for the fight. Edgar wished to avenge the only loss of his career and Maynard desired to show that he should have been given a title shot a long time ago.
The first round began and Maynard certainly made people stand up and take notice, rocking Frankie in the opening minute and looking well on his way to earning a stoppage. Edgar miraculously recovered and scrambled back to his feet, but he was still dazed and badly hurt. Maynard came again and once more he dropped the champ. At this stage The Answer had to go into survival mode, desperately defending from the heavy shots of The Bully and attempting to keep a distance between them. This continued for some while but still the champ refused to relent. Edgar eventually managed to reassemble himself and kept Gray at bay just long enough to make it to the second round. Frankie was bloodied but not beaten, and came out with a new fiery fighting spirit kindled within him and a full gastank, ready to do whatever it took to get himself back into the fight. And he did just that. Maynard looked to have punched himself out in the first round and struggled to keep up with the lightning-quick footwork and head movement of Edgar. Things had certainly changed since their last encounter, Edgar managed to stuff The Bully's takedown and seemed to be beating him to the punch every time. The fifth round was a desperate attempt by both fighters to prove to the judging panel that they deserved the belt. Edgar seemed to be landing more shots but Gray's had bit more mustard behind them. Eventually the final bell rang and in the end, the two were tied even, in a fight Frankie may have won had the the first round not have gone the way it did.
So why is Edgar deserving of a spot in the top five of the pound-for pound rankings? Well let's reassess what's already been covered. He's 8-1-1 in and is the current champ of possibly the most stacked division in the UFC, a championship he has stopped others from taking twice now. His recent bout against Maynard featured one of the most awe-inspiring comebacks in recent memory. He has proven that he has the mental strength to remain calm in high pressure situations. Edgar has the heart of a true champion and has shown on three seperate occassions now that he is a master of the 5 round title fight and racking up points, not unlike pound-for-pound great, GSP. He is also similar to GSP in the sense that he is always improving every aspect of his game; his first fight against Penn was close but the second was total domination in which he outstruck the man that many that many considered to be the best boxer in the division, took him to the ground at will and managed to neutralise his world class jiu-jitsu. In the first fight against Maynard he was outwrestled but the second time around he stuffed the challenger's attempts and even got a few of his own, one in particular featured edgar hoisting The Bully over his shoulder and boucing him off the mat.
Edgar can only get better and with a few more title defenses to his name and dominant performances like the one's he's been turning out recently, he may soon be mentioned in the same vein as the GSP's and Jose Aldo's of the MMA elite. But first Edgar has the matter of the conclusion of a trilogy of fights with Gray Maynard to look forward to, and for the first time in his career, he might be the heavy favourite.