I had meant to write this article on Sunday – but then, of course, there was Superbowl festivities to think about. And between the “Harbowl”, Beyonce’s slick dance moves and a new definition of the term “lights out football”, no one was thinking about UFC 156 anymore.
Then on Monday, I was too hung over to write (why in God’s name is the big game on a Sunday, anyways?). I was also busy at my day job talking about – what else? – the Superbowl.
But it’s Tuesday now, the headache has worn off, and I’ve blown through all my Superbowl winnings. And as I sit here, I can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy, of sadness, and of unbelievable regret for one Frankie Edgar.
And I can’t help but feel like Edgar – a former UFC champion – will never get the respect that he’s due from most fans.
I’ve always been a big fan of Frankie Edgar’s, dating back to before his first fight with BJ Penn. It was his fight with Hermes Franca, actually, that made me a lifelong fan of “The Answer”. I just loved the way he fought, the way he bucked the trend of guys cutting 15-20 pounds to fight in a weight class. I loved the way his style and his success was a direct echo of the Gracie family ideal – that a smaller, more skilled man can defeat a larger opponent with sound technique, and plenty of heart.
Edgar first got on fan radars with his controversial victory over BJ Penn for the UFC lightweight title. It was that fight which started the trend of Frankie’s world title battles being fast-paced, technical battles that always come down to the wire.
Or dull, razor-close decisions that were impossible to call, and left plenty of room for unfinished business – it all depends on who you ask.
Edgar finally silenced his critics with a second, much more definitive defeat of Penn – only to have them all come back when he and Gray Maynard fought to a draw. Once again, Edgar was the guy who squeaked out of fights with highly-controversial decisions. So he rematched Maynard, and this time he finished him via TKO in the 4th round.
Both of those fights were all-time classics, and Maynard/Edgar 1 was undoubtedly the Fight of the Year. Most fans didn’t care – Edgar was still a decision machine who tied up the 155-pound division with constant rematches.
And there were more rematches in store for Frankie, as he dropped back-to-back fights to Benson Henderson that eventually saw him leave the lightweight division. Never mind that both fights were extremely close, and that Edgar has his argument in both of them – most fans were looking forward to a lightweight title fight not featuring the kid from Toms River, New Jersey.
So when Edgar announced he was dropping to featherweight, I was excited. Here, I thought, was a chance for Frankie to finally fight at his natural weight class. And if he could become just the third man (after BJ Penn and Randy Couture) to win UFC gold at two weight divisions, his place in history would be assured. No one could doubt that he was “elite”.
Well this weekend, a perennially under-rated athlete from New Jersey finally reached that “elite” status – too bad his name was Joe Flacco, and not Frankie Edgar.
In the main event of this past Saturday’s UFC 156, Edgar dropped yet another razor-close decision (surprise, surprise) to featherweight champ and pound-for-pound beast Jose Aldo. And I could complain about the decision. I could stomp my feet and yell about how the judges didn’t respect Frankie’s takedowns (has anyone ever rag-dolled Aldo like that?) or punches-in-bunches boxing style. About how they didn’t acknowledge the adjustments that eliminated Aldo’s awesome leg kicks. About how Aldo was clearly fading while Edgar, as usual, was as fresh in the 5th round as he was in the 1st.
But I won’t – because the truth is, this fight wasn’t a robbery. I’ve spoke before about how that term gets thrown around way too often by MMA fans, and that would be true in this case as well.
No one got robbed. It was a very close, evenly-fought bout. But at the end of the day, Jose Aldo is a beast – and when the final bell rang, I turned to my father (also a big Frankie fan) and we both had the same thought:
“Frankie didn’t do enough to dethrone a champion like Jose Aldo”.
It was a sad moment. Now, Frankie is just another fighter at 145-pounds, instead of the featherweight champion who arguably should be the lightweight champion, as well. Now there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with being “in the mix” in any weight division, as Frankie certainly is. But he’s now a few fights away from getting another title shot (to many fans delight, I’m sure) and who knows what can happen between now and then? Just ask Jon Fitch about how long and winding a road it can be back to a UFC world title shot.
So here I am, holding a candle for a fighter most fans are happy to see fade from the spotlight. Here I am, thinking about the guy who took BJ Penn, Ben Henderson, and Jose Aldo absolutely down to the wire when he fought them, who even in defeat was never beaten – who will likely never find a place on anyone’s pound-for-pound list. A guy who is, for my money, the most exciting fighter I’ve ever watched – who will forever have a reputation as a pillow-fisted decision machine.
So now that my hangover’s worn off, let’s raise a toast to Frankie Edgar: UFC champion.
And undoubtedly one of the toughest SOB’s ever to step into the Octagon.