By Dwight Wakabayashi
Frankie (The Answer) Edgar gets another chance to turn the MMA world on its ear this weekend when he faces Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 156 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Aldo has not lost a fight in over seven years and he has held the featherweight crown for its entire existence since it was created in November 2010. Edgar is making his debut at 145 pounds after losing his last two fights and the lightweight title in the process.
The native of New Jersey lost two razor-thin decisions to Benson Henderson, prompting UFC president Dana White and many others to push the former champion down a weight class.
It seemed to be a double whammy at a very tough time for Edgar, and I wondered how he got his mind back to the right place.
“It’s my whole team as a whole you know, my family they all keep me grounded.” Edgar said in a phone interview with Sportsnet.ca. “I was upset obviously but what are you gonna do? I mean you can’t dwell on things from the past or things you can’t control because then you will never move forward. So for me, you can’t let it break you down.”
In hindsight, the pressure to move down was not that bad. In fact, Edgar and his team were seriously considering the move regardless of the outcome of the Henderson rematch.
“Maybe the fact that we lost made the decision a little easier,” Edgar said.
There will be no warm-up fight for Edgar (15-3-1) in his new division. When the 31-year-old made the decision to move to featherweight, Aldo was set to face Erik Koch in October. But a late injury to the challenger led to Edgar being called upon to step in, which he accepted.
A subsequent injury to Aldo didn’t change the plans, it just delayed their meeting until now. While it’s impossible to turn down a title fight, I asked Edgar if he’s of the opinion that in general at least one warm-up fight is the smartest approach for any fighter fighting at a new weight class?
“I wasn’t supposed to fight Aldo originally so yeah, I probably would have fought someone else in the first one but I think it’s case by case. For me it’s that I’ve been fighting the best and I may as well keep fighting the best. Also, it’s not like I’m adjusting to a big weight cut or anything because I don’t really cut that much weight.”
Incredibly, this will be Edgar’s seventh consecutive title fight and he is becoming one of the most underrated fighters in the sport. If he beats Aldo on Saturday night, he will become only the third fighter ever to hold a championship in two different weight classes. Randy Couture and BJ Penn were the others to do it and Edgar belongs with those names.
Does that mean a fight for anything less than a title would pose a problem for his motivation?
He laughed at the notion.
“I’m just a highly motivated person. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting, I always train accordingly and make sure I’m prepared. You know, this 145-pound division is tough. People talk about the lightweight division being super stacked but this division is following suit. Definitely this sport is just getting better and better and the lighter guys are always bringing it so I don’t think 145 will be any different.”
Aldo (21-1) has been extremely confident in his language leading up to this fight, saying on UFC 156 Countdown that he isn’t worried about Edgar’s boxing or wrestling, and that he is also going to lose power with the cut in weight.
I asked Frankie if he feels Aldo may be fooling himself or if he is taking him a little too lightly going in.
“If he does it will be a mistake on his part for sure,” Edgar said. “You know I don’t know if this is just what he’s telling himself or if it’s his team telling him but I think he’s going to be prepared and he better be. I’m prepared.”
Aldo, 26, also stated confidently that Edgar has never faced someone as technical and explosive as he is. Edgar doesn’t necessarily disagree.
“It’s true of course because I think every fighter has their own way of fighting, but BJ was pretty technical you know, he’s got some of the best boxing in MMA, if not the best so Aldo comes more with kicks and knees but he’s pretty technical nonetheless.”
This is not at all unchartered territory for Edgar. He finds himself up against a seemingly unbeatable foe in Aldo, and was in a similar situation in his lead-up to the Penn fight.
“I don’t really pay attention to what people say, pretty much most of my fights I am the underdog and it has never mattered as long as I get my hand raised, if I prove people wrong by doing so then so be it.”
After Aldo’s last win in Brazil, he electrified his home crowd by running into the throng and celebrating with his fans, almost causing a riot in the seats. Edgar is coming full circle with this fight, as he made his UFC debut six years ago also at a Super Bowl weekend show in Las Vegas at the same venue, the Mandalay Bay Events Center. There at UFC 67 in February 2007, he defeated Tyson Griffin by decision.
If he wins, will he pull an Aldo and run out in to his sea of fans?
“No probably not,” Edgar said. “I consider Las Vegas more neutral territory you know, if it was Jersey, it would be my backyard and then maybe.”
If Edgar is able to get the win, will he stay at featherweight permanently and defend the belt — or does he have something else in mind for his future?
For example, asking for a champion vs. champion super fight to settle unfinished business at lightweight.
“We’ll have to see how it plays out and take it from there; I don’t want to look too far ahead. I don’t know what the UFC or Dana and Lorenzo want either so there are a lot of different factors that could play in to that.”
Of course, it is always possible if Benson Henderson drops the belt to Gilbert Melendez in April and he has a large task ahead of him first.
Either way, Saturday’s bout is high risk, high reward for Edgar. A win and he gets all the accolades and the sky’s the limit for his future. A loss and it’s major limbo for the former champ.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.