Edgar looks ahead to UFC 130
UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar beat Gray Maynard in a classic on Jan. 1
Edgar-Maynard III is scheduled to headline UFC 130 in Las Vegas on May 28
The Jersey native would be open to fighting Strikeforce import Gilbert Melendez
Frankie Edgar's face appeared on the huge video screens set up all around the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for UFC 128, and there was a roar of approval from the crowd. The Jersey fighter. The Jersey crowd. Mutual love.
The UFC lightweight champion wasn't even fighting on this night a couple of weeks ago. He'd just come up from the Jersey Shore to sit cageside with his wife and watch Mauricio "Shogun" Rua defend his light heavyweight belt against Jon "Bones" Jones. Edgar also was there to support a couple of training partners who were fighting. In addition, in the days leading up to the fights, he had made several appearances for the UFC, some of them promotional fan events, one a trip to Albany, N.Y., with UFC president Dan White to help drum up legislative support to have mixed martial arts sanctioned in one of only three states whose athletic commissions do not currently do so.
All of this activity in and around his home state was a respite for Edgar. Pretty much ever since last August, when he defended his belt by beating BJ Penn for the second time, his mind had been on Gray Maynard, who'd earned a shot at the title that same evening. The undefeated Maynard was the man who in 2008 had handed Edgar his only loss, so Frankie was eager to get back in the cage with Gray. They finally met on New Year's night, and it was one of the most memorable fights in recent UFC history. Except for the part Edgar doesn't remember. That would be the first round, during which Maynard rocked him early with a left hook and nearly ended the fight, chasing the champ around the cage as Edgar wobbled, fell, got up and wobbled some more. If it weren't for the belt, this fight might have been stopped.
That would have been a shame, because the four rounds that followed were legendary. With Edgar regaining his senses and Maynard looking a little punched out, the champ peppered his challenger with punches and showed quickness and elusiveness for the rest of the way, although Maynard did land a few shots that made Edgar take notice. In the end, one judge gave the bout to Edgar (13-1-1), one scored it for Maynard (10-0-1, 1 NC) and one had it a draw. It went in the books as a majority draw.
Edgar-Maynard III will happen at UFC 130 in Las Vegas on May 28. By then it will have been nine months that these fighters have trained for no one but each other. When SI.com caught up with Frankie Edgar recently, we wanted to know whether he thought enough was enough.
SI.com: Are you tired of thinking about Gray Maynard?
Frankie Edgar: When you find out you're going to be fighting a guy, you do think about him every day until the fight comes. So when it's the same guy in back-to-back fights, it's a little tough. But being familiar with the guy helps you focus sometimes, so you get more out of your workouts.
SI.com: Does that make training for Maynard any easier? Last time, you also were preparing for a guy you'd already fought, but it had been nearly three years since that first meeting. In the lead-up to January's fight, whenever you or Gray was interviewed, you would always say, "I'm a different fighter now, and he's a different fighter now." But this time you must have a much better sense of what you're up against.
Edgar: Yeah, but I don't think that makes it easier to prepare, because he also has the template of how to fight me. It's as challenging as ever. You just watch the last fight and try to learn as much as you can. On fight night, I have to be prepared for whatever adjustments he might make, and I've got to see if the adjustments I make are going to work. So it's always pressure under fire when you're out there.
SI.com: Of course, you've done this back-to-back thing before. Right before the last Maynard fight, you had two fights in a row with BJ Penn. But this is a brand new experience for Maynard. Advantage, Edgar?
Edgar: The fact that I've been through it before can only be a positive. But I don't think the fact that he's not done this is such a big negative for him.
SI.com: You mentioned your study of the last fight. Are you a guy who watches a lot of video of opponents?
Edgar: No, I'm not a huge video guy. I definitely do watch some with my team, you know, going over things. But I'm not on my computer every night watching fights. When my coach wants to show me stuff we're working on, I'm into it. I leave that call up to my coaches, especially Mark Henry, who dissects tape better than anybody.
SI.com: You've watched the New Year's night fight, I assume.
Edgar: Yes I have.
SI.com: What, if anything, did you get out of revisiting that horrific first round?
Edgar: I saw some things he did well, like setting me up with the hook, stuff like that. As for my own performance, I was proud of the way I was able to bounce back.
SI.com: That round had to be hard for you to watch. How much time passed after the fight before you were able to sit down and take a look?
Edgar: It was probably a couple of weeks.
SI.com: Even though you knew the end of the story -- you survive the assault and make a big comeback -- was it still hard to watch yourself getting knocked all over the cage?
Edgar: There were no emotions in it for me, but there definitely were for my wife and my family. But me, I was just looking at techniques, you know what I mean? I see myself getting hit with this or that, and I'm watching how I handle it. I look for what I'm doing wrong or what I could do better. That's what I'm thinking as I watch.
SI.com: You were dazed in that first round, and it was pure survival for you. Did you remember any of it? Or was watching it on video like going through it for the first time?
Edgar: The first round was definitely fuzzy. I was in survival mode there. So yeah, watching that round was pretty much like seeing it for the first time.
SI.com: A couple of months removed from the fight, and having seen it on video, do you think you won or are you OK with the decision?
Edgar: I thought I won. But it definitely was a close fight, and the draw, well, I'm not shocked by it. It is what it is.
SI.com: So Maynard walks away from that fight knowing he had you badly hurt in the first round and was within a hair of being the champion. You walk away knowing you took his best shot, survived, came back and, from the second round onward, controlled the fight. Who has the psychological edge here?
Edgar: It's hard to say who has the mental edge, if anyone. You know, he may have tasted it from being so close, and now he's super-motivated. And there are a lot of ways for me to look at that last fight, too: as a guy who barely got through it or as a survivor. I don't know how he approaches it, but I know I'm fired up to settle things. I'm a competitor, so it doesn't matter what the situation is. I know that every time I step in there I'm going to compete.
SI.com: You know, I think the fans pick up on that. I've noticed that ever since that New Year's fight, there's been a whole lot more excitement about Frankie Edgar among fans than ever before. And I suspect it's because of the grit you showed in that first round and the resolve you showed afterward. If you had gone out and knocked out Gray Maynard in 30 seconds, I don't know if it would have made the same impression on the fans. Can you understand that?
Edgar: Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like a Rocky story: a dude gets beat up for the whole fight -- in my case, it was just the first round -- and he toughs it out and either wins or at least shows his guts. It's a blue-collar story.
SI.com: You fight like a blue-collar guy, yet you've got the big, shiny belt around your waist. You've been champ for almost a year now. How have things changed for you?
Edgar: Honestly, not much is different, man. I don't know if people can understand that. But I train, and then I come home and hang out with my family, and that's about it. I guess the one thing that's changed is that I get noticed more, especially around town. I'm always repping Toms River, and the people here appreciate it. Maybe I travel a little more, but not too much more. I like to be home training and with my family. I'm pretty much the same guy, believe it or not.
SI.com: Is that just the result of the way you were brought up, or has it been a conscious decision to say, "This is what got me here, so I've got to keep it real"?
Edgar: I'm just being me, man. This is how I am. I hang out with the same kids I have since high school. I'm not really out of the box. I'm a Jersey kid. I was a plumber before this, and I'll always be a blue-collar, working guy.
SI.com: I bet a lot of blue-collar guys from Jersey were jealous that you got to meet the New York Jets and give them some motivation before the NFL playoffs. How big of a football fan are you?
Edgar: I'm not the biggest football fan, but it's kind of hard not to be into it during the season. I mean, my friends are all into it, so I definitely watch it, and always follow the local teams. Now that I've made a connection with the Jets, I've got to ride with them. Getting to talk in front of the Jets was sick, man.
SI.com: Did you grow up playing sports, aside from wrestling? And do you play sports with your buddies even today?
Edgar: When I was a little kid, I did pretty much everything. But in high school I just stuck with wrestling. Well, I also ran cross-country to stay in shape for wrestling. Growing up, I played football with my buddies, and I still do now. I play basketball, tennis, whatever. I like to be outside and be active. Having kids kind of takes away a lot of your free time, but I'm outside being active when I can.
SI.com: Your kids are pretty young, but it won't be long before they're old enough for you to take them out to a park and let them run you around.
Edgar: I can't wait for that.
SI.com: Aside from playing sports, what about watching? When I saw you across the cage in Newark, I got to wondering: If you weren't a UFC fighter, do you think you'd be going to these events?
Edgar: I definitely like watching the fights, man. Especially title fights. If I weren't a fighter, I wouldn't be traveling to UFC events, like I sometimes do now, but if it was local, yeah, I'd go. The energy at these events, you can't get that in many places.
SI.com: Teammates aside, are there particular fighters you most like to watch?
Edgar: We just saw one. Jon Jones. I mean, he's pretty entertaining. I'd definitely go see Jon, Georges [St-Pierre], Anderson [Silva] . . . but you know what? The top guys are fun to watch, because there's a lot of hype and anticipation around their fights, but there are a lot of guys I like to watch, a lot of tough guys out there.
SI.com: What about another guy who fought in Newark, your fellow lightweight and fellow Jersey fighter Jim Miller?
Edgar: Jim looked great. Jim always looks great. He's a phenomenal fighter.
SI.com: Miller seems to get overlooked a bit, something I imagine you can relate to, since you were overlooked early in your career, especially when we're talking about being considered for a title shot.
Edgar: I think he's right there. He's definitely in the mix.
SI.com: "In the mix"? That's Dana White-speak!
Edgar: [Laughs.] Yeah, you're right. Anyway, with Miller, if not his next fight, maybe one more. He's right there.
SI.com: Now, Miller wasn't the only Jersey guy fighting in Newark. There were a bunch, and the home crowd showed them some love. As you were watching from cageside, did you wish you were in the main event? I know you've fought in Jersey before, but not as UFC champion. Is that something you dream of, defending your belt in front of the home fans?
Edgar: Yeah, but since I had teammates fighting that night and felt the adrenaline and everything, it kind of took my mind off of wishing it was my night. It's always great to fight in front of the home crowd in Jersey. And if New York gets sanctioned, it'd be a dream come true to fight in Madison Square Garden, the mecca of combat sports, like with Ali and Frazier back in the day. To be able to fight in that place would be pretty cool. It would be memorable.
SI.com: Talking about the future like this reminds me of something else that could come to be. With the UFC's parent company buying Strikeforce, there's a whole new bunch of lightweights for you to think about. What would you think about a fight against their champion, Gilbert Melendez?
Edgar: Gil's tough. He only has two losses, I think, and he's avenged both of them. So he's definitely a top-notch guy and would be a great opponent, if that ever happens. There are so many tough lightweights out there, though, that I can't start thinking about them all. What's great about having the title is that you're fighting the No. 1 contender every time. And that's enough to worry about. You can't get sidetracked by thinking about the 15 great fighters in the weight class, all at once. You do that, and you'll mentally go into a funk. You have to just think about the guy you have to fight. It's Gray Maynard right now, and after this one, if all goes well, I'll get to worry about just one other guy.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.
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