Undersized, underpowered, outclassed. These adjectives have dogged UFC Lightweight Champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) since he entered the fabled “mix” in the UFC lightweight division. Many dismissed Edgar long before he entered title contention. After a rousing start to his career in the UFC, Frankie hit a wall in “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-1-1), dropping a one-sided decision to the bigger, stronger wrestler. But after that loss Edgar regrouped. His next few wins didn’t just show a refocused fighter, they showed a man with a plan. He was going to win the title whether anyone cared or not. And seemingly out of nowhere Frankie Edgar was the UFC champ. But just when the shrimpy kid from Toms River, New Jersey thought he was prom king, “The Bully” was back in his face, ready to take his lunch money. Frankie had to win at UFC 136, he had to show he wasn’t just a lucky scrapper. He had to show he was “The Answer” to the question: Who is the UFC’s toughest lightweight?
When the UFC lightweight division reopened its doors there was only one man to talk about: “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-2). The UFC was attempting to redevelop the weight class and it took some time before it was clear that there were lightweights all over the world ready to make it the most exciting division in years; and also to lose to BJ Penn. When the division finally filled itself out it was almost dizzying how many great talents were out there. And quite honestly, Frankie Edgar was lost in the crowd. Unless you kept your ear firmly pressed to the rails you didn’t know Frankie’s train was coming. And before the world knew it, he had taken the strap from the lightweight division’s scariest force in Penn. But it didn’t matter to most. It was a fluke, a half-win. Frankie had to prove everyone wrong almost immediately by beating BJ again, leaving no doubt who was the top 155er. Enter the quintessential “Bully” in Gray Maynard. Gray had something even BJ Penn couldn’t lay claim to: a win over Edgar. Everyone knew Gray had the tools to beat him. It was really an open and shut case. Frankie might as well have handed his belt over. But Edgar hadn’t come this far to give up, to let “The Bully” push him into the mud. Needless to say their dramatic fight at UFC 125 (ironically titled “Resolution”) was only marred by their now infamous Draw. And once again the questions arose. Fans and pundits wondered aloud if Frankie had the chops to stay on top. They were calling him small, deciding what division might be a better fit for him. But losing – in case you hadn’t noticed – wasn’t in Frankie’s plans.
As sure as the day is long, the first round of Edgar and Maynard’s third fight went exactly the same as the last time they met. Frankie somersaulted back from a thunderous uppercut. He danced on ice as a more patient Gray picked his shots, knowing full well he had to measure himself because victory was within reach. The round ended and Frankie was bloody and beaten down. He was in a fight and he wasn’t winning, but curiously enough, he was still standing. Round one had proven yet again that Frankie was simply too small and too weak to handle the kind of beasts that stalked the lightweight division. The kid had heart, but heart could only take you so far. But that has been the champ’s song since he took belt. He was never supposed to make it out of Round 1 with Penn, not in their first fight- certainly not in their second. But again, Frankie had a plan. He came out in round two, looking sharper, faster, and recovered. He started to buzz around the ring, picking a shot here, changing levels there. Gray seemed to know before anyone else: the only way to stop Frankie Edgar is to kill him. Gray searched and searched but couldn’t find the kill shot. It would have been enough for Frankie to cruise to victory. By the fourth round it looked all but locked up, as it had in his rematch with Penn. Frankie was going to prove them wrong yet again. But that wasn’t enough, and Frankie knew it. He had to prove once and for all he was the champ. And another decision win after taking a beating wasn’t going to convince anyone that Edgar was the one to beat. Until that right hand connected.
When Gray began to wobble, it all became clear. The last few years we weren’t sure what the answer to the lightweight division’s question was. There are still a lot of very talented fighters out there. They’ve all won some, they’ve all lost a few, but in the writhing mass of 155ers we weren’t sure who would be the guy to beat. Just when we thought one guy was the next face of the division, he was knocked down a peg. The champion people were going to get behind was going to take the crown by force. He was simply waiting in the wings, while Maynard and Edgar sorted things out. Until that right hand connected again. It was then and there the killer instinct kicked in. The crowd looked out at this tough, little fireplug that had ground his way through the division and clawed his way to the top of the heap, and their champ emerged. His foe, a great stylistic rival in Maynard, fell to his knees, bowing to the king. The answer had been given, and his name is Champ, Frankie Edgar.