He's known as "The Answer." But here's a question: Wouldn't a more fitting nickname for Frankie Edgar be "The Apex"? I mean, the guy has been knocked down, beaten up, even beaten, period, and then beaten again. Yet he remains at the top of the mountain.
Consider the last six entries on the 31-year-old New Jersey native's resume:
April 10, 2010: vs. B.J. Penn for the UFC lightweight championship
Aug. 28, 2010: vs. B.J. Penn for the UFC lightweight championship
Jan. 1, 2011: vs. Gray Maynard for the UFC lightweight championship
Oct. 8, 2011: vs. Gray Maynard for the UFC lightweight championship
Feb. 26, 2012: vs. Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight championship
Aug. 11, 2012: vs. Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight championship
Notice anything repetitive there? Sure, there's the obvious echoing of opponents for a guy who also could go by Frankie "The Rematch" Edgar. But beyond that, there's also the matter of every one of these fights being for a title. Frankie "The Belt" Edgar?
That run of title bouts might seem not so extraordinary when you consider that Saturday night's showdown with Jose Aldo at UFC 156 in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV) will also be the featherweight champ's seventh straight with a belt on the line. But Aldo has remained at the peak of his powers the conventional way: He won the 145-pound championship in 2009 and since then has ripped apart every challenger who's stepped in front of him. Other than the fact that his belt once said "WEC" and now says "UFC," it's a pretty standard route for an elite fighter.
Not so for Edgar. Even after beating a lightweight legend for the 155-pound title, Frankie had doubters. The decision should have gone B.J.'s way, some contended. Others felt it was Edgar's night but he was just keeping the throne warm until Penn came returned to claim it. B.J. did get his rematch, and this time the fight was a runaway... for Edgar.
Then came Maynard, who battered Edgar in the first round and all but finished him. But Frankie recovered -- somehow -- and battled his way back to a draw. The rematch three months later began like déjà vu, with Edgar getting caught by a big punch early and nearly put away. But he persevered. Again. Until the fourth round, when there finally was a knockout victory... for Edgar.
Frankie eventually was dethroned in a tight decision loss to Henderson, a fight so close that it warranted still another Edgar rematch. And the second meeting was even closer, a split decision. But the belt remained with Benson.
So here's Frankie Edgar (15-3-1), coming off two straight losses, with only one win in his last four fights, getting another title shot. If anyone is complaining about that, it's been pretty muted. Why? Because Edgar is fast enough, strong enough, slick enough and, most important of all, tough enough to give Aldo (21-1) the fight of his life.
José Aldo by the numbers
Frankie Edgar by the numbers
Since numbers don't tell the whole story. . .
What we should expect: This is a tough one to read. Aldo and Edgar have existed in separate universes, so there's not much definitive data to compare. Aldo has overpowered even the stronger featherweights he's faced, but will he be able to do that against a guy who's spent his whole career competing against strongmen in a heavier weight class? Will Edgar's speed, a difference maker during his lightweight years, be nullified at featherweight? What about Frankie's grit: How will Aldo react if (when?) Edgar doesn't wither in the face of his relentless attack? And can José withstand the pace that Edgar is capable of sustaining for five rounds?
If I had to guess how the fight will unfold, I'd say Aldo will try to do what he's done before to quick opponents: pepper him with leg kicks to try to slow down Edgar. And Frankie will utilize his perpetual movement to try to make the Brazilian miss while at the same time draining his gas tank for the championship rounds. I'd be surprised to see Aldo take Edgar out, shocked if it were Frankie scoring the KO. But I could see him picking José apart.
Why we should care: Any title fight is a big fight, of course. But how often do we see a champion defend his belt against someone who recently wore one in another division? And when you consider that Edgar was dethroned at lightweight and then kept off the throne by the slimmest of margins, you can't help but view this bout as special. It's as close to a superfight as the UFC has seen since the old days.
A historical note: Gray area
Aldo has trained with Gray Maynard, Edgar's toughest opponent. Yeah, I realize that Benson Henderson beat Frankie twice and took away his lightweight belt, while all Gray got from his two fights with Edgar were a draw and a knockout loss. But Maynard brutalized Edgar in the first rounds of both meetings, forcing the then-champ to dig deeper than deep.
How does this help Aldo? Well, he knows what it's like to be in with Maynard, even though it's only been in a gym, not the octagon. But that experience, plus any input he's received on Frankie from Gray, can't hurt. And the mere act of watching his buddy hurt Edgar twice but fail to finish both times should instill patience into Aldo. If he knows what's best for him.
And on the undercard...