Sunday November 23rd, 2014

Frankie Edgar’s nickname is “The Answer.”

On Saturday night, he deserved to hear one. But he didn’t.

Shortly before the former lightweight champion’s UFC Fight Night main event with Cub Swanson began, promotion president Dana White had gushed on social media about how excited he was to be watching. In Las Vegas.

The fights, though, were in Austin, Texas.

Now, everyone deserves a night off now and again, so it’s no crime that White was spending his Saturday night in a bar in his hometown with his buddies. “Food, beer, friends and fights,” he wrote in an Instagram post accompanied by a photo of the bar scene, with one TV tuned to the UFC, another to the Manny Pacquiao fight. White concluded with a hashtag that, separated into an old-school sentence, read, “I’m a fan tonight.”

OK, Dana the Fan, tell us what you make of this scenario: The fighter listed as No. 3 in the UFC’s own featherweight rankings blitzes the division’s No. 2 guy, less than a month after the champion disposed of the erstwhile No. 1 contender. Did the fan in you enjoy watching someone rocket to the front of the line on Saturday night?

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That’s got to be tough for him to say, actually, because the cheers of Dana the Fan might well be drowned out by the cha-ching of White the Businessman. The UFC has this other Top 5 featherweight, you see, a leprechaun sitting there at the end of the rainbow with a pot of gold.

Conor McGregor has burst onto the featherweight scene as a larger-than-life presence. And that’s just accounting for his mouth. He began calling out the division’s champion, José Aldo, even as he was still toiling among the unranked and lightly regarded. His bodaciousness was a lightning rod, and sparks flew. And ignited. It didn’t take long for the UFC to embrace the loquacious and dynamic 26-year-old as a potential cash cow. And with that, the matchmakers carefully paired him with opponents formidable enough to be measuring sticks but not so skilled on the canvas as to pose a threat in an area of vulnerability for the rising star. 

Of course, the UFC will take grooming a contender only so far. In September, finally, McGregor was matched with his first Top 10 opponent. And we learned, finally, that the Irishman’s bite is as robust as his bark. He prevailed, with stunning authority, in the first round. And the title talk grew serious. 

There’s no denying that McGregor is a legitimate contender. The UFC has handed title shots to far less deserving challengers. Just last year, Chael Sonnen was booked against Jon Jones despite not even being a light heavyweight, and despite coming off a knockout loss. McGregor is more qualified than that. Still, just as Sonnen’s unwarranted opportunity -- driven by the Marketing Department, not the Competition Committee -- was an affront to true top 205-pound contenders such as Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida, pushing McGregor to the head of the 145-pound line while he’s still in the process of earning his position inside the octagon is an insult to fighters who let their fists do the talking.

Fighters like Frankie Edgar.

Edgar entered the cage on Saturday night knowing two things about his championship future: first, that his opponent, Cub Swanson, had been promised a shot at José Aldo with a victory; and second, that Edgar had not been. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because Edgar challenged Aldo just a year and a half ago, losing a unanimous decision. Swanson also has been in with Aldo, but that was back in 2009 and the bout ended in a don’t-blink eight seconds via a KO by the Brazilian … so it’s almost as if they’ve never fought. Perhaps an Aldo vs. Swanson rematch just seemed fresher to the promoters, especially with Cub on a six-fight win streak.

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A more cynical view might be that the money-hungry UFC was simply playing the odds to get the title fight it craves. Edgar was a 2-1 favorite, so perhaps Dana White & Co. were figuring that Frankie would do their work for them. He’d beat Swanson, eliminating Cub from the title picture and allowing McGregor to photo bomb his way in. 

However, Edgar (18-4-1) did not merely defeat Swanson (21-6) on Saturday night. He demolished him. He took him down seven times. (Kinda makes you shudder, doesn’t it, Conor?) He spent 16 minutes in top control, passing guard 16 times and mauling Cub with 69 significant strikes, an assault that left him bloodied and bruised. All told, the relentless Edgar threw 405 strikes and landed 259. And just before the final horn was to sound, Edgar clamped on a neck crank and elicited a tapout. The finish, at 4:56 of Round 5, was the latest in UFC history. 

“That’s what we do this for. I want to try to put guys away, put a little stamp on it,” Edgar said at the post-fight press conference. “I needed a dominant win if I want to prove to everybody that I deserve that title shot.”

As Edgar sat there at the dais making a case for himself, the one who adjudicates such decisions was a thousand miles away. Again, it’s not a bad thing that White was back home in Vegas. He’d stayed home, according to his Instagram feed, because his son was playing in a youth football championship game. That’s being a good dad, prioritizing the home life over work life. But still, Dana, your boy Frankie needed you.

It would have been fitting if White had been standing at the podium on Saturday night listening to one of his former champions sell him on a title rematch. Even though the UFC president has said on many occasions that he doesn’t like making matches on fight night, it would have been good if White had had to field questions about Frankie Edgar, about Conor McGregor, about the featherweight title picture. How would Dana have stood there and justified not immediately awarding the next shot to the No. 3 featherweight in the UFC’s own rankings after a dazzling demolition of No. 2?

If he’d had to tap dance his way around that one, Dana White would have wished he’d remained home in Vegas and gone out dancing.

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