Frankie Edgar sprinted into Mall of Asia Arena as if something had been stolen from him. Something had.
The pilfering hadn’t happened on Saturday in this rocking venue outside Manila, where the octagon was set up for the UFC’s first visit to the Philippines. It had gone down way back in January, two months after the former lightweight champion had thrashed, demoralized, then submitted the streaking featherweight contender Cub Swanson. A whipping like that had to sew up for Edgar another shot at champion José Aldo, right?
The feisty energizer known as “The Answer” should have suspected the UFC bean counters had other ideas. They’d already set a January date for their loquacious 145-pound darling, Conor McGregor, with an opponent tailor-made for him. Not a high-level grappler, the type of grindstone challenge missing from the Irishman’s résumé, but instead a short-armed, slow-footed striker barely on the fringe of the promotion’s top 10. McGregor passed the Dennis Siver test, as expected, and looked like a star doing so. So it was that he, not Edgar, was announced as the next challenger for Aldo.
Aldo vs. McGregor will headline the summertime’s premier pay-per-view event. Edgar, meanwhile, was shipped to the South Pacific to fight on a free-TV card that aired in the United States at breakfast/brunch/lunch time, depending on your time zone. Try finding a fight fan who’s operating at more than 20 percent adrenaline at that hour.
Yet even with the smaller spotlight, Edgar couldn’t wait to get to work. He was facing Urijah Faber, a matchup that had been fantasy matchmaker fodder for years. Both are former champs, with Faber’s shiny brass-and-leather glory having come in the WEC before lighter weights had a place in the UFC. Both are little giants of the game. Some were bandying about the mythic term “superfight.”
It turned out to be a super fight only for Edgar. For five rounds, he was too quick, too relentless, too strong, too evasive, too good for Faber. It wasn’t a mauling, more a mesmerization. Edgar’s movement and diverse attack angles disarmed Faber. The 36-year-old was unable to find his range, so he pretty much stopped throwing leather. Neither man took a lot of damage, although Edgar landed far more and far better punches. He won every round on every judge’s scorecard.
Then he really went to work.
“I want that title, man,” he said in an interview inside the octagon, as he gazed toward cageside. “I know Dana [White] is not here. Again. I don’t know if he’s ducking me because he owes me a title shot.”
Now, one might dispute whether Edgar was justified in feeling that something was stolen from him or that he's owed a debt. Although McGregor hasn’t faced the high-level opposition Edgar has, he’s vanquished everyone the UFC put in the cage with him. And that’s just the tip of the talkative iceberg. The Irishman can sell a fight in a way the soft-spoken Jersey guy simply cannot. July’s title fight matchmaking was a business decision.
That dynamic seems to have dawned on Edgar. In the moments after Saturday’s fight, he did his best to play up what he’d just done to Faber, and transform it into something bigger.
“I just beat one of the best guys that does our sport,” Edgar said. “I was able to beat him, five rounds to nothing, close him out. I think I’m the next title contender.”
That does make sense. Edgar (19-4-1) entered Saturday’s fight at No. 2 in the SI.com featherweight rankings, behind only Aldo, who beat him by unanimous decision in 2013. Since then, Edgar has reeled off four wins, including his third over fading supernova B.J. Penn. In winning this weekend, he handed Faber (32-8) the first non-title fight loss in an 11-year, 40-bout career.
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Now, Edgar wants what he thought he already had: a chance to redeem himself against Aldo. Then again, he’s perfectly willing to be the first challenger of McGregor.
“We’ll see,” Edgar said. “Maybe McGregor will win and I’ll just have to fight him right away. Who knows? Let’s just hope whoever wins, I fight him next.”