January 29, 2013

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

386: Days it will have been on fight night since Aldo last stepped into the octagon. Injuries have canceled his last two scheduled bouts, including a planned October date with Frankie Edgar.

14: Consecutive victories, the last three coming in the UFC and the eight before that in the promotion's corporate cousin the WEC.

95: Takedown defense percentage, which would be far and away the best in UFC history if Aldo had enough fights in the promotion to qualify in rankings kept by FightMetric. In Aldo's last bout, former All-American collegiate wrestler Chad Mendes was 0-for-7 before being KO'd by a knee while lunging for an eighth takedown attempt. In the fight before that, José held Kenny Florian to 1 for 19.

71: Significant strike defense percentage, which would rank among the UFC's all-time leaders.

13: Knockouts, including six straight to begin his WEC career.

Frankie Edgar by the numbers

17:47: Average fight time, which is the third longest in UFC history, putting Edgar behind only Demetrious Johnson and Benson Henderson. (On average, Aldo's fights last 10:44.) In all, Frankie has spent 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 9 seconds in the octagon over his career, fifth all-time in the promotion. And he's logged those minutes in just 13 UFC fights, while those ahead of him have had significantly more: 22 bouts for B.J. Penn, 27 for Tito Ortiz, 24 for Randy Couture and 19 for Georges St-Pierre.

5: Fight of the Night bonuses that Edgar has pocketed during his UFC tenure, along with one Knockout of the Night check.

71.8: Significant strike defense, sixth best in UFC history.

42: Takedowns landed, ninth most in the UFC. His accuracy is a mere 37 percent but he's relentless. In his fights with Benson Henderson, Edgar was 2 of 6 and then 5 of 12. Against Gray Maynard, he was 3 of 11, then 0 of 11. Both of those opponents are good wrestlers. Yet Frankie kept coming.

0: Fights in which Edgar has been finished.

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.

Fighting words

"He said he wants to drop to featherweight, so I'm hoping he does that to end this story. He's welcome here so that we shut him off and he goes to the lightweight or bantamweight classes."

-- José Aldo to the Brazilian magazine "Tatame" (via translation) after Frankie Edgar announced last year he was dropping down from lightweight

"I'm ready to have to stand with him. But I'm definitely going to test the waters for the takedown. I come from a wrestling background. There hasn't been anybody I haven't been able to take down yet."

-- Edgar on Aldo during a conference call with MMA media last week

"Not only has he watched that fight once, but he's watched it various times as part of the process of preparing himself to fight Frankie Edgar. But he watched that fight and he did believe that [Ben Henderson] was better that night."

-- A translator for Aldo during the same conference call, relaying the fighter's opinion of who deserved to win the tightly contested lightweight rematch between Edgar and Benson Henderson

"I was always told growing up the loud mouth, the big mouth, is not the guy you have to worry about. You have to worry about the quiet guy. I guess that stuck with me. I will say this: Don't mistake my kindness for weakness, because I definitely bring it every fight. And it's going to be no different on Feb. 2."

-- Edgar, speaking to MMA Weekly radio earlier this week

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...

Going up? Rashad Evans will be fighting for the first time since his loss to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones last April, and while getting back into action is clearly better than remaining stagnant, you have to wonder where Saturday's fight with Antônio Rogério Nogueira can take him. "Little Nog" is coming off a victory, but it came against Tito Ortiz, a man on the verge of retirement, and before that Nogueira had lost two straight. As for "Suga Rashad," he's talked about dropping to middleweight if he can get a fight with Anderson Silva, and he's talked about staying put and working his way back toward Jones. Clearly, a loss would send his status tumbling, but what will even a victory bring him?

Bigfoot, big steppingstone: All Alistair Overeem has to do is beat Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, and a heavyweight title shot is his. These situations have tripped up fighters in the past, and there are other factors weighing on "The Reem": He hasn't fought since 2011 -- the final week of that year, but still -- because of a suspension after failing a drug test, and his target at the top of the hill has changed. Overeem had been verbally sparring with Junior dos Santos, but the Brazilian lost the belt to Cain Velasquez last month. So here are some mental adjustments for Alistair to make, but he's got nothing to complain about.

Ground control: Fans sometimes have little patience for the grappling game, but those filling the stands at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night should consider themselves forewarned: the Demian Maia vs. Jon Fitch welterweight bout promises a ground battle of the highest order. Maia is a jiu-jitsu black belt who's earned more honors in his grappling discipline than most anyone in the UFC. Fitch is a former NCAA Division 1 wrestler who has been indomitable on the mat during his UFC career. Something has to give. And hey, Joe Boo Bird, keep your voice down and just watch a couple of magicians in action.

Flying under the radar: Opening the main card is a flyweight fight between Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall, each of whom is coming off a loss to champion Demetrious Johnson. This bout isn't getting much notice, but it could very well produce the next challenger for "Mighty Mouse." Someone's got to do it.

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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