When did we decide, either as a sport or as a culture, that you had to be terrifying to be a champion? I'm tempted to say Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson had some influence on this, but you can't blame boxing now. That sport has largely moved on from the specter of the snarling bruiser with ten pounds of gold and genuine leather around his waist.
But in MMA, for whatever reason, we seem to want our champs to meet a certain criteria for scary -- you must be this menacing to ride this ride. It's not necessarily a fearsomeness of attitude, and certainly Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko are as nice as they come. But if you're not putting challengers away in devastating fashion, or at least dominating them so thoroughly that people watching at home are unconsciously tapping out on the sofa cushion for them, then it's hard to get your due respect.
That's why it's probably going to take a while for fans to open up and accept Frankie Edgar as the world's best lightweight, which is a shame, really.
Edgar took on the top-ranked lightweights in the world in back-to-back fights, and he won them both. Even if you weren't convinced after the first meeting, when he barely squeaked by with the decision, you can't deny that he shut B.J.Penn out in the rematch, making "The Prodigy" look slow, unprepared, and completely lost.
Going off the Ric Flair equation, beating the man (twice) ought to undoubtedly make Edgar the man. And he is, at least technically. But -- and maybe this is just me -- I don't hear the chorus of voices hailing King Frankie right now. It feels more like a tepid approval, like people waiting out what they suspect will be a temporary situation.
I guess it's his style that's the problem. Edgar's not a knockout artist, and yet he's not a submissions expert. He's not a slow, methodical, grinding wrestler, but he only has two finishes in nine UFC fights. He's well-rounded. He's quick. At times he reminds me of a mongoose who insists on playing with its food.
But while Penn's ardent fans will make excuses galore for their fighter's inability to deal with Edgar's speed, after two fights we can only conclude that Edgar is the better fighter. At least, we know he's better than Penn, though as we're reminded on what seems like a daily basis, styles make fights.
Here's a hypothetical question for you: say Edgar, due to the peculiarities of his style, can beat all of the top ten lightweights, but only a few of the top ten featherweights. Say he's quicker than the bigger guys, but slower than the smaller guys and without the strength to make up the difference. Is he still the world's best lightweight?
I'll save you the headache and tell you the answer: yes. You want to know why? Because we only have one metric of determining who the best fighters are, and that metric is on display when one guy gets his hand raised and the other guy stands there and looks sad.
Look, Edgar may not seem like the best lightweight when you're sitting around and thinking of who you'd least like to piss off. He's the guy who darts in and out, but not the guy who absolutely destroys you in front of your family and 700,000 closest friends. But so what? When you beat the champ, even if you beat him simply by being too fast for him to mount any offense against you, everyone else has to shut up, at least for the present moment.
Edgar will most likely enter his rematch with Gray Maynard -- the only fighter to beat him in his pro career -- as a slight underdog. That's because oddsmakers are more likely to believe what they've seen than what they've been told to believe.
But in the meantime, Edgar deserves the respect and the reverence that every other UFC champ gets. He won the fight that mattered most, after all. He won it twice, in fact.
Maybe some fans will insist on seeing him prove it over and over again before they'll regard him as the rightful champ, and maybe some will never fully recognize his status as top dog if he's not knocking people into another world. But if skunking Penn five rounds to none doesn't prove that Edgar deserves to wear the crown, you have to wonder what will.