Frankie Edgar wants to be the next UFC featherweight champion, and he’s hoping to do so by beating the biggest name in mixed martial arts.
It was a little over three years ago when Edgar moved to the 145-pound weight class after 19 professional fights as a lightweight. He lost a unanimous decision to then-champion Jose Aldo on Feb 2, 2013, marking his third consecutive defeat. But Edgar has been as good as any featherweight since then, winning five straight fights.
“I’ve been in this for a long time. I’ve earned it. I’ve paid my dues, and it’s my time,” Edgar told International Business Times on Thursday.
Edgar, 34, most recently defeated Chad Mendes on Dec. 11 with a first-round knockout. One day later, Conor McGregor defeated Aldo in 13 seconds to win the featherweight title, which Aldo had held for over five years. The weekend was expected to set up a title fight between Edgar and McGregor, but it’s looking more and more like the fight won't happen anytime soon.
McGregor decided to put his first title defense on hold, agreeing to fight Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC lightweight championship at UFC 196. When dos Anjos suffered a broken foot and had to withdraw from the March 5 fight, Nate Diaz took his place and agreed to face McGregor at 170 pounds. Edgar was unable to replace dos Anjos because he was suffering from a torn groin, but McGregor was a heavy favorite against Diaz, and many assumed that the champ would win and defend his belt this summer.
But Diaz surprised much of the sports world and defeated McGregor on just 11 days’ notice, putting Edgar’s shot against the featherweight champ in jeopardy. A rematch at UFC 200 in Las Vegas on July 9 between McGregor and Diaz is reportedly in the works, leaving Edgar in limbo.
No matter who has the belt, Edgar wants the featherweight championship. Having already held the lightweight championship from April 2010 to February 2012, Edgar is trying to become just the third UFC fighter to ever hold belts in multiple weight classes. He prefers to do it against McGregor, however, whom Edgar knows isn’t invincible, even though he is undefeated in UFC as a featherweight.
“I feel like I can do anything with McGregor,” Edgar said. “I think I match up perfectly on my feet and obviously on the ground. I have the wrestling advantage and I believe the jiu-jitsu advantage. My conditioning is second-to-none, and I know I could strike him because of my footwork and my ability to change levels. I think I’m a nightmare for McGregor.”
Edgar believes McGregor might be actively avoiding a fight with him, as he reportedly looks for a second straight fight in another weight class instead of defending his belt. Edgar wants McGregor to vacate the featherweight title if he agrees to a rematch with Diaz, and Edgar says he’s heard McGregor is having trouble getting back down to 145 pounds after moving up two weight classes for his last fight.
Whether McGregor vacates the belt or not, another fight for him and Diaz would likely set up a rematch between Edgar and Aldo, who are the top two featherweight contenders. Edgar says he will “absolutely” be ready to fight at UFC 200, and he’s much more prepared to face Aldo three years later.
“I was so close against Aldo. I was almost able to accomplish that goal (of winning the featherweight championship) and I’ve almost been on a tunnel vision path to realize it the past five fights,” Edgar said. “I think I’m a better fighter just because I’ve been here for a while now and I feel like I’ve gotten better since then. It’s been close to three years, and I’m a much improved fighter. I think I go out there and kind of do what I’ve been doing and take control of the fight.”
In the last three years, Edgar has defeated Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn, Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber and Mendes. He beat Oliveira and Faber by unanimous decision, and only one judge failed to award him every round. Edgar had back-to-back knockouts against Penn and Swanson, and he finished off Mendes in the first round.
McGregor was arguably set to lose the first two rounds of his July 11 fight against Mendes before he ended the fight with a knockout, even though Mendes had just 18 days to prepare. When Aldo faced Mendes in October 2014, he needed a full five rounds to get the victory.
For now, all Edgar can do is wait. He’s slowly working his way back into the octagon, and he hopes to be 100 percent healthy in a few weeks. He’s kept busy since his last fight, and he’s set to open a UFC gym in his native New Jersey.
Edgar plans to teach a class every few weeks at the gym in North Brunswick, as well as training there with his team. The 25,000-square foot facility will feature a 30-foot cage, a full bag room and a matted jiu-jitsu area, in addition to new strength and conditioning equipment. Pre-sale memberships are available, and the gym is expected to officially open sometime in May.
“This is gonna be like a family atmosphere," Edgar said. "It’s a fitness gym for if you want to do cross-training, if you want to do strength training, agility training. All that stuff is going to be available. Plus, you’re also going to be able to do Muay Thai, MMA, jiu-jitsu and wrestling.”
Opening the gym gives Edgar something to be involved with once his MMA career is over, though the former lightweight champion isn’t close to being finished. In addition to becoming the only fighter to hold titles in two divisions, along with Randy Couture and B.J. Penn, Edgar wants to be on the first UFC card at Madison Square Garden now that MMA is legal in the state of New York.
With a professional record of 20-4-1, Edgar is the No.12 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in UFC. He's fighting in the company’s most competitive division just as the sport is reaching new levels of popularity. Fighters like McGregor and Ronda Rousey have become household names, opening up opportunities for the rest of MMA.
A large segment of UFC fans have been vocal about wanting to see Edgar take on McGregor, though the former lightweight champion hasn’t proven to be a big-time PPV draw. A win over the featherweight champ could change that for Edgar, but UFC might not turn down an opportunity to make the rematch between the charismatic Irishman and Diaz. UFC president Dana White said UFC 196 was the biggest pay-per-view in the company’s history with 1.5 million buys, and UFC 200 is expected to break more records.
Of course, if Edgar does get his title shot, he’ll have to defeat one of the best fighters the sport has to offer. Soon after his last fight, Edgar was named a +160 underdog in a potential meeting with McGregor, via OddsShark. Before one punch took Aldo out in December, he hadn’t lost a fight in a decade.
But Edgar will be ready for whatever is thrown his way as he looks to make UFC history.
“Not knowing what’s going on is frustrating, especially when I’m so close to realizing that goal of being the two-division champion. I feel like it’s been dangled in front of me for quite a while now. So it’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I just gotta attack what’s in front of me. I just want to know what's in front of me.”