Even when Frankie Edgar was plowing through the UFC lightweight division, a run that featured an 8-0 start, consecutive wins over pioneer B.J. Penn, a 22-month reign as champion and a demolition of Gray Maynard to cap a memorable trilogy, the perception was out there. He’s competing 10 pounds above his natural weight. Once Zuffa integrated World Extreme Cagefighting into the parent organization it was considered inevitable Edgar would one day drop down to featherweight.
Edgar’s lightweight title reign ended at UFC 144 on Saturday when he dropped a close decision to Benson Henderson, five rounds of MMA poetry that prospective fighters must file into their case study program. That night in Tokyo, Henderson was bigger and for that one night just a little bit better. It also opened the door for that move to featherweight, considered Edgar’s natural weight, and to present a legit challenger to Jose Aldo, the virtually invincible champion at 145.
UFC president Dana White wants it. Fans over social media, those not campaigning for an immediate rematch with Henderson anyway, clamored over an Aldo-Edgar dream match.
Slight problem, Edgar doesn’t want to move down. His management company revealed on the latest episode of UFC Tonight that "The Answer" will not migrate to featherweight.
That’s a good problem to have. Edgar’s answers still lie at 155. There’s more work to do for the kid from Toms River, N.J., and there’s the opportunity to not remain merely great, but become legendary.
His road to immortality, however, must begin by not beginning anew.
A bout with Aldo is no question a headliner anywhere in the world. Only Mark Hominick, who pushed Aldo five rounds in losing a decision, provided anything close to a test, and that came in Round 5. Aldo has dissected through the featherweights, most recently a first-round knockout of the previously unbeaten Chad Mendes, and it’s getting tougher for the UFC championship committee to determine new contenders.
Matching Aldo with Edgar means worldwide exposure and some needed household discussion for the Brazilian Cobra – except now is not the time. You drop Edgar down now and you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. A loss to Aldo and Edgar is a loser of two straight and suddenly in purgatory. A victory and it’s either an immediate rematch or the resumption of the "Who’s next and why?" debate.
While the top featherweights each have their share of questions, there remains hope that Aldo will one day meet his match. Perhaps the real Hatsu Hioki showed up in Toyko and is to be validated over time. Maybe there’s truly something to Dustin Poirier or Chan Sung Jung (fighting one another May 15). It could also turn out that experience and fine-tuning transforms Erik Koch from promising to legit.
Edgar lost for the first time in three years, so just like that his lightweight run is over? Those earlier wins over Tyson Griffin, Spencer Fisher Sean Sherk and an unknown named Jim Miller are suddenly irreverent? Edgar beats Penn twice, and pulls a Rocky Balboa in taking Maynard to a draw and then taking him out, and you want to close the chapter? Edgar left Toyko a former champion and very angry. He believes he defeated Henderson and deep down knows he can register a ‘W’ in the record books if given another opportunity.
Whether Edgar deserves an immediate rematch is a healthy debate. On one hand there’s no wrong reason to grant it, except the difference with Maynard is a draw, and only a draw struck Anthony Pettis’ No. 1 contender status from the record. Compare "Showtime’s" resume to Edgar’s all you want, but understand that Pettis still bounced back from a loss to Clay Guida – a fight he didn’t have to take yet accepted the challenge – with a hard-fought split-decision victory over Jeremy Stephens and a fabulous first-round knockout of Joe Lauzon.
When Pettis morphed into Neo from the Matrix it was the difference maker in a hotly-contested December 2010 fight that won Showtime the WEC lightweight title. Henderson earned his way back into contention. Edgar must now do the same – at 155 pounds. I’d pit the Henderson-Pettis winner against the victor of the Miller-Nate Diaz match that will headline UFC on Fox 3 in East Rutherford, N.J., on May 3. Diaz has looked better with every victory. Miller has rebounded from a beating against Henderson with a thoroughly impressive first-round submission over Melvin Guillard – once touted by many others as the rightful top contender.
Timing is everything in MMA. It’s now Pettis’ time to challenge Henderson and prove he’s more than a Showtime Kick. It’s not Edgar’s time to leave the lightweight division, not when he can respond from losing by not just being great or becoming UFC featherweight champion, but by becoming immortal. Throughout his career Edgar has had an answer for everything. Leaving Toyko battered and bruised, but his elite-fighter status unchanged, no way does Edgar walk away from the start of the greatest challenge of his career.