Maybe Frankie Edgar’s first MMA defeat should have occurred sooner.
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Edgar lost to Gray Maynard — the first of three bouts between the two combatants — in his fourth UFC event, in April 2008. There went his perfect record, eight-career opening victories anchored by several wins at smaller promotions in his native New Jersey.
“You either bounce back or spiral downward,” said Ricardo Almeida, a former UFC fighter to whom Edgar turned after that loss via a unanimous decision. “He rededicated himself, which is a testament not only to Frankie but the friends and family he has around him. When he walked into the room at our first meeting, I asked him what his goals were in MMA. He said, `I want to be a UFC champ.’”
Three victories and then a decision over B.J. Penn later, Edgar became the UFC lightweight champ in April 2010. Edgar could become the first fighter in UFC history to defend the lightweight belt a fourth time when he faces Benson Henderson at UFC 144 in Japan on Saturday.
His nickname is “The Answer,” which is fitting since he has figured out how to beat fighters who are usually taller than the 5-foot-6 Edgar. (Henderson is 5-9.) But Edgar, 30, also is often fighting guys who also outweigh him since opponents — unlike Edgar — binge after barely making weight the day before a match.
That’s where endurance comes in.
“I prepare for every fight as if it’s going to be a long fight,” Edgar told FOXSports.com. “That’s what you have to do. You can’t go out there and spend everything you have early. Then, when things don’t work out, you’re in trouble.”
That means Edgar doesn’t go out of his way for the knockout, although he did earn one against Maynard at UFC 136 in October, even if it didn’t come until the fourth round. Nine of Edgar’s 11 UFC bouts have gone three or more rounds, and eight have gone the distance.
“He has to work that much harder because he’s smaller,” said Almeida, who runs a Brazilian jiujitsu academy in Hamilton, N.J. “He can’t fight like everyone else in the division. He has to be elusive and out-point them.”
Although Edgar has found the right mix in the octagon, fans of UFC, especially those craving knockouts, aren’t always appreciative of the marathon matches. Almeida said fans looking for the quick strike might view something new in future Edgar fights.
“He’s hitting hard, so you might start seeing more stoppages,” Almeida said. “His Brazilian jiujitsu skills are improving. He’s starting to hurt his sparring partners more often. You are going to start to see the transition from a precision fighter to one who can come up with a KO or TKO.”
Edgar is also welcoming another transition: He gets to face his first new opponent since December 2009. After facing Penn and Maynard twice each, Edgar gets Henderson, a 28-year-old jiujitsu specialist from Glendale, Ariz.
“It was refreshing training for a guy with a different style,” Edgar said. “I have never been in there with him. I really don’t know what to expect.”
Henderson said Edgar won’t be all that foreign to him because Clay Guida, Henderson’s his last opponent, had a similar approach.
“Frankie is little bit more polished (and) a little bit better at what he does: great movement, nonstop movement,” Henderson said in a conference call with reporters last week. “Definitely after the fight, I was very thankful for having fought Clay because it did somewhat help prepare. Hopefully, that’ll help me against Frankie.”
Edgar, who leans heavily on his wrestling background, didn’t want to predict how this fight would progress.
“I’m really not concerned too much where the fight goes because it could go anywhere, so I have to be ready for that,” Edgar said. “If I could go out there and win the first round and build from there, then that would be the best scenario.”
It might not be a big deal if he loses that first round. Edgar is known for rallying late in bouts, just as he did after his lone setback of his pro career.