If you feel like Frankie Edgar’s and Gray Maynard’s feud over the UFC lightweight title has been moving at a snail’s pace these past few months, imagine how Edgar must feel.
The 29-year-old New Jersey native has had the 155-pound belt for a year and a half, after all, and has only defended it against two men – Maynard and the guy he originally beat for championship at UFC 112, B.J. Penn. After fighting Penn twice during 2010, Edgar likely assumed he’d have smoother sailing moving forward, that his time with the title would follow a more conventional path. A path where, you know, he only had to fight everybody once.
What followed was Edgar’s epic, come-from-behind split draw with the undefeated Maynard at UFC 125 in January and attempts to set up a rematch that were slowed by injuries to both men. Meanwhile, the rest of the lightweight division has been just as chaotic, with a flurry of erstwhile No. 1 contenders losing superfluous place-holder bouts while the weight class waits for the two guys at the top to settle their business.
Considering that next month’s rubber match at UFC 136 will be the third time Edgar has faced Maynard during his 16 fight MMA career – the Xtreme Couture fighter served the champ his only loss to date at a UFC Fight Night event in April, 2008 — you couldn’t blame him if he was eager just to get it over with and move on to new challenges.
“It’s been a long time,” Edgar admits with a laugh. “Pretty much the two training camps [for UFCs 125 and 136] went back-to-back and then obviously we had the fight from before, so I’ve been thinking about this dude for quite a long time. It’ll be nice after these next few weeks to be able to put him in the rear view.”
Yet Edgar is well smart and savvy enough to understand that his saga with Maynard is an important milestone in his career. Trilogies like this one have the potential to define both guys’ legacies in the sport, raising at least the winner to new heights and, in certain instances, giving the loser a push as well. Edgar points out that legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson fought Jake LaMotta six times and that their protracted history together was one of the building blocks of Robinson’s reputation as arguably the greatest pugilist of all time.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Barring any further unforeseen setbacks, Edgar and Maynard are expected to meet for a third (and hopefully final time) on Oct. 8 in Houston. If all goes according to plan, the winner of Clay Guida’s scheduled fight against Ben Henderson on Nov. 12 might just establish a bonafide challenger for the winner, too, and suddenly the lightweight division might be back in first gear again.
At this point, Edgar and Maynard have a kind of familiarity with each other that few fighters ever establish. Both guys have reportedly stayed close to home for the duration of their training camps, but both are no doubt looking for any edge he can get. For his part, Edgar has augmented his strength and conditioning program with the Navy SEAL-inspired TRX Force workout regimen he and middleweight Brian Stann both currently endorse. Still, neither he nor Maynard are likely to be able to pull anything out of the hat the other hasn’t seen before.
“There’s really no secrets about it at this point,” Edgar says. “It’s just going to come down to who makes the best adjustments and who is going to apply them and basically who is going to show up that night, that’s who is going to be the winner … It’s kind of a guessing game to see what adjustments he’s going to make, what adjustments I’m going to make. For me, I’m going to in there and try to do what I always do. I’m going to look to push the pace, I’m going to throw punches and look for takedowns.”
During his second fight with Penn last year, Edgar was arguably able to extend his margin of victory over the first, crafting a complete performance that has had him ensconced as the world’s top-ranked lightweight ever since. He’s hoping for a similar progression against Maynard, and if he can avoid a tough first round like the one that sidetracked him during their second meeting at UFC125, he thinks he might just have the stuff to get it done.
In this case, familiarity has bread respect between the two fighters, but for Edgar, it’s also helped bolster his belief in himself.
“In the first fight, he beat me. In the next fight, I obviously made up some ground on him and had a draw,” Edgar says. “I feel like maybe if I didn’t get hit with as many big punches in the first round it could have been different. I know I can take his best shots and I know I can bounce back, so it definitely helps my confidence.”