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Is Edgar the greatest 155-er of all time?

2/22/2012

For the first time since he became the UFC’s lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar is the betting favorite heading into a fight. From the Vegas perspective, the time of feel-good flukes is over -- this time, Edgar is getting love where he normally just gets overlooked.

And when you glance at the tape, why not? Edgar has gone 3-0-1 against two guys in the past two years. But the guys he’s beaten weren’t just guys. They were oppressors of the 155-pound division: Gray Maynard, who entered the cage a behemoth next to Edgar, at least 15 pounds heavier; and B.J. Penn, who left the cage with no future in the division and no answer for the man who had plenty.

Edgar batted back two fast-encroaching forces of momentum, and he did it twice apiece. For the past couple of years, Edgar has been making guys redundant.

And that’s the kind of drama that feels too good to be true.

Now Edgar is getting set to face Benson Henderson: a dynamic, athletic, comet-shrieking member of the division who, as an underdog, becomes a tempting choice to dethrone the pride of New Jersey. This is how it goes. Most people who are taking Edgar are speaking in universals, saying things like, “I’ll never bet against Edgar again.” These people are letting you know they have learned their lesson. They believe now. In what, exactly? That Edgar’s own belief is a near tangible. That Edgar won’t lose -- because he can’t.

Yet there are still cynics who can’t fathom how a natural featherweight, who doesn’t cut but two loaves of bread to make 155 pounds, can continue beating guys the way he does. How can you take brute punishment against Maynard and come back, twice, in an eerie loop of sequences? How can you beat Penn with flickering jabs, fancy footwork and impossible determination ... twice?

Nobody ordinary can do this. But Edgar does. Edgar is cut from the same cloth as the iron-chinned post-war boxers who made heart the overriding component. For everyone who backs the latest head of steam, be cautious: Edgar is where momentum goes to die.

That’s why this feeling that Edgar has more to prove than Henderson at UFC 144 in Japan is literally backward, and yet partially true. Edgar has proved himself as a champion and as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters going. Now Edgar could be working on proving that he’s the greatest lightweight champion ever. If that sounds like a stretch of the imagination, then we’re right in Edgar’s wheelhouse.

Think about it: A victory over Henderson would be enough to tip him over into that rarefied space. At least, conversationally. In the short history of MMA, who would have had a better run? Penn was tremendous for the three years between 2007-2010. He defended the belt three times with a cameo superfight at welterweight with Georges St. Pierre. Then he ran into Frankie Edgar, the little impasse that could.

Takanori Gomi was a force for a long while in Pride, but the competition he faced wasn’t like Edgar’s. Jens Pulver defended his belt twice, but he has been in a career free fall since 2006.

There are other mentionables, but none as pronounced as Edgar, who has a chance to defy logic on an even larger scale come Saturday.

And wouldn’t that be just like him to do it? A guy with no business fighting in MMA’s most competitive division has a real chance of becoming its ultimate kingpin.