- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has been a part of multiple memorable fights during the past six years -- from a one-round TKO in his very first performance, to back-to-back fights with MMA legend B.J. Penn, to a "fight of the year" candidate against Gray Maynard in 2010.
With another potentially historic fight ahead against Benson Henderson this weekend at UFC 144, ESPN.com asked Edgar which five fights have meant the most to him and analyzed what we learned, or at least should have learned, about "The Answer" in each.
No. 5: Edgar UD3 Spencer Fisher, UFC 78, Nov. 17, 2007
Edgar’s thoughts: I got to fight at home in New Jersey for the first time since joining the UFC. You’re always nervous about losing, but especially when you’re in font of your hometown that is always on your mind. It was my first time on the main card; it was the first time I went to a press conference and all that stuff. The fight kind of went how we planned. At the time, I knew Spencer was probably a better striker than myself, so the best way to defeat him was using the takedown. I scored a lot of takedowns in that fight.
What we learned: As Edgar alluded to, this fight showed how effective his wrestling can be. At the time, Fisher had lost just three fights and beaten the likes of Sam Stout, Matt Wiman, Thiago Alves and Josh Neer. He repeatedly worked back to his feet during the fight, only to be taken down again. His attempts at offense from his back were completely neutralized by Edgar’s top game.
No. 4: Edgar UD3 Tyson Griffin, UFC 67, Feb. 3, 2007
Edgar’s thoughts: I got the call on short notice. I was a late replacement. I took the fight on four weeks' notice. No one knew who I was. I pretty much think I was supposed to be an easy opponent for Tyson. At the time, he was doing really well. I came in there and took his steam, I guess. I was confident going in. I had nothing to lose. I knew I wasn’t the most technical back then, but I was a tough kid and gritted that one out. I hadn’t even been signed by the UFC yet. I got that call and that’s how I got into the organization. It was a dogfight. I got caught in a pretty bad kneebar in the last minute. My knee popped a couple times but I refused to tap and got the victory.
What we learned: Most cite his second fight against Gray Maynard when describing Edgar’s toughness, but it was on full display in his first UFC fight. He was the unknown late replacement, taking on a hot prospect in Griffin. Edgar set a pace Griffin couldn’t match, as he appeared gassed near the end of the fight. The submission attempt had him in visible pain, but Edgar would eventually escape and respond with damage of his own before the end of the fight.
No. 3: Edgar UD5 B.J. Penn, UFC 118, Aug. 28, 2010
Edgar’s thoughts: I had to fight an immediate rematch. Everyone thought my first win over B.J. was a fluke and I proved it wasn’t. I beat him in dominant fashion. It really didn’t matter to me what people were saying. Did I fight with a chip on my shoulder, though? Absolutely. I saw it as a chance to earn the respect. My approach in the second fight with B.J. didn’t have anything to do with strategy -- it was confidence. In the first fight I believed I could beat him. In the second fight I knew I could. Having that confidence gave me a little more steam in that fight. I remember, at one point, he had my back and obviously, we were worried about B.J.’s jiu-jitsu -- he has some of the best in MMA. I was able to reverse him. That was a big moment.
What we learned: Apparently, not much. Believe it or not, Edgar was listed as an underdog to Gray Maynard in his next title defense, despite coming off back-to-back wins over Penn. Of course, some of that was due to the fact Maynard had defeated him convincingly once before. In hindsight though, more attention should have been given to the fact Edgar outboxed Penn, who is known for his dominance in that area. He also dealt well with Penn on the ground, proving to be too elusive for even "The Prodigy" to attempt any significant submission attempts.
Edgar UD5 B.J. Penn, UFC 112, April 10, 2010
Edgar’s thoughts: This one is kind of self-explanatory because I won my championship. It was tough fighting in Abu Dhabi. I had to go out there a little earlier. The fight was outside in the heat and humidity. Renzo Gracie was with me fighting on the card, too, so that was assuring having someone like him with me the whole time. I believed in myself for that fight. For me, every training camp you start off thinking, "Oh man, I’m fighting this guy." But then you prepare and you put all the work in and you start believing in yourself. I knew I had to focus. B.J. is a really tough opponent to prepare for because he’s got so many tools. For that fight, we tried to get my striking as technical and as clean as possible. B.J. is a very clean striker. I felt with my speed though, I might be faster in the fight.
What we learned: Frankie Edgar improves between fights. Heading into that title shot, few suspected Edgar’s key to victory would be boxing. As stated before, Penn was known for having some of the most technical hands at 155 at that time. Edgar believed he would have a speed advantage and went to work on his technique. It showed. Then it became even clearer in the rematch, where Edgar’s standup had improved to the point it seemed Penn couldn’t touch him.
Edgar KO4 Gray Maynard, UFC 136, Oct. 8, 2011
Edgar’s thoughts: Just the fact that Gray was the only blemish on my record with the loss and even the draw [made the bout so significant]. The way it ended was storybook. When I was getting beat up a little bit in the first round, I did think to myself, "I can’t believe this is happening again." But it also gave me confidence -- the fact it had already happened and I had gotten through it. I caught him with an uppercut on the scramble in the fourth round. A lot of times it’s not always the most powerful punch, it’s the one you don’t see that will rock you. I rocked him and went in for the kill after that. I’m really not a guy who gets too high on himself but after this last fight with Gray, we went back to the hotel and it was just crazy. Everybody wanted pictures with me. We had to use security to get to the elevator. I was like, "Wow, I can’t believe I did that."
What we learned: Took us a while, but seems like most are giving Edgar his full due. UFC president Dana White said after the fight he had Edgar as No. 2 on his pound-for-pound list. Even those who didn’t agree, didn’t argue too much. One of the big notes from this fight was also the finish. Not only did he register a cut-and-dry, render-your-opponent-unconscious-type finish, he did it against Maynard, who is considered one of the most durable lightweights around.
UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has been a part of multiple memorable fights during the past six years -- from a one-round TKO in his very first performance, to back-to-back fights with MMA legend B.