Commentary

Eternal rivals seeking bit of closure

Originally Published: October 4, 2011
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

"He's like the renter I can't kick out of my apartment building."

So says Frankie Edgar of lightweight rival Gray Maynard.

Saturday in Houston the two can make a classic trilogy if UFC 136 produces a main event similar to their dramatic New Year's Day split draw; Edgar survived damaging opening-round knockdowns to will his way through the latter half of the fight in Las Vegas and pull even. The UFC champion knows all too well what happened, and more meaningful than the tactile experience of such a battle, Edgar remembers the night as the moment he proved he'll fight through anything.

"I always thought that and always said that, but now I know it," explained Edgar, 29, whose initials are befitting of the periodic table of elements. He can speak with conviction. Reeling from a left hook and other assorted blows in a round that could have legitimately been scored 10-7, the champion was battered by a 155-pound fighter who literally punches like a heavyweight boxer.

"It shook him," said Edgar's striking coach and cornerman Phil Nurse. "It didn't finish him."

Amazingly not.

Maynard (10-0-1) entered the January championship bout as the only mixed martial artist to defeat Edgar (13-1-1). Rather than a repeat of his three-year-old wrestling clinic, the challenger went for the kill. Edgar managed to absorb whatever Maynard dished out and somehow retained the title he usurped a year earlier against B.J. Penn.

[+] EnlargeEdgar/Maynard
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comFrankie Edgar, right, managed to withstand Gray Maynard's best shots.

"The draw hurt a little bit," said the understated 32-year-old challenger. Maynard may never have a better chance to become a UFC champion.

When Edgar mulls over the fights with Maynard -- something he concedes to doing often -- "the first thing I think of is the negative. You don't try to get right to the negative, but it's kind of hard not to. A lot of times how I think of Gray is how I don't want to think of him. Hopefully I can put him behind me."

That sentiment surprised Nurse, who began working with Edgar prior to the Penn upset in Abu Dhabi.

"The sense I get from Frankie in his training is that he's the champion and he's just going to take care of it. He's going to beat Maynard. It's not even a question in his mind," said the Manhattan-based Muay Thai coach. "If Maynard is a renter Frankie needs to kick out, he's going to kick him out."

Having said that, Nurse warned Edgar "would be stupid to not be cautious of Gray Maynard."

If Maynard is a renter Frankie needs to kick out, he's going to kick him out."

-- Trainer Phil Nurse, on his charge, Frankie Edgar, turning back Gray Maynard's challenge

Indeed. This reality already sharpened the champion, who in turn pushed Maynard to his limit. "I think I was the type of guy as the match went on, the more intense it got, the better I did," Edgar said. "I do good under fire."

So does Maynard. The result? An intense athletic rivalry where a winner's determination is far more intriguing than typical vitriol and hyperbole.

"It has its good parts and bad parts," Edgar said of the competitiveness between himself and Maynard. "Thinking about the guy all the time is not always the best thing, [but] it does make you bring out the best in yourself. I think we brought out the best in each other in the last fight."

Ten months in the making -- both fighters were injured prior to a scheduled Memorial Day clash -- chapter three on Oct. 8 (PPV, 9 p.m. ET) carries with it masterpiece expectations due to the compelling evidence. The fighters are aware what fans want, and they say they're happy to oblige, though "I don't want to sit there and try to take his best again and try to have another valiant comeback," Edgar joked. "I'd rather run from the front than behind."

The champion doesn't really know what that's like against Maynard. Save an empowering sense that he can withstand just about anything, Edgar doesn't have much to feel confident about heading into the weekend clash, not if the past holds an indication about the future.

Maynard's success is incumbent upon more than his size and strength advantage. And it wasn't necessarily a mistake by the champion that created a blank spot where the memory of an opening round should be. Both Edgar and Nurse credited Maynard's range-finding, timing and accuracy for producing a monster left hook that dropped the UFC champion.

That helps explain why Maynard has been able to establish residence in Edgar's mind. He's done things to the UFC champion in the Octagon that no one else has.

"We've been at it for a while," Edgar said. "We've got a great story to have a great finish."

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.