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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Frankie Edgar spent the better part of two months listening to all of the reasons why he couldn't beat B.J. Penn and win the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title.
He was too small – and truth be told, he would be a hellacious featherweight – he wasn't as good of a boxer and he couldn't compare to Penn when it came to jiu-jitsu.
But Edgar left Ferrari World on Saturday with the gaudy gold-championship strap slung over his shoulder, with the unanimous decision he scored over the legendary Penn a testament to his courage and desire and the brilliance of his game plan.
The Toms River, N.J., native won by scores of 50-45, 49-46 and 48-47 in a fight in which he defeated perhaps the greatest lightweight ever by coming into the cage in superb condition and executing a plan that confused Penn and neutralized his strengths.
When Bruce Buffer announced Edgar as the new champion and the sellout crowd of 11,008 roared, Edgar dropped to his knees and looked skyward.
It wasn't divine intervention that brought Edgar the belt, though Penn seemed to have an advantage pretty much everywhere the fight might go – Penn had much better jiu-jitsu, he was perceived to have the better standup and he had the kind of takedown defense that would have seemed to have neutralized Edgar's wrestling base.
Edgar, though, fought brilliantly. He moved left to right as well as front to back, not allowing Penn to get set to throw his frequently lethal jab. Edgar took Penn down twice, becoming the first lightweight to do so in six years. And Penn's world-famous submission game was a non-factor. Edgar managed the distance expertly and didn't permit Penn to come charging at him to blast him with a knee like he did against Diego Sanchez and Sean Sherk.
"Everybody gave up on this kid and nobody wanted to give him a chance, but he fought a great fight," said UFC president Dana White, who gave Edgar the title shot in January only after he wasn't impressed enough by Gray Maynard in a Maynard win over Nate Diaz.
Penn took the center of the cage as soon as the fight began and kept it for most of the first round, but he wasn't able to do much damage to Edgar other than landing an occasional jab.
Edgar would go left and dance in, then move right and fall back. He was never in the same place for more than a second or two, and he left Penn reaching and guessing all night.
At one point Edgar faked a shot as if he were going to try to take Penn down. When Penn moved back, Edgar followed him and laced him with a hard kick to the rib cage.
He completely kept Penn off-balance and didn't allow the Hawaiian to put together any consistent offense.
"B.J.'s timing is great and you just can't go in without something behind it," Edgar said. "Movement was key in that fight."
By the end of the third round, Penn's corner was urging him to find a way to get the fight to the ground. Though each round was close, it was apparent that the fight was moving in Edgar's direction.
Penn's coaches asked him to get the fight to the ground, where his legendary jiu-jitsu skills would come into play.
Inexplicably, Penn never made an effort to take Edgar down. In the fourth round, when Edgar took him down, Penn quickly scrambled back to his feet.
Thus, the fight in essence became a boxing match, and Edgar executed the plan perfectly. Penn seemed to wilt a bit in the later rounds and Edgar picked up a bit extra.
"I've always seemed to be a guy who gets stronger as the fight goes on, especially in a five-round fight" Edgar said. "I typically feel stronger as the fight goes on. That one takedown I got, in the fourth round, got the ball rolling for me."
Edgar's victory also breathed life into a division that, like the UFC's welterweight and middleweight classes, was threatening to become dull because of the dominance of the champions.
Penn did not attend the post-fight news conference, nor did he release a statement to the media, but White seemed at least amenable to a rematch.
First, though, will likely be a match between Edgar and Maynard. Maynard defeated Edgar at UFC 90, handing him his only career loss.
White said if Penn wanted a rematch, one could be arranged after a bout with Maynard.
As angry as White was at Anderson Silva for Silva's ridiculous performance in the card's main event, he was equally as pleased with Edgar's.
"You have to love a story like this," White said. "Everybody told him he couldn't do this, but he believed that he could and so he went out and got himself into great shape and he fought hard and he did it. You have to give the kid a ton of credit."