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BOSTON – Frankie Edgar's nickname is "The Answer," but he has yet to deliver the answer I'd like to hear.
Edgar is the Ultimate Fighting Championship's all-too-often overlooked lightweight champion, whose accomplishments far exceed his reputation. He's a soft-spoken, humble guy who never seems to get too irritated, despite the fact that you'd love to hear him go off just once at the blatant disrespect he's often shown.
He'll defend his title on Saturday at TD Garden against the man he took it from – B.J. Penn – four months ago in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Edgar is the UFC's most anonymous champion in years. Penn is a 3-1 favorite in Saturday's fight and got the immediate rematch because UFC president Dana White didn't want there to be a taint surrounding the belt. After the razor-thin margin in the bout at UFC 112 and Penn's later admission that he was ill, many began to question Edgar's legitimacy as the champion.
That's about as ludicrous as questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, but it hasn't stopped it from occurring.
Nor has his victory over Penn stopped the by-now ridiculous notion that Edgar should drop to featherweight. He was asked about that on a conference call last week, despite the fact that he defeated arguably the greatest lightweight in mixed martial arts history to win the championship. If beating Penn doesn't prove he belongs at lightweight, nothing will.
Edgar, after all, is one of the greats himself. Yeah, he doesn't get the respect of a Penn, or even of a Kenny Florian – who shares the card with him on Saturday in a fight against Gray Maynard – but Edgar's record is remarkable in its own right.
If he were a self-promoter, if he had James Toney's bombast or Chael Sonnen's quick wit, he might be the biggest thing going. He's 12-1 overall and 7-1 in UFC competition and has consistently taken part in some of the UFC's most entertaining matches. He's been part of the Fight of the Night three times in his eight UFC outings – all of which he's won – and he's consistently gotten better each time.
Yet Edgar, the only man on the dais at the final news conference on Wednesday at Faneuil Hall who is currently holding a UFC title, attracts about as much notice as the New England Patriots' backup quarterback.
Edgar grins impishly and shrugs at the mention of a few of the many slights he's endured. He's used to it by now and hasn't let it bother him. He knows he's been overlooked but preaches patience.
"I feel [I've been overlooked] a little bit, but I know that if I keep doing what I've been doing, eventually it's going to come," Edgar said.
For much of his UFC career, he's been urged to consider a drop to featherweight, a move he's regularly resisted. The talks of that intensified after he was bullied by Maynard at Ultimate Fight Night 13 on April 2, 2008, in Bloomfield, Colo., in his first and only MMA defeat.
And when White chose Edgar instead of Maynard to face Penn for the lightweight title at UFC 112, there was an uproar. White said he didn't think Maynard was ready for the title shot after a close victory over Nathan Diaz and said he felt Edgar was the company's most improved fighter. That spurred an apoplectic response from some in the media who were championing Maynard's cause.
"The thing was, I saw Frankie fighting and getting better time after time after time," White said Wednesday. "In this sport, you have to keep improving and that's what he did. He put himself with some good people and you saw a significant improvement in him.
"I said before the fight how impressed I was and how much he improved, and people were telling me I was just trying to sell the fight."
Even after winning the title, Edgar's had to play a secondary role. At the final news conference, much of the focus was on Toney's UFC debut and Florian's return to fight at home and Penn's potential and Couture's challenge in facing a world-class professional boxer.
Edgar sat quietly for much of the session, the title belt on the table in front of him a visible reminder that he wasn't just another guy at the dais. But he's the most low-profile of the five UFC world champions.
Heavyweight Brock Lesnar is the sport's biggest star. Light heavyweight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and welterweight Georges St. Pierre are among its most beloved figures. And middleweight Anderson Silva is its best fighter.
That leaves Edgar, the champion with the phenomenal résumé and not-so-phenomenal recognition. Asked Wednesday if he felt his loss to Edgar was a fluke, Penn vigorously shook his head no.
"Frankie Edgar is a great fighter and he fought a great fight that night," Penn said. "He's beaten a lot of good guys."
And at 28, Edgar is going to beat a lot more good ones – and probably great ones – before he's through. But the way his career has gone, don't expect him to be hailed for doing it.
"I would think at least by beating B.J. Penn, who a lot of people told me was the best ever, that the stuff would stop about moving to 145," Edgar said. "But then I'm still hearing it. At first, that would kind of [tick] me off, but it's just kind of comical at this point. It's part of the job. I think it's one of those things I'm going to have to live with until I definitively prove myself."
Even a cursory look at his record would suggest he's long since definitively proven himself. Win or lose on Saturday, this much is certain: Frankie Edgar is no fluke. And until proven otherwise – definitively, as he says – he's the best lightweight in the world.
- Frankie Edgar
- Ultimate Fighting Championship