LAS VEGAS – When Frankie Edgar bounds into the Octagon on Saturday to challenge Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in the main event of UFC 156 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, it will be nearly six years to the day since he made his debut with the company.
And yet, despite all the wins, despite all the great fights, despite rocketing up the UFC record book, Edgar still seems to be perhaps the most unappreciated star in the game.
He defeated the highly regarded Tyson Griffin in his UFC debut on Feb. 3, 2007, winning Fight of the Night honors in the process, and has been one of the company's elite fighters ever since.
Edgar fought a legendary trilogy against Gray Maynard, but his fight with Aldo may turn out to be the most significant challenge he's faced.
Maynard is a wrestler whose nickname of "The Bully" is an apt description of his fighting style. He's usually able to bully opponents into position with his wrestling.
But when he went to Brazil to train with Aldo last year, he experienced an entirely different story. During practice, he shot on Aldo and went for a double leg takedown. He pushed Aldo back up against the cage.
Aldo simply walked up the cage, flipped over and took a stunned Maynard's back. That's the kind of challenge Edgar will face when he battles Aldo.
"I've trained with a lot of guys and I've never had anyone do that before," Maynard said. "He can do all those moves off the cage that [lightweight contender Anthony] Pettis can do, but that's not the way their team trains. But he's a very phenomenal athlete and he's very, very strong."
Despite his record, Edgar hasn't always been viewed as an elite opponent, and no one recounts his mind-boggling feats of athleticism in the gym. He's often been overlooked as he's worked his way toward the top.
The statistics on paper tell a different story, of course. The match with Aldo will be his seventh consecutive UFC title fight, tying him with Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn for fourth most in history. He'll trail only Georges St-Pierre and Randy Couture, each of whom have fought in nine consecutive title bouts, and Tito Ortiz, who competed in eight in a row.
If he defeats Aldo, he'll join Couture and Penn as the only men to have ever held UFC belts in two divisions. Couture has been heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, while Penn has won the belt at lightweight and welterweight. Edgar won the lightweight belt from Penn and is challenging Aldo for the featherweight crown Saturday.
In addition, he's also been in Fight of the Night five times and won Knockout of the Night once. For a fighter, that's about as good as it gets.
UFC president Dana White freely calls Saturday's bout a "super fight," yet it hasn't gotten the kind of super fight treatment that others have in the past.
There was no UFC Primetime show focusing exclusively on the match, like there were for Penn-St-Pierre, Jon Jones-Rashad Evans and so many other fights.
"We only get so many Primetimes a year," White said by way of explanation. "If somebody is saying this isn't a super fight, they're out of their mind."
Edgar is on the verge of some serious history and there has been a distinct lack of clamor about it.
That's fine with Edgar, who could do without all the hoopla – what White calls the bells and the whistles – that the UFC does to promote its events. He's content to just fight, pick up his check and head home.
Guys with records such as Edgar are almost always revered. Edgar has a solid fan base, but he still takes a back seat in terms of notoriety to a number of peers he's long since shot past in terms of achievement.
"I don't dwell on stuff like that," Edgar said. "If I get the recognition, it's nice, but it's fine if I don't. This would be huge to win this belt, because that would put me in a very elite class. That would mean a lot to me, [to join Couture and Penn as multi-divisional belt-holders], because it's obviously pretty difficult to do."
To do it, he must get past arguably the toughest challenge of his career. Aldo is a supreme all-around fighter who has reeled off 14 consecutive wins and has won 21 of his 22 pro bouts. Counting his time in the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion, Saturday's title defense against Edgar will be Aldo's seventh consecutive title fight.
Aldo has the ability to, in White's words, "do some freaky things," pulling off moves others don't even have the nerve to try.
Edgar is more than aware of what he's up against and knows a win won't come easily.
"Jose's awesome, man, let's be honest," Edgar said. "He's fast and explosive and he's one of the most dynamic strikers out there.
Aldo's arguably the best leg kicker in the UFC. He literally destroyed Urijah Faber's leg in a WEC title fight in 2010 and has the ability to take a fighter's legs from underneath him with his kicks.
Edgar, though, has a straightforward plan to avoid having his lead leg turned into a gigantic purple contusion.
"There's not just one defense for it," Edgar said. "There's a couple of things you've got to do. First of all, you have to make him not want to throw them, but you can't just stand there in front of him and be a target."
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Edgar and his team are brilliant game planners and he's undoubtedly going to use some variation of the plan he used to beat Penn. In that fight, he used his lateral movement a great deal, circling and disrupting Penn's timing and distance.
It was a shock that night in 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, when Edgar handled Penn and lifted the title from him.
It should be a shock no more, though, when Edgar pulls off the unexpected.
If he becomes the first man since Luciano Azevedo in 2005 to defeat Aldo, he may finally shed the underrated tag forever.
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