The UFC will reach its 20th anniversary next week with a significant pay-per-view card as well as a series of events dedicated to celebrating its history and the people who helped shape the sport. One of those who played a significant role, not only in the history of the UFC but of mixed martial arts in general, will likely be largely overlooked during those festivities.
Yves Edwards is an MMA lifer who is believed to be the only fighter to have competed in the UFC, Pride, Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting and Bellator.
He'll face Yancy Medeiros in Fort Campbell, Ky., Wednesday in the UFC's annual Fight for the Troops card, which will be his 64th pro fight. He's 37, but is nowhere near the end of his career and is going to plow ahead regardless of what happens against Medeiros.
MMA is his life and his life is MMA.
"I'm not really sure how to describe it, but it's been a fun ride, even though there have been some really, really bad times," Edwards said of his career, which is now in its 17th year. "There have been times when I've cried and I thought that was it, but then all the [wins] wash that away.
"Besides my family, this is virtually everything to me. Everyone I know, all of my friends are friends because of fighting. If you're not a blood relative or a friend of my wife's, I don't know anybody, who is not connected to fighting. Everybody in my life, man, I've met a lot of people, some who are dear, close friends, and others I wouldn't want to see again, but they've made my life what it is."
A long, lean lightweight, Edwards has such a passion for fighting that early in his career, he would bring his fight gear with him just when he was going to watch a show that he was not scheduled to be on.
In those days, MMA was largely unregulated by the states and promoters weren't burdened by commission rules. There was no such thing as weight classes and there were no safety requirements.
Several times, he'd take fights just because he had his gear and was willing to do so, even though they hadn't been scheduled. Someone would have second thoughts and pull out and Edwards would eagerly volunteer to replace them.
One night, Edwards was scheduled to fight in Dallas, and he was looking forward to the bout. But his hero, former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten, was going to make an appearance at an event in Houston.
That created a conundrum for him. Edwards didn't want to give up his fight, but neither did he want to pass up the chance to meet his hero.
"I wanted to meet Bas so bad, and the money for that fight in Dallas wasn't that great, and so I called up and told the promoter, 'I'm not feeling that great and I'm not able to fight,' " Edwards said.
So, he packed his fight gear and made the trip to Houston, where he got the chance to meet Rutten, who is now one of his dear friends.
But it turns out, he didn't lose the chance to fight that night, either.
"I showed up to the place in Houston where the fights were and the only guy whose opponent didn't show up was this jacked, 220-pound-plus guy," Edwards said. "They were looking for somebody to fight him and I had my stuff and I said, 'I'll fight him.' It was a chance to fight in front of Bas Rutten. Are you kidding me, I'd get a chance to fight in front of my hero? Of course I was taking that fight."
It turned out well for Edwards. The big man wasn't a good fighter, and didn't know how to deal with leg kicks. Edwards beat him easily, but what felt the best wasn't the win. He won in front of his idol.
They've since become close friends and Edwards said that's how his career has gone.
"I'm going to fight as long as I can because I just love this so much, but these relationships I made in this sport are going to last much longer than I can fight," he said. "In what other sport could you just meet a legend like Bas Rutten and become friends like that?
"He's taught me a lot of things along the way. It's been incredible, and I could call him up and tell him I'm in [Los Angeles] and he'd be out to pick me up at the airport."
When Edwards started in MMA, he had zero wrestling experience. MMA is now dominated by wrestlers and six of the eight male UFC champions have wrestling backgrounds.
Edwards got by in his early years, but soon enough, as the sport evolved and fighters could make money from it, his lack of wrestling exposed him.
He debuted for MMA's flagship promotion at UFC 33, the first show in Las Vegas in 2001. Between UFC 33 and UFC 61, he fought for the promotion 10 times. More and more, wrestlers were flowing into the sport and Edwards knew nothing about it.
After he fought Joe Stevenson at UFC 61, Edwards knew he had to make some substantive changes to his game in order to survive.
"Joe Stevenson exposed my complete lack of wrestling," Edwards said. "At the time, I couldn't wrestle at all. I knew how to sprawl, and I knew what a double-leg [takedown] was. I couldn't do anything beyond that when it came to wrestling.
"Wrestling has always been a part of the game, but that fight came at a time when there was an influx of good college-level wrestlers into the sport. The sport was changing and I wasn't changing with it. I couldn't defend Joe Stevenson's takedowns. Imagine if that were [former college wrestling stars] Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard. I would have run into some serious, serious problems."
But Edwards was able to diversify his game and work his way back to the UFC. He's 42-20-1 overall and 10-8 in his UFC career.
He's made himself a better fighter and loved every minute of it. And though he's had his share of big moments, he's still chasing that one defining moment he'll remember the rest of his life.
"Maybe why I'm still going is that I haven't had that moment yet," he said. "The best moment I've had in my career so far was in my second fight with Hermes Franca. He had a guillotine on me and man, it was locked in. I mean, it was tight.
"I don't know what it was, but I had this thought that came over me. I said to myself, 'You know what? At this point, I'm either going to sleep or I'm going to find a way to get out of it, but I'm not tapping.' I was never in a submission that tight before, but I managed to fight out of it."
The highs that come with doing something like that keep him going. He's on a two-fight losing streak, but says he's not worried about getting cut if he loses. He'll fight on, somewhere, because his history has proven that, but he'd prefer it to be in the UFC.
He'll fight his fight against Medeiros and the result, he said, will be what it is.
"I don't play fantasy football because I can pick all these great guys, but I have zero control over what happens on the field," Edwards said. "It's why I don't bet on football or on baseball. I have no control of what happens.
"That's why I don't worry about getting cut. It's out of my control. I could win this fight and still get released. Maybe I get a traffic ticket after the fight and they're mad and they could cut me. The only thing I worry about are the things that are in my control, like my preparation and my effort and my attitude. That's why I don't worry about anything else."
He's 37, and knows the end of his career will come sooner or later. But when the end comes, it's not going to spell the end of his association with MMA.
He'll run a gym or coach fighters or do something to stay involved in a sport that has meant everything to him.
"I can't even imagine what my life would be without this sport," he said. "My friends, everything I have, it's because of MMA. I'm going to be with it forever."
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- Yves Edwards
- Bas Rutten