LAS VEGAS – The scouting report on Frank Edgar seemed simple enough. Everyone knew he was a great wrestler but might not have the standup skills necessary to hang with the world's elite lightweights.
Time to toss that info in the trash. The Toms River, N.J., native scored a breakthrough victory at UFC 98 on Saturday night, outstriking former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk for the better part of 15 minutes en route to a unanimous decision victory. Edgar (10-1) won by across-the-board scores of 30-27.
"I think adding standup to my game is only going to help," Edgar said. "My boxing coach is a perfectionist. He's on me all that time. I improved my strategy 100 percent."
As an undersized lightweight with unproven striking, it remained to be seen whether the former Clarion University wrestling standout would break through to the top of the 155-pound weight class. A fight with Sherk was sink-or-swim time, and the fighter known as "The Answer" lived up to his nickname.
"I thought there was no way he could win this fight," said UFC president Dana White. "He's smaller. Sherk is bigger. This kid put on an amazing fight. No one has ever seen him use his hands like that before. I was blown away by Frank Edgar. "
Sherk (33-3-1) rode his way to the title in 2006 with his takedowns and ground-and-pound ability, but since getting run by B.J. Penn at UFC 84, he has focused on his boxing seemingly to the exclusion of the rest of his game. That worked in an October win over Tyson Griffin but came up short Saturday night.
Edgar spent the bulk of the fight sticking and weaving. He initiated the bulk of the action, mixed up his strikes, and his constant in-and-out motion kept Sherk from finding his range.
"I didn't know what his game plan would be," said Edgar. "But watching his last two fights he was standing up the whole time, so he didn't really surprise me."
In the third round, Sherk finally returned to his wrestling base. But Edgar was up for the challenge. Sherk scored on his first takedown attempt, but Edgar quickly scrambled to his feet. Edgar then stuffed Sherk's final two takedown attempts, including one in the final seconds, in which Edgar pulled guard and locked Sherk into a guillotine choke as time ran out.
"I knew I had to step my game up," Edgar said. "Sherk is a former lightweight champ. I'm not going to hold my head too high though. I want a shot at the title."
Sherk, meanwhile, caused a brief behind-the-scenes panic after the fight, as he bolted from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in his fight shorts and gloves before submitting to his postfight medical exam. He was reportedly spotted in the vicinity of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, about a mile away. Sherk, who was not among fighters subjected to a random postfight steroid exam, returned about 20 minutes after he left and submitted to his commission exams.
"He was just upset that he lost," said Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer. "This is a guy whose only losses were to [Georges] St. Pierre, [B.J.] Penn, and [Matt] Hughes. Now he's on the first fight of the pay-per-view and he loses and where does he go from here? I sympathize with him."
Sherk did not immediately return phone calls after the fight.
The crowd at the MGM Grand sure seemed to think veteran referee Yves Levigne made a bad call in stopping the Kyle Bradley-Philippe Nover undercard fight just 1:03 in. But the replays vindicated Levigne's work.
Bradley (14-6, one no-contest) dropped Nover (5-2-1) with a huge slam and followed up with a nasty right that connected square on the grounded fighter's face. Nover flopped onto his stomach and appeared to go limp after eating a couple more punches, at which point Levigne halted the match.
If Levigne did make a mistake, it was that he hesitated to break up the two fighters immediately, and Nover regained his bearings in the interim. But the fact remains that at the time the match was called off, Levigne saw a fighter who appeared to go unconscious after taking damage and he can't be faulted for erring on the side of caution, regardless of what the fans in the stands may have thought.
"I actually was watching on TV in the back," White said. "I felt when [Nover] got hit with that punch his shoulder dropped to the canvas and the ref made the call.
"I thought [Nover] was out too. Those guys have to make split-second decisions and I'm not going to second-guess something like that."