Max Holloway was 20 years old and getting set for his third UFC fight on Aug. 11, 2012, in Denver. He was appearing on the main card for the first time.
The main event of UFC 150 was a rematch for the lightweight title between champion Benson Henderson and former champion Frankie Edgar. Three months earlier, Henderson had ended Edgar’s reign as champion — which at 687 days remains the longest in the division’s history — with an agonizingly close decision in Japan.
Holloway eyed Edgar in a free moment during fight week. He was a fanboy and couldn’t help himself. He sidled up to the ex-champion and asked Edgar if he could take a photo with him.
“The guy was a legend, even then,” Holloway said, letting out a laugh. “I’d watched him on TV. He was this small guy who was taking on anybody and it was hard not to root for a guy like that.”
Holloway is now the UFC’s featherweight champion and is not only among the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA but one of the UFC’s bigger stars. He’ll defend his belt Saturday in the main event of UFC 240 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, against Edgar, the man he once idolized.
His respect for Edgar has only grown in the intervening years.
“This guy is a Hall of Famer and it’s a privilege for me to put this belt up against him,” Holloway said. “He’s not in there yet, but you know he will be. He’s a legend who has done great things, but you know what I like? He continues to do great things.”
The UFC has never had a fighter quite like Frank James Edgar and it goes far beyond wins and losses.
If Edgar wins on Saturday, he’ll set a UFC record for longest span between title reigns. He lost the lightweight belt to Henderson on Feb. 26, 2012, at UFC 144. If he defeats Holloway to win the featherweight belt, it will have been seven years, five months and two days between championship reigns for Edgar.
No one else in the UFC is even close.
It speaks to the way that Edgar has prepared himself and stayed ready. It speaks to his courage and will to win. How else could he have battled back from three first-round knockdowns on Jan. 1, 2011, against Gray Maynard to come back and earn a draw to retain the belt.
He was a champion at 155 when his walking around weight was never any more than about 160. His opponents were cutting 15 or 20 pounds and had huge size advantages, but it never concerned him.
He’s 23-6-1 overall and is 17-6-1 in the UFC. He’s beaten two men who are already in the UFC Hall of Fame, B.J. Penn and Urijah Faber, and his list of opponents are a who’s who of the greatest featherweights and lightweights in the modern era.
There were the two fights against Penn and the two featherweight title bouts with Jose Aldo. There was the non-title fight with Faber in the Philippines and the two tough losses to Henderson in back-to-back fights. He taught rising star Yair Rodriguez a lesson when they met at UFC 211, and took a fight he didn’t have to accept against Brian Ortega that cost him a shot at Holloway much sooner.
Edgar’s a humble guy who has never been one to sing his own praises. Even he understands the enormity it would carry within the sport if he’d win another title so long after losing his first one.
“The fact I’ve been in this so long is getting a lot of attention, and I get it because I don’t think anyone has been in the top position, right there at or near the top, for as long as I have been,” Edgar said.
UFC president Dana White asked rhetorically, “Who doesn’t love Frankie Edagar?” and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the immediate family of the guys he’s facing, and even then, only in those few moments they’re in the cage.
Edgar made his UFC debut on Feb. 2, 2007, against Tyson Griffin, who was 8-0 and had already scores significant wins over Faber and Duane Ludwig by the time he fought Edgar.
That bout came not long after Edgar failed to be chosen for the cast of Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” With 44 seconds left in the bout, Tyson Griffin caught Edgar in a kneebar.
Joe Rogan, who was doing color commentary on the broadcast along with play-by-play man Mike Goldberg, kept shrieking, “Oh! Oh!” as Griffin torqued Edgar’s knee.
“Oh! I’m tapping and I’m not even in there,” Rogan exclaimed with 22 seconds left, when Edgar had been in the kneebar for 22 seconds.
Edgar refused to tap and as the final seconds ticked off, Rogan added, “I think Frankie Edgar is going to get out of this round, but I don’t think he’s going to have a knee that is functional.”
Edgar survived it, as he’s survived so much over the years. But he’s never backed down. The secret, beyond his incredible pain tolerance and desire to win, has been his ability to continue adding to his game.
“I would say my persistence and my will to be the best,” Edgar said when asked about his longevity at or near the top of the rankings. “I’m in the gym a lot. I’m not a guy who just kind of gets ready for fights. In between fights, even when I’m injured, I’m trying to get better. I’m always looking to improve. This sport isn’t a new sport any more, but it’s still a young sport compared to others, and it’s evolved quickly.
“If you don’t evolve with it, you get left behind. Basically, I’ve always looked to improve myself in one way or another so I was current and could compete at the highest level.”
Few are at a higher level than Holloway is now, and oddsmakers see it as a tough chore for Edgar. Holloway is a minus-400 favorite to retain his belt.
Holloway scoffs at the odds, because few love this sport more than he does and he’s seen up close what Edgar is capable of doing.
“If I win this, I’ll regard this right up there with my best wins, because this guy is a legend in our sport,” Holloway said.
And though Edgar’s 37 and closer to the end than the beginning, he doesn’t see this as a last-gasp shot. He plans to win on Saturday, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get back in line and fight his way to another shot at the title.
It’s what he’s always done and if he says he has a lot of good fights left, who’s to doubt him?
“I know everybody thinks I’m going to lose and Max is going to just destroy me and all of that, and that’s fine,” Edgar said. “If I worried about what everyone else said, I probably never would have done this in the first place. Nobody knows better than me what I’m capable of doing and I feel fully capable of going out there Saturday and winning that fight.
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