If Frankie Edgar hasn’t changed a lot – actually, not at all – since winning the UFC lightweight title from BJ Penn in April, it’s not hard to understand why.
As recently as mid-2007, before his third UFC bout, against Spencer Fisher, Edgar’s days weren’t filled with training, interviews, photo shoots, and time with the family. They were filled with training, interviews, photo shoots, time with the family, and full shifts as a union plumber.
Necessary, yes. Glamorous, no.
“I had to be at the shop at 7, I’d leave the job around 3:30 and I was actually coaching wrestling at the time, so I’d go coach wrestling and then go train at night from 7 to 9,” said Edgar of his pre-championship days. “It was a pretty full day, and it was tough.”
“I enjoy the lifestyle I have right now much more.”
But at the time, Edgar, just 2-0 in the UFC and 7-0 overall, was the new kid on the block, the New Jersey prospect trying to make a name for himself in the big leagues. At home, it was expected that he would eventually take over his father’s plumbing company, but he wasn’t exactly sold on that idea. He recalls a conversation with one of his older colleagues on the job.
“He said, ‘Go back to school, go back to school. Or what do you really want to do?’ I told him what I really want to do is fight for a living. He said go for it. But I really didn’t know if it was ever gonna happen for me.”
Just before the fight with Fisher, Edgar had finally reached the crossroads. He had just gotten into the union, and when that happens, what follows are night classes to learn the ins and outs of the trade. He had to make a decision, and we all know what it was.
“I told my father I was gonna dedicate myself to fighting,” he said. “That’s when I made the total commitment.”
So when did he stop paying his union dues?
“My dad still may be paying my dues,” laughs Edgar.
Fully dedicated to the game, Edgar beat Fisher over three rounds in front of his Jersey fans at UFC 78 in Newark. Then the idea of fighting as a career and becoming a world champion started to become a reality.
“After the Spencer Fisher, I kinda dominated that one and I was like ‘man, I can do this,’” he said. “Then I’m fighting guys like Hermes Franca, who was a number one contender, and I beat him, then Sean Sherk, who was the champ at one time, and I beat him. So it was more of a process for me. It wasn’t like one fight where I said I could do it. Every fight built on each other, the competition got better, and I just started to believe. I said if these guys are doing it, there’s no reason why I can’t.”
With his talent, the time to train full-time, and determination, Edgar was off to the races. But back to the original premise, and Edgar’s ability to remain the same person he was when he started this, and it comes down to the fact that he knows what it’s like to struggle for something and to make it work. When you’ve got that type of work ethic and realist nature, nothing changes other than your tax bracket. That, and the fact that his team won’t let him get a big head over anything he accomplishes.
“My team helps me stay focused,” he said. “At home, I took a week off and was back in the gym. My boxing coach (Mark Henry) is nuts (Laughs) – he’ll text me at three in the morning with stuff I need to work on and he’s always on me, so that’s probably the biggest factor, the people around me that help me stay focused on the bigger picture, and that’s just getting better. The title is obviously a big accomplishment, but all in all you just want to get better as a fighter so you can grow as much as possible.”
That had to be difficult, because in Abu Dhabi in April, Edgar – a huge underdog – upset Penn by fighting a near perfect fight. When you pull off something like that, how do you top it in the rematch on Saturday night?
“It is tough,” he admits. “Sometimes it’s not always the best fighter that wins, it’s whoever shows up that night, and I think the best Frankie Edgar showed up that night, so it’s gonna be tough to duplicate, but my biggest thing has always been to get better between each fight and try to be a better fighter than you were last time. So I’m not worried about replicating the fight so much, I’m just seeing if I can beat the Frankie Edgar from April 10th.”
And it helps by not watching his greatest MMA moment over and over and over.
“I haven’t watched it much,” he said. “I’ve recently been watching a little bit with my boxing coach and my teammates just for gameplanning and stuff to work on as far as technique, but as far as gloating and stuff, that’s just not my deal.”
So no endless Edgar-Penn loop on the televisions in his house?
“It might be on at my father’s shop,” he laughs. “He might be showing everybody over and over, but not me.”
That’s Frankie Edgar – affable, down-to-earth, and not afraid to share a laugh or two. It made his against the odds win over Penn one of the ‘feel good’ stories of the year, but there was little time to enjoy it.
“I think I got a call from (UFC President) Dana (White) that Monday I got back from Abu Dhabi, asking me to fight BJ, so I really didn’t get a chance to enjoy the title,” he said. “But it’s cool, and it’s fitting for me because it’s helped me stay driven.”
And as far as Penn getting an immediate rematch so soon, Edgar has no problems with it.
“Going into it, just knowing the aura BJ has and how long he’s been on top of the division, I wasn’t surprised by it at all – I almost expected it,” he said, before being asked if he feels like sometimes it’s Frankie Edgar against the world.
“I like that, I like the me against the world type of thing,” he said. “That just motivates me to work hard and get better. So it was cool. If anybody deserves an immediate title shot, it is BJ. He’s been tearing this division up for years and it’s kinda hard to say ‘all right, who’s next?’ because he’s done so much.”
After Saturday night though, should Edgar retain his title, there will likely be a chance for him to finally take a breath, enjoy a fall on the Jersey Shore with his wife and two kids, and settle into his role as champion…at least for a little bit.
“I think I’ll be able to step back and maybe take a breath for a second,” he smiles. “But look how many guys there are in this weight class. I don’t think I’ll be taking too long of a breath.”
"My biggest thing has always been to get better between each fight and try to be a better fighter than you were last time. So I’m not worried about replicating the fight so much, I’m just seeing if I can beat the Frankie Edgar from April 10th.”