Given the rapid-fire growth of the UFC and the ‘what have you done for me lately’ nature of pro sports, it’s almost inevitable that there will be someone somewhere who will look at Wednesday’s lightweight bout in Austin, Texas between Yves Edwards and John Gunderson and say ‘Who’s Yves Edwards?’
Here’s your primer.
A dynamic lightweight pioneer who has only seen eight of his 38 victories go the distance, Edwards is a pro since 1997 who never shied away from fighting the best in the business. Among the standouts he’s faced are Aaron Riley, Pete Spratt, Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Fabiano Iha, Nate Marquardt, Rumina Sato, Joachim Hansen, Mike Brown, and Duane Ludwig. And that’s just outside the UFC. In the Octagon, he’s compiled a 6-4 record, with wins over Joao Marcos, Rich Clementi, Eddie Ruiz, Nick Agallar, Hermes Franca, and Josh Thomson. If you’ve been to a UFC event in the last few years, you’ll recognize the head kick that Edwards took Thomson out, as it’s been immortalized in the organization’s pre-fight highlight reel.
In other words, if you don’t know who Yves Edwards is, you should. But if you don’t he doesn’t hold it against you.
“Honestly, I’m kinda used to it,” he smiles, “but at the same time, the past is the past. Those things are fun, and they’re awesome – at the time – but now I need to make a new mark for myself.”
It’s not what you usually hear from someone who has been in the game for as long as Edwards has been, but there are a couple reasons for that. One, at 33, he’s still young enough to make a run at the UFC lightweight crown. And two, he’s never been one to rest on his laurels. It’s not about what he did yesterday – it’s about what he’s going to do today and tomorrow that matters.
But before looking forward to Wednesday, it bears to take a quick look back to the early days, when Edwards – a native of Nassau, Bahamas – became a local hero in his adopted home state of Texas as he battled it out against all comers in this mysterious and fairly new sport known as mixed martial arts.
“It was always fun to be fighting locally,” he said. “At the time, as my name grew, I got more support from the state and when I lived in Houston, it felt like I was always fighting in Houston when I fought anywhere in Texas. And now that I live in Austin, this is like a bonus thing for me (fighting at home). But the game was so different back then. I could hear people screaming, and I love hearing the Texas accent when people are screaming and rooting for me. All those things put a smile on my face, so I’m just excited about it again.”
And in the 13 years since he turned pro, the sport has gone from being a cult favorite to an international phenomenon, with all the bells and whistles that come with it. It’s something Edwards always believed would happen, but he wasn’t sure whether he would still be around as an active fighter to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“I did think it was gonna get this far, but I thought we were still another 20 years away from it, or at least 10,” he said. “So when we see guys like Rampage (Jackson) in major box office movies or Chuck Liddell on ‘Entourage’ or Forrest Griffin on NBC or CBS TV shows, it’s pretty huge. And it’s not because these guys are good looking, because I’m better looking than all these guys (Laughs), but these guys are big, big names in the sport, and it shows how big the sport has grown, especially the UFC brand. So it’s pretty exciting and it’s a good future for a lot of people.”
For a time though, it looked like the UFC was going to take off without Yves Edwards. A stalwart of the still fairly nascent lightweight division in the early years of Zuffa ownership, Edwards’s win over Thomson as UFC 49 in August of 2004 ended up being the last lightweight fight in the UFC for nearly two years, until the division was resurrected at UFC 58 in March of 2006. In the meantime, Edwards kept fighting in the PRIDE and Euphoria organizations, compiling a 3-1 slate with the only loss coming via split decision to highly regarded Joachim Hansen, and when the 155-pound weight class was reinstated, Edwards came along with it, but he wound up losing two bouts in the Octagon, to Mark Hominick and Joe Stevenson.
Released from his contract, Edwards admits, “that hurt, but at the same time, it was understandable,” and he dusted himself off and got back to business. Winner of four of his last five, Edwards got a late notice call to fight Gunderson (whose original opponent Efrain Escudero was bumped to Wednesday’s co-main event against Charles Oliveira), and while he didn’t expect the call, he was certainly hoping for it.
“I would say ‘expecting’ is too strong a word. I was hoping it would happen, but I didn’t know how likely it was. But I was glad when it came.”
And as far as he’s concerned, the reason is obvious.
“That’s the top of the threshold, the number one spot, and for me, it’s the opportunity,” he said. “You can win every fight everywhere else and there will still be an argument that you’re not the best guy in the world. But if you can be the number one guy in the UFC, you’re the number one guy in the world.”
He’s not getting any welcome back gifts in his return though, as Gunderson is a fellow veteran who is hungry to add Edwards’ name to his own resume.
“I see a tough guy, a hard worker, and I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s done,” said Edwards of Gunderson. “He’s had 30 fights and he’s never been stopped in any of his losses, so he’s there for the long haul.”
So is Edwards (38-16-1), and he wants to make an impression in his return. Not as the local hero given a shot to fight in his hometown, but as a legit contender on his way back up to the top.
“It’s nice to have the opportunity, but like I say, I’ve only put on my shoes,” he said. “I basically just tied them and I haven’t even left the house yet. I still have to go out there and perform, and I’ve got to do everything to show everyone that I’ve earned the shot again, and that I belong. And once you’re in, now it’s time to win and re-assess your goals. Winning solves everything, so every name that I just mentioned about being in film or TV or getting a lot of publicity, all those guys are former champions. So there’s a reason for that.”
And for the creator and master of “Thug-Jitsu”, the goal remains the same as it ever was.
“If you’re doing it for any other reason, you should be doing something else,” said Edwards of winning the world title. “For me, if I’m doing something, I want to be the best at it. If I’m playing Scrabble with my mom and my grandmother and my uncle, I want to win, and they’ve been playing this game for 40+ years. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I always want to win. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I don’t like playing video games with my son because he beats me. (Laughs) I like to win, I’m that kinda guy.”
Now that you know Yves Edwards, you probably want to see him fight now, right? Well, he wants you to know that when you do, he’s going to make it worth your while.
“I want to bring those things that I’ve done in the past back,” he said. “If anybody watches me fight, I want them to have enjoyed the experience. I want people to ask Dana (White) or Joe (Silva), if they see them at restaurants or whatever, ‘When’s Yves Edwards gonna fight again?’ To do that, you have to go out there and have exciting fights and once in a while get the flashy knockouts and the creative submissions. I want people to see the best of me and the best skills I have to offer, and when I do those things, it’s when I’m in good shape and not afraid to lose. That’s where my head is at right now, so don’t blink, it’s gonna be a fun time.”