Frankie Edgar is in the gym, working as hard as he’s ever worked to prepare for a fight, even though there is no championship or even the promise of a title shot at stake.
But UFC 205 means a great deal to the former lightweight champion, who faces Jeremy Stephens at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12 in the first UFC fight in New York state since 1995.
Back then, there was no such phrase as “mixed martial arts,” and whatever the UFC was in those days was living precariously on the edge. It relied upon slick marketing that appealed primarily to the renegades in the population.
It had such a small audience at the time that in 1997, when then-New York Gov. George Pataki signed a bill outlawing the sport in the state, there was barely a peep of protest, and none of it from outside the state.
That didn’t last long, though. Because of the efforts of UFC president Dana White and former co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, New York metropolitan area fighters like Edgar were pleading with the state government to overturn the ban so they could fight at home in front of a home audience.
“It’s New York, the most famous city in the world, in my opinion, and it’s at Madison Square Garden, the most known arena in the world,” Edgar said. “That’s a big deal. You’re talking about the media capital of the world, and the fact that we couldn’t be there [for] so long, yeah, it makes you want it that much more.”
He’s got it, though he wishes it were under decidedly different circumstances.
Edgar easily could have been in the main event for the featherweight title against Conor McGregor instead of in a preliminary card bout against Stephens. He was promised the title shot in December after obliterating Chad Mendes. But when McGregor opted to fight for the lightweight title instead of defending the featherweight belt against Edgar next, that set into motion a series of events that led the UFC to create an interim belt.
Edgar fought Jose Aldo for that title at UFC 200, and lost a surprisingly one-sided decision.
So instead of being in the main event on the most anticipated UFC show ever, he’s a bit player in the mega-production.
That, though, is fine with him as he’s never been one to worry much about the spotlight. He’s a low-key guy who simply loves that he can take care of his family while at the same time indulging his passion for fighting.
“Look, a title shot is a whole different thing, but this is a show I wanted to be on very badly and I have a fight that I think people are going to like,” Edgar said. “I don’t think I’m going to have to go looking for [Stephens] in the Octagon. He’s going to come after me, and we’re going to battle it out.
“I’m not one to dwell on things. The important thing is, we have this big card in New York and it’s going to change things for the better for the sport. You’re already seeing that. There was always a lot of ignorance about our sport, but you’re seeing more and more [media coverage in New York] and ESPN is talking about us a lot, so that’s important.”
Edgar is ranked No. 2 at featherweight, and is well positioned to get another title shot if he keeps winning.
His buddy and training partner, lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, is getting the shot at McGregor in the night’s main event. But McGregor is expected to defend the featherweight belt in his next outing, and so Edgar knows he needs to stay ready.
He had won five in a row prior to the loss at UFC 200 in his rematch with Aldo, but despite the strong recent trend, he finds himself somewhat in the position that former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion Urijah Faber is in.
He has a strong recent trend, but he’s lost his last four title fights: He was beaten by Aldo (at UFC 200 and UFC 156 for a version of the featherweight belt) and by Benson Henderson (at UFC 144 and UFC 150 for the lightweight belt).
He’s not discouraged, though. Aldo is threatening to retire, and other than that fight, Edgar had looked sensational in reeling off five consecutive wins.
“I think I’m just one shot away from the title,” Edgar said. “Just what I’ve done, my body of work, that’s the way it goes. Guys get hurt, something happens and you never know. They need someone to fill in and I can always be that guy.
“And I have options, because I can fight at different weight classes, though I’m still hoping to come up with something at . I feel like I’ve got a good run ahead of me, in one of several divisions if need be. I just have to keep winning and that should take care of everything else.”