Sport

Frankie Edgar’s bantamweight reinvention puts him back in a familiar spot

It takes a lot to make what was old in MMA new again.

This October, Frankie Edgar will be 39 years old. Fifteen in MMA years, thirteen with the UFC. On Saturday, he competed at bantamweight for the first time in his career. He entered the UFC on ESPN 15 headliner with losses in three of his last four fights. He faced top contender Pedro Munhoz.

He won. And as he has been for the better part of the last decade, “The Answer” is once again in the mix for a crack at a UFC title.

We’ve been here before. Edgar is the textbook underdog and he became UFC champion as just that at UFC 112 back in April 2010 when he dethroned lightweight demigod B.J. Penn. Then, just to make sure there was no controversy, he beat Penn again four months later. Edgar successfully defended the belt three times in total, including a pair of fights in which he was out-sized and seemingly outgunned by the hulking Gray Maynard, and yet still found a way to leave the octagon with gold in tow.

A drop down to 145 pounds still left Edgar looking like the smaller man against most of his opponents and yet the narrative was the same with every fight: No one was going to work harder than him, bully him, or make him accept that he was at a physical disadvantage even though the evidence was right in front of our eyes. More title opportunities came his way, sometimes to the chagrin of fans who wanted to see fresh talent elevated. But when Edgar kept snuffing out said talent like Charles Oliveira and Yair Rodriguez, there wasn’t much of an argument to be made that he didn’t deserve every opportunity he scraped and clawed for.

Eventually, the well ran dry at featherweight too as it became evident that one of MMA’s most determined Davids was not going to get past the division’s Goliaths, namely “The Korean Zombie,” Max Holloway, and Brian Ortega. You could send those contracts to Edgar 100 times and he’d sign on the dotted line without question every time, but finally, the proud native of Toms River, N.J., made the decision to approach his next move as tactically as he does his performances in the cage.

So 135 it is and what a promising change this is for Edgar looking back at the past 48 hours. How chiseled he was at the official weigh-ins (again, the man is pushing 40). How effortlessly he stuck and moved on fight night, as he always has. How he won.

It was a best-case scenario for Edgar, and a familiar one too, as he found himself adding another outstanding five-round fight to his portfolio as well as another decision win that both impressed his loyal fans and gave more fodder to the doubters who have long wondered how he keeps getting away with it. One aspect of Edgar’s career that is without question is that he’s rarely been dominated for 25 minutes. Munhoz learned this on Saturday and even though he came out looking extraordinarily strong in defeat, it’s still Edgar who saw his hand raised at fight’s end.

UFC President Dana White mused afterwards that he and former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva had been pestering Edgar for ages to make the move to bantamweight, only to see the suggestion repeatedly shut down by the hard-headed veteran.

Where would Edgar be if he’d cut the extra 10 pounds five years ago? Would he have saved himself some damage? Unlikely, given his fighting style. How would he have fared against the likes of Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw, or Renan Barao? Would he have a second championship belt on his mantle?

It’s impossible to say, because Edgar did it his way and no matter what anyone thinks, that’s how he’s always done it. Besides, we can second guess all we want, but the fact is that after shaking up the bantamweight rankings he stands before us once more with the proverbial label of “title contender” slapped across his chest. The new Frankie Edgar, same as the old Frankie Edgar.

That’s the beauty of MMA. Time gets the better of all of us, but the greats that we’ve grown up watching sometimes find a way to maintain, persevere, and stay relevant while also putting a spin on the classics.