Underdog Edgar ready to go to war against Aldo

Frankie Edgar will challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title in Las Vegas this weekend.
Frankie Edgar will challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title in Las Vegas this weekend.

Perennial underdog. Always punching above his weight. A never-say-die attitude. Incredibly tough and with an indefatigable will to win.

They're descriptions that resonate with Australians, because they're exactly the kinds of traits we admire in our sportspeople. Given they also apply to New Jersey native Frankie "The Answer" Edgar, it probably explains why thousands of Melburnians will be clamouring around screens at pubs, clubs and in their homes to watch him challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC's featherweight championship on Sunday afternoon (Australian time).

To put it in perspective — the IBF middlweight boxing title grudge match between Daniel Geale and Anthony Mundine was shown in 48 venues in the Greater Melbourne area on Wednesday night. The UFC 156 card, which doesn't feature a single Australian, will be shown in 40 venues in the Greater Melbourne area. For the UFC 156 card to attract almost as much interest as Australia's most-hyped boxing showdown in years speaks volumes not just for the UFC's growth in Australia, but for Edgar's drawing power Down Under.

There are many new questions in front of "The Answer" as he heads into his seventh successive UFC title fight (his previous six were at lightweight, a belt he held from April 10, 2010 until the first of two narrow losses to the current lightweight champion, Benson Henderson, on February 26 last year).

He is fighting at featherweight (145 pounds, or 65.77kg) for the first time, dropping back from lightweight (155 pounds, or 70.3kg).

He is coming off consecutive losses for the first time in his career.

He is overcoming the effects of a debilitating back injury which last year left him unable to even put on a pair of socks or hold his children.

Yet for all the question marks, the non-negotiables — those that make Edgar such an endearing character to UFC fans — remain.

Perennial underdog. As it has been in almost every one of his title fights or defences, Edgar is a massive underdog ($2.80 on Betstar) against Aldo ($1.44), who's rated in the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world and whose only loss in a decorated 22-fight career came way back in November 2005 in a minor promotion in Brazil.

Always punching above his weight. At just 1.68m, Edgar has been the smaller man in each and every one of his 13 fights in the UFC. Ironically, for a man who's dropping down in weight, he'll again be the smaller man against Aldo, who takes a two-inch reach and one-inch height advantage into their featherweight title bout.

Typically for a fighter who's used to defying the odds, Edgar said he "really didn't think about" the stacked deck that always seemed to face him when he stepped into the Octagon.

"It's kind of a familiar role for me — I've been the underdog for most of my fights, so I think I just go about my business," he told Fairfax Media in a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where he'll take on Aldo at the in front of a packed house at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.

"It doesn't really matter, as long as you win."

Winning is something that Edgar has become exceptionally good at, no matter the opponent. In an 18-fight MMA career, Edgar has notched up 14 wins with just three losses and a draw. In between, he's caused upset after upset — from two victories over UFC legend and future Hall of Famer BJ Penn, to a storied rivalry with Gray Maynard (with whom he shared Fight of the Year honours in their controversial draw on New Year's Day, 2011 — their second of three showdowns).

That unbeaten run ended at the hands of Henderson, the former WEC lightweight champion who took Edgar's UFC belt with a decision victory last February before scoring a controversial split points decision victory in their rematch last August.

Faced with having to make another run at the lightweight title, Edgar chose to move down to featherweight to again assume the underdog's role in a title fight against Aldo. Originally, that bout was to have taken place in October last year, but a foot injury forced the fight to be postponed until the new year.

That's been a positive for Edgar, who's been able to specifically tailor training to counter Aldo's explosive striking abilities.

"Yeah, I think it [the delay] has been a positive. I got to bring in certain guys and prepare more and get ready more for Aldo's style," he said.

"Edson Barboza and Marlon Moraes, they kind of just joined the team too, so I didn't just bring them in, they're now part of our team too. It was perfect timing."

The delay has also given Edgar more time to prepare for the drop from lightweight to featherweight. Given he naturally walks around at about 158 pounds, the cut to 145 isn't huge in the overall scheme of things, with some UFC fighters cutting 20 pounds or more in the days leading up to a fight.

"It's funny, when I was 155 [pounds] I was too small, and now it's like, 'oh, how's this weight cut?'," Edgar said.

"To be honest, it's not even much of a weight cut, so I feel normal. I think a lot of people don't realise that he [Jose Aldo] cuts more weight than I do.

"I've been eating better — I've got a nutritionist I've been working with and that's really been it. It's kind of just made me a more disciplined fighter, I think."

With Edgar now well and truly on top of his back problems — "It's nothing I've had to really deal with in this camp, fortunately" — he's been able to focus fully on preparing himself both mentally and physically for his latest title shot.

Don't expect him to change his aggressive, take no prisoners style, though. He admits that like each and every one of his previous title fights, fans can expect an action-packed, bloody war.

"I'm always trying to improve in all areas, I always try to be a different fighter as much as I can, but I'm going to go in there [against Aldo] and be myself — and that's to try to bring the fight to my opponent," he said.

"It's going to be a bit of a battle, so yeah it might end up that way [a war]."

For Edgar, secondary to winning the belt is the fact that victory would give him a unique place in UFC history as one of just three fighters to win belts in two divisions. UFC legend Randy Couture completed the feat when he added the light heavyweight belt to his heavyweight belt way back in September 2003, while Penn ruled both the lightweight and welterweight divisions at different stages of his career.

"I just think I'm worrying about winning my next fight, and that will take care of everything. It will put all the ducks in a row, in other words. So I win my next fight, I'll get my title and I'll be cemented with those guys [Couture, Penn] as well."

Win or lose, Edgar will weight up his options after the Aldo clash. There's still plenty of interest in a rematch against Henderson, given many experts and fans alike thought Edgar won their previous clash. With Jose Aldo also considering a move up to lightweight, no matter the result of their fight, there's also a chance to Edgar to have a lengthy run at featherweight.

For now, his focus is on Aldo, with all other options to be discussed post-fight.

"It's up in the air. I'm going to play it by ear after this fight, I really don't know [whether I'll stay at featherweight]," he said.

"Obviously I'll talk with my team, my family and the UFC as well ... I don't know what they're looking to do. So we'll make these decisions as we go on."

UFC 156 card

Featherweight title bout: Jose Aldo (champion) vs Frankie Edgar

Light heavyweight: Rashad Evans vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Heavyweight: Alistair Overeem vs Antonio Silva

Welterweight: Jon Fitch vs Demian Maia

Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez vs Ian McCall

Lightweight: Gleison Tibau vs Evan Dunham

Welterweight: Tyron Woodley vs Jay Hieron

Lightweight: Jacob Volkmann vs Bobby Green

Lightweight: Yves Edwards vs Isaac Vallie-Flagg

Bantamweight: Chico Camus vs Dustin Kimura

Bantamweight: Edwin Figueroa vs Francisco Rivera

This story Underdog Edgar ready to go to war against Aldo first appeared on WA Today.