A real life Rocky Balboa? Not quite in style, but certainly in winning against all odds. Photo by UFC.com
At UFC Fight Night 13 back in the spring of 2008, undefeated lightweight prospect Frankie Edgar inevitably met his match inside the Octagon at the Broomfield Event Center in Broomfield, Colorado. NCAA Division I wrestler and The Ultimate Fighter season five cast member Gray Maynard manhandled the smaller Edgar, taking him down with consistency over three rounds to win a dominant unanimous decision. That loss plagued the perception that Edgar could ever attain the UFC lightweight strap over the next two years.
Edgar erased those perceptions when he defeated B.J. Penn in a duology, beating the perceived best lightweight in the world at his own game in two separate bouts at UFC 112 and UFC 118. Against overwhelming odds, Edgar persevered through adversity, and we were mesmerized that this tiny lightweight from Toms River, New Jersey could win despite his physical disadvantages.
Enter Gray Maynard, Edgar's nemesis from two years prior who proved that size and wrestling could defeat the lightweight champion convincingly. As expected, Maynard was the clear cut favorite, and most analysts predicted a copy of Maynard's performance at UFC Fight Night 13. Instead, Maynard used his hands to crumple Edgar in the opening round. Edgar survived, and what followed can only be described as a miraculous showing of fortitude, enough to earn himself a draw and another day as the UFC's lightweight champion.
Saturday night at UFC 136, fans didn't expect a repeat performance. It had been nine months since their first encounter, and that offered plenty of time for both men to hone their skills, create different strategies, and implement other gameplans. Once Edgar and Maynard touched the gloves, any notion that this would be different went out the window.
Maynard pummeled Edgar in one of the most one-sided rounds we've seen all year, reminiscent of the first round barrage Edgar took in their previous bout. This time around, Maynard was more cautious and patient, landing consistently with right hands to the chin of Edgar. Edgar absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment, running around the cage in a punch-drunk daze attempting to stop Maynard's continued onslaught. Miraculously, Edgar survived once again, and deju vu settled into our minds as we intently watched what would unfold.
From the brink of defeat, Edgar returned to the center of the Octagon in the second round and outstruck Maynard while avoiding the right hand that had found its mark so easily in the opening frame. Over the next two rounds, it was an eerily similar turnaround to their first encounter. Maynard couldn't find his mark any longer, and Edgar had turned up the tempo on his footwork, circling around Maynard and popping off shots.
Dramatically, Edgar found closure to the trilogy in the fourth round, blasting Maynard with a right uppercut followed by a bevy of hard right hands to finish his nemesis off. As cliche and cheesy as it may sound, the comparisons of Frankie Edgar to the fictional Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa aren't unfounded. Edgar wasn't a brutalizing power striker who's forehead was his best defense, but he did pull off unfathomable come-from-behind victories twice in two unbelievably entertaining bouts. The Rocky series conveyed a message that it isn't over until it's over, and Edgar proved it to be true.
I don't know if Frankie Edgar will be able to drop down to featherweight and beat Jose Aldo. I have no idea if he can maintain his status as one of the best lightweights in the world for years to come. He may allow his teammate Eddie Alvarez, whenever he leaves Bellator, to take the reigns in the UFC's lightweight division. Whatever the case may be and wherever Edgar goes from here, the trilogy of bouts with Gray Maynard and the incredible fortitude and determination he displayed will go down in the history of mixed martial arts as must-see bouts for generations to come. The scrappy, New Jersey-native will go down as the man who proved, like Rudy Ruettiger, that anything is possible.