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How the UFC failed Frankie Edgar and Cory Sandhagen in one fell swoop

Jordan Breen takes a look at the UFC’s panicked matchmaking, and how it cost both Frankie Edgar and Cory Sandhagen.

Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Christmas, and historically in MMA terms, it’s the moment that promoters and fans remove themselves from the sport, before the pageantry and importance of the New Year’s Eve festivities. Despite that, the announcement that Frankie Edgar had withdrawn from his slated bout with Cory Sandhagen, I couldn’t fully keep my mind away from the sport, since it just reminded me of inherent game theory in this sport, how pervasive it has become and simply how cruel it can be.

On Monday, MMA DNA was first to report that Edgar was officially removed from his upcoming bout with Sandhagen, which was scheduled to co-headline the UFC’s upcoming card in Raleigh, N.C. on Jan. 25. Quite obviously, it was as a direct result of Edgar being knocked out by Chan Sung Jung in Busan, South Korea on Dec. 21, with former UFC lightweight champ being handed a potential six-month medical suspension and above that, clearly being in no medical shape to jump back into the cage a month later.

The whole situation is lamentable, playing on the UFC’s business, leverage and often exploitative treatment that prays on long-time veterans who they consider “company athletes.” Jung was originally scheduled to face Brian Ortega in his native South Korea, before “T-City” pulled out due to injury. Edgar, who was already training for Sandhagen, agreed to step into hostile territory on barely two weeks notice, which is a testament to the dangers of being the aforementioned “company athlete,” a reputation established over his 13 years that saw him become an esteemed fan favorite. It also speaks to the tenuous, dangerous positions that UFC fighters are often put in now: with the UFC headed into Busan for the first time, there was no way it was going to cancel the main event featuring their most popular South Korean fighter and headline with Volkan Oezdemir and Aleksandar Rakic. Cancelation wasn’t an option in this case and while situations like this are inevitable in MMA, it still speaks to the perils of the UFC’s aggressive international schedule.

More than that, why Edgar was selected as the replacement when he was already scheduled to fight Sandhagen a month later is baffling. Granted, Edgar was originally scheduled to meet Jung in November 2018. But I ask, why did Edgar pull out of that fight? He suffered a bicep injury and at 38 years old, coming to the end of a gruelling career, how responsible is it to insert him into fighting an opponent as dangerous as Jung on his own turf while holding onto the absurd idea that regardless of outcome, Edgar would be fit to four weeks later? It’s lunacy.

So, it’s great that a fighter as popular as Jung got such a major win in his homeland. He professionally gained, big time. Yet, on the flipside, his win is a major loss for Sandhagen, a 12-1 fighter creeping closer to a bantamweight title shot. Now, early projections are that Sandhagen may not fight until March or April. Not only is he unlikely to get a name as big and respected as Edgar, who is to say that it doesn’t take even longer?

I just mentioned Edgar’s injury in preparing for Jung the first time around, so what if Sandhagen is injured sometime in the next three or four months, and he’s on the shelf for an untold amount of time? He is a truly elite prospect and regardless of immediate circumstance, his future should remain bright. Still, the UFC’s grinding business model – one that puts undue pressure on particular situations to lubricate and keep that machine running – has created an environment that robbed him of a major opportunity, while putting Edgar, one of their “favorites,” in a compromised position. It’s not even a zero-sum game, because there’s no way to evenly calculate how Jung’s gain relates to Edgar and Sandhagen’s losses. Almost any credible fighter under the sun would have been a better option than Edgar given the circumstances.

Again, the UFC is a business and there is no way they could have simply pulled Jung off of that card when Ortega pulled out so shortly before the event; the promotion shouldn’t be faulted for this. And I’m sympathetic to the difficult situation that it puts any fighter in to accept a fight on barely two weeks notice in their foe’s backyard, which is a major ask for any athlete. Nonetheless, whatever internal psychology or desire on the UFC’s part to even consider Edgar has put one of their best prospects on roster in temporary limbo at the expense of a fighter that has offered the company so much for well over a decade, one that the UFC is so allegedly fond of, at the expense of Edgar’s health.

Late replacements are inevitable and there will be other situations in the future when they need to find a particular fighter to step in to save the viability of a particular card. In this case, unfortunately Edgar wasn’t “The Answer,” and now he and Cory Sandhagen have to suffer for the UFC’s panicked stupidity.

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