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Editorial: Frankie Edgar shouldn’t retire, but his post-fight reaction is instructive for those that should

Frankie Edgar may not consider retirement after his loss to Cory Sandhagen, but his UFC Vegas 18 post-fight thoughts are instructive for those who should.

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It’s tough to learn much from a quick knockout. In another universe, Gray Maynard clearly had the capacity to knock out Frankie Edgar. But that’s different from constructing ways to beat Edgar on an axis of consistency, or repeatability. That’s a bad example because Gray almost did knock Edgar out (twice no less!) but you get the idea.

Still, every now and then, a quick KO can teach us: less about what happened, and more about what it represents. It took 0:28 seconds for Cory Sandhagen to separate Edgar from consciousness. And what a separation it was.

So, does this represent the end for Edgar? Should it? There’s obviously nothing to be ashamed of. Sandhagen is one of bantamweight’s true elite, coming off a KO win over another (former) elite contender in Marlon Maraes. He’ll probably be fighting for the title this year. Meanwhile, Edgar was coming off a solid win over a top-ten fighter in Pedro Munhoz.

It’s no surprise, then, that for Edgar, a brutal KO like that is just business as usual. After all, he’s dished out his own brand of energizer bunny brutality.

“On Saturday, I was as prepared for a fight as I could have been. Props to Cory Sandhagen, he landed a perfectly timed and executed bomb on me, luckily I don’t remember it much lol. This game can be a cruel b-tch and Saturday night was just that, but I ain’t panicked. I been here before,” he said on Instagram.

I’m not interested in making a case for Edgar’s retirement. That’s his decision to make. I’m more interested in unpacking Edgar’s statement above, because I think it’s instructive for future veterans, and future prospects who will one day be veterans itching to stay past their expiration.

I was as prepared for a fight as I could have been.

Edgar has never been anything less than a consummate professional, so we can reasonably assume he’s never done anything like bite an opponent on the ribs. It’s telling then, when you do everything possible, put so much work into what you do, and yet have it all undone in twenty-eight seconds. Self-awareness might be the default attitude for the quirky kid who wants to talk about movies, or anyone else extremely online. But a professional fighter who can be critically injured at any time during a contest? They need to weaponize everything. And whatever isn’t a weapon must be weaponized: be it hopes, dreams, or delusions.

That’s a virtue inside the cage. Outside of it? Less so. What does that say about the fighter who comes in so thoroughly prepared, and yet loses so thoroughly? It makes the unflattering argument that preparation is no longer the support to a fighter’s abilities that it once was. That’s when fighters should listen: when preparation and performance are no longer the double helix of mouthpiece biting violence they once were.

This game be a cruel b-tch. I been here before.

Cruel for who? That seems like an obvious question, but I don’t think it is. Edgar sees MMA as a cruel beast. ‘You win some, you lose some’. That’s the sport’s nature. But he’s talking about the sport solely from his perspective. What he means to say is that ‘this game can be cruel, to me...for now.’ What if he said what the statement truly meant? ‘This game can be cruel to us all.’

In this light, the fighter has to suddenly think about fighting in the abstract, instead of fighting as merely a collection of wins and losses. Rather: fighting as a series of contests, each leaving a different scar, to making a living for yourself and others. I think that’s an important distinction for fighters to make; especially as they near retirement. In MMA, the cruelty is the point. Thinking about cruelty as a shared experience may leave fighters feeling more self-aware about their longevity, more willing to listen to the advice of others (i.e. family and friends who consider it “time”), and perhaps even contribute to the role as thoughtful judgment against those who need to retire.

I don’t think Edgar needs to retire. He still looks good. Hell, he still looks fresh. This isn’t the horrific downward spiral that is Penn’s story. But Edgar used a lot of important words in his Instagram post: prepared, cruel, game. Is he prepared for the next cruel game? Or this game of cruelty catching up with his preparation?

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