Frankie Edgar is hoping for a storybook ending to his legendary career on Saturday night at UFC 281. A reminder that unyielding determination and unwavering commitment can overachieve in a sport cluttered with brazen attitudes and shock value.

A remarkable fighter who competed at the highest levels in three different weight classes, including holding the 155-pound crown at just 5-foot-6. Rarely has a fighter seen such longevity at a world-class level. It is a fitting farewell for one of our sport’s greatest folk heroes, inside one of sports’ greatest venues, Madison Square Garden, just a drive away from his native New Jersey.¬†

“I never wanted to be a guy to announce anything,” Edgar told CBS Sports. “I was just going to walk away. That was my goal. But I realized if I don’t say it, I probably won’t walk away. So that’s why I’m saying it and making me hold myself accountable and finally closing that door.

“It’s weird retiring. I’m 41 years old and retiring, so I have a lot of life to live. I’m excited about that… I’m an all-or-nothing guy. I’ve always tried to prepare for the future, but my sole focus is fighting always. I never wanted to get a gym or get something that took my focus away from that because I wanted to focus on the fight itself.”

Check out the full interview with Frankie Edgar below.

UFC fighters often change the scenery as their careers progress. Fighters switch camps to improve their quality of training, salvage tanking careers or due to in-fighting. Edgar is resolute in keeping the same company for his entire 17 years as a pro fighter. It is a testament to the chemistry between him and coach Mark Henry. The only life they ever knew, Edgar and Henry stepped into the wild world of MMA together in 2005.

“It’s been amazing because Mark is a special dude,” Edgar said. “I was the first guy he ever held pads for. I never really hit pads. So it was our first time doing it together.”¬†

“He’s like my brother,” Henry told CBS Sports. “Every time I prepare a fight for him is like my little brother is going into the Octagon. So it’s always important to me and it’s always special.”

Edgar had his first brush with the UFC while auditioning for season five of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2007. Edgar (5-0 at the time) rarely puts the cart before the horse, but he was certain that an invitation to the “TUF” house was guaranteed. But the invitation never found him. It was a tough pill for Edgar to swallow but powerful fuel that propelled him from rejection to a headlining UFC champion in three years.

“I was bummed,” Edgar said. “I remember coming home and one of my buddies I was with, he got a callback for the audition to go to Las Vegas. I never got that callback. I waited a couple of days and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I hung my head for a little bit. I’m not one to really sulk in my sorrows. I went back to work, I was a plumber at the time, and I kept fighting locally until I got picked up. A couple of months later, I got that call.”

That call was to fight fellow undefeated fighter Tyson Griffin at UFC 67 in February 2007. Edgar was in control of the fight heading into the closing minute. Suddenly, Griffin snatched a devastating kneebar that had Edgar in serious trouble. Edgar bit down on his mouthpiece and endured excruciating pain, knowing he was seconds away from winning his UFC debut. The round expired and Edgar limped his way to the center of the Octagon to have his hand raised. It was his grit more than the performance preceding it that impressed UFC matchmakers and fans.

“It popped twice but I was not tapping. There was no way,” Edgar said. “He would have had to take [my leg] home with him.”

“I have pretty good kneebars and I got it deep,” Griffin told CBS Sports. “I popped it once in my hands. I put it under my armpit and popped it again. It’s one of those gritty wrestler things. It’s not necessarily the smartest saying but, ‘pain is temporary and pride is forever.’ He was willing to take that pain to become victorious.”

UFC Debut: Frankie Edgar

Edgar was as tough and gritty as ever in his UFC debut at UFC 67! Still mixing it up all these years later…#UFCVegas7

Dive into Edgar’s UFC career | https://bit.ly/31g0DfM

Posted by UFC Fight Pass on Thursday, August 20, 2020

There are two trilogies synonymous with Edgar: his nearly unparalleled 1-1-1 split with Gray Maynard and his clean sweep of B.J. Penn. The Maynard fights stand to date as some of the best case studies on the sheer limit of the human spirit. The Penn fights were the changing of the guard from one generation to the next.

“When I fight someone, I think about that person every day. I don’t even know them at all, but I think about them every day,” Edgar said. “So when you think about someone for that long, you share something with them. Unfortunately, no matter what, whether you’ve won or lost, you share something with that guy forever. I definitely appreciate the battles we’ve had.”

Maynard washed over Edgar in their first meeting at a UFC Fight Night on April 2, 2008. Maynard validated his “Bully” moniker by repeatedly taking down Edgar en route to 30-27 scorecards from all three judges. Edgar’s takedown defense was certainly in question, but never his heart.

“Gray just crushed Frankie,” Henry said. “I think he took Edgar down nine or 12 times in three rounds.

“I grabbed the towel and I was screaming, ‘Give me the towel, give me the towel.’ Nobody gave it to me. I grabbed it and I’m about to throw it and Ricardo [Almeida] grabbed it out of my hand. Frankie would have killed me. Not only that, but it might have changed his whole legacy, you know? So thank God Ricardo grabbed the towel out of my hand.”

The loss to Maynard was a reality check for Edgar. Unparalleled toughness would only get him so far. A newfound dedication to grappling rewarded him with wins over Hermes Franca, Sean Sherk and Matt Veach. That run led to his first UFC lightweight title fight. Penn, the reigning lightweight champion at the time, was coming off a title defense against Sherk after beating Joe Stevenson.

Edgar and Penn exchanged leather for 25 minutes at UFC 112 in April 2010. All three judges scored the fight in favor of the challenger (50-45, 49-46 and 48-47) yet the public had a different impression of the fight. Eight out of nine media members tracked by MMA Decisions scored the fight in Penn’s favor, along with 66.5% of fans polled. An immediate rematch was scheduled for August of the same year. Now upgraded to the main event, Edgar erased any doubts about his claim to the lightweight throne. “The Answer” submitted a perfect score: receiving 50-45s on all three judges, winning seven-of-seven unofficial media scorecards and 96.6% of the fan vote.

“I knew Frankie was going to be a tough fight. I knew he was going to be ready and I knew he was very hungry,” Penn told CBS Sports, later adding, “Frankie Edgar is the real-life Rocky Balboa. He’ll get hit, do a 360 backwards, get his butt kicked all over the ring, come back and knock the guy out.”

There was no question after the second Penn fight that Edgar was the superior fighter, but Edgar could not make that claim against everyone in the division. A shadow loomed over Edgar ahead of UFC 125 on New Year’s Day in 2011. The plucky underdog had become champion, but how would he fair against the rugged “Bully” in Maynard that mopped the floor with him three years prior?

“This guy has never been rocked. He’s never been dropped. He’s never been taken down. He’s way bigger. He already beat you,” Henry said of Maynard. “Just going into it was such a monumental task.”

Maynard’s superior wrestling was a non-factor in their rematch. Maynard dropped the champion with a left hook a little more than one minute into the opening round and preceded to drop Edgar four more times in pursuit of the finish. Edgar, nose bloodied, found a moment of reprieve before suffering two additional knockdowns — including one that sent him into a literal tailspin. There is perhaps no greater expression of Edgar’s indomitable spirit than this moment. Badly beaten and bloodied, Edgar kept moving and throwing punches on a foundation of jelly legs. He miraculously survived the round.

“I’m in the corner and he doesn’t know what round it is,” Henry said of Edgar. “I’ve seen many fights. I’ve never seen anybody come back like that.”

Shockingly, the blue corner was not fairing much better. Maynard was on the downswing of an adrenaline rush and had poured everything he had into finishing the fight.

“I remember going back to my corner like, ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to get off this stool, let alone four more rounds,” Maynard said. “I threw like 100 power punches. You have the lightweight title locked up in your mind. And then you don’t, then you do, then you don’t. I just remember looking at him at the end of the round and he definitely wasn’t there, but I was just like, ‘This guy’s a savage. This is so f—ing cool!”

Edgar outstruck Maynard in the second round and even executed a slam against the standout wrestler. The remainder of the fight was far more competitive than Round 1 teased. Following five rounds of gruelling combat, the fight was ruled a split draw. It was deemed by many among the greatest fights in UFC history.

“The dude is going to be there every second of every minute of every round of that fight, which really just drives you to be better,” Maynard said. “He was really one of those guys that really upped my game. That made me up my game more and more and more. From the first fight to the second and then to the third fight. We both had injuries and there was a lot of stuff going on. It was great to compete against him. It really was.”

The final instalment in their cinematic trilogy drew parallels to their second volume. Maynard froze Edgar with a whipping uppercut and sent the champion into retreat with a clinch knee. A more patient Maynard kept the pressure on Edgar and looked for his opening, eventually dropping his rival with a short right hand. It should come as no surprise by this point that Edgar willed his way to the end of the round. The champion emerged from his stool in Round 2 and took the fight to his foe. In their saga’s most conclusive fight, Edgar knocked out Maynard in Round 4 to retain his UFC lightweight championship.

“I think we brought a lot of eyes to the lightweight division,” Maynard said. “We let everybody know that the new names can still be just as good, if not even better. It was really one of those changing of the guards, changing of the stars. We did what we had to do to compete against each other, but also to bring people’s eyes and awareness to that division.”

This story was framed around Edgar’s unyielding determination and unwavering commitment, but the beauty of Edgar’s career is that everyone tells the story a little differently. Friends, foes and fans draw from 35 fights and 17 years of source material to apply in whatever way it impacts them most.

“From the first day, he’s on time training. Twenty years later, it’s the same way. He acted like a white belt his whole career. He’s humble from day one and he has the same humbleness at the end. I was supposed to train him and be his coach. He was my coach,” Henry said. “He’s the biggest 5-foot-6 man that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“He’s a blue-collar worker who didn’t want to be a plumber,” Penn said. “He went and took his chances at fighting and became a world champion. And you can’t say Frankie Edgar’s name without saying, Mark Henry. Those two guys took this sport to another level, without a doubt. They helped in the evolution and creation of the future of MMA.”

While Edgar is most often characterized as Rocky, Maynard drew comparisons to Russell Crowe’s performance as world heavyweight champion boxer James J. Braddock in “Cinderella Man.”

“It’s just a storybook movie about a good person,” Maynard said. “A movie that people can learn from. The good guy wins. You know that the good guy wins. The down-to-earth family man that kept with his team and the same coaches. Just just a good movie that would make you like happy about people and humans. Like, this guy’s awesome, you know?”

Regardless of how Edgar’s story is digested and applied, there is only one person that can spark its legend.

“When you see me fight, you know that I put my all into it and I want to win,” Edgar said. “When people tell me that, not even winning, ‘Damn, you fight with so much heart.’ That’s what it’s all about to me because I never go into fights saying, ‘I’m going to show my heart tonight.’ I just fight. The fact that I do and people appreciate it, that’s what it’s all about.”

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