With Even More Weapons, There Are Few Questions Left About ‘The Answer’

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Frankie Edgar had seen “those guys” before. You know the ones – they can blister the mitts or a heavy bag, but when it comes time to use their striking in sparring or in a fight, all that technique goes flying out the window and something gets lost from the brain to the hands.

That’s not an indictment; it’s just a fact, and sometimes, a fighter simply can’t develop the skills to strike at a serviceable level in a fighting situation. Unfortunately, he will find this out the hard way – in sparring or in a fight – and it will be a painful lesson.

Edgar, with nearly four years in the pro MMA game after a successful high school and college wrestling career, had slowly, but surely, built these skills, but ten fights into his career, he hadn’t been forced to rely on them yet.

Sean Sherk was going to change that at UFC 98 in May, and as Edgar prepared to take on the former lightweight champion, he knew that what had worked in his previous fights wasn’t necessarily going to work this time.

“It was almost pressure,” said Edgar. “Most guys I was able to take down pretty easy and just beat ‘em that way. With Sherk, I knew it wouldn’t be as easy, so I really concentrated on the boxing.”

Working daily with longtime boxing coach Mark Henry, Edgar honed his striking to a fine edge. When the bell rang against Sherk, it was a Frankie Edgar fans hadn’t seen before, as he used straight punches, quick feet, and slick head movement to baffle Sherk while piling up the points. And when Sherk looked to turn the tables, either Edgar was gone or back on his feet within seconds after being taken down. At the end of 15 minutes, the scores were a foregone conclusion: 30-27 across the board for Edgar, who scored the biggest win of his career and gave opponents something new to worry about at the same time.

“It was just a great stepping stone for my career,” said Edgar. “It definitely gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could beat a former world champ. It’s a step towards where I want to go, and that’s the title.”

As for his surprising striking display, Edgar humbly deflects the credit.

It was my boxing coach,” he said. “He just really believed in me, and with him believing in me as much as he did, I guess I started believing in myself. When it was working in the first round, I wound up sticking with it, and I think the fight situation definitely brought it out in me more so than anything else. I think anybody can show up on the mitts and do what they have to do and force themselves in sparring to do what they have to do, but when it was game time in a fight, that’s when I seem to really take a hold of it.”

Edgar certainly wasn’t one of “those guys”, and as he keeps adding new wrinkles to his game, he becomes a tougher puzzle to figure out. This Saturday, Matt Veach will give it a shot, and if we learned anything about the Illinois native from his come from behind win over Matt Grice in February, it’s that he won’t be discouraged if things don’t go his way early, and that he’ll keep pushing until things do go his way.

“I don’t really know much about him and haven’t seen many of his fights, but I know he comes from a great camp, is a big, strong wrestler, and has power in his hands, so I’m looking forward to a pretty scrappy fight,” said Edgar, who had been preparing for an all-New Jersey showdown with Kurt Pellegrino before ‘Batman’ was forced from the bout due to injury.

“I was training for him for well over a month,” said Edgar. “When anybody pulls out of a fight, it’s disappointing, and even more so since we’re both local guys. But it’s part of the game, and you see all these guys getting hurt left and right, so it is what it is.”

A win over Pellegrino also would have been a solid entry on Edgar’s resume as he looks to make a case for a title shot. Veach, with just one UFC win (he’s 11-0 overall), is the classic high risk replacement opponent – dangerous, but without the mainstream name recognition of Pellegrino. Both fighters know this, and while Veach sees Edgar as his ticket to the next level, the Tom’s River product isn’t planning on letting Veach punch that ticket this weekend.

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” admits Edgar. “I know he’s trying to make his name, just like one time I was trying to make my name in this game. I’ve got to make sure he doesn’t make his name off my back.”

To make sure of that, there have been plenty of long days spent at Ricardo Almeida’s gym, the All-Star Sports Academy, and at Rutgers University, as Edgar looks to keep the momentum going in a UFC career that has already seen him beat Sherk, Hermes Franca, Spencer Fisher, Tyson Griffin, and Mark Bocek, with his only loss coming in April of 2008 to Gray Maynard. A record like that has gotten Edgar plenty of attention, and when you consider he’s added Shari Spencer, the manager of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, to his team, you can expect to see a lot more of ‘The Answer’ in the coming months and years.

“There’s been an impact already and I’ve seen more exposure,” said Edgar. “To be honest, I feel comfortable with her (Spencer). She’s a very honest person and she really cares about helping me out – and not for monetary reasons only. That’s the biggest thing – that we have a good relationship – and I can see a bright future here.”

The same can be said for the 28-year old Edgar’s career, especially if he can beat Veach and extend his two-fight winning streak. And that’s as far into the future as Edgar will look…well, maybe he’ll look one fight past Saturday ahead, but only for a fleeting moment.

“The division is very stacked, I think I’m one of the players, and I think I’m close,” he said. “Obviously I’ve got a tough fight against Veach and he’s a dangerous opponent, just because he’s kind of an unknown. So I have to win that one pretty convincingly and then possibly a win over a big name like (Kenny) Florian, Clay (Guida), Diego (Sanchez), or Gray. I think a win like that would definitely get me a title shot. But it’s up to the UFC, so we’ll see what happens.”

And we’ll also see what new tricks Frankie Edgar brings to Vegas this weekend.

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