Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Frankie Edgar sat cageside at Patriot Center on Monday, his immediate future in the hands of two other fighters. If Nate Diaz won, Edgar would get a title shot. If Gray Maynard won convincingly, Edgar must win another fight first.
Nate's a teammate," Edgar, the 5-6 UFC lightweight said before the fight. "We're all under that Gracie flag. And the circumstances definitely make it easy to cheer for him."
That was the prevailing thought leading into the main event at Ultimate Fight Night 20 in Fairfax, Va. But Maynard was so uninspiring in his split-decision victory, UFC president Dana White said the next day that Edgar would get the shot against champion BJ Penn. That fight is likely to be April 10 at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, although nothing is official yet.
Lesson learned: Finish fights, or look convincing in sending the bout to the judges. Many thought Maynard lost the fight, and count Fightin' Words among them. That makes six straight that went the distance for Maynard (10-0). Not good.
Even one of his trainers wasn't sure about a title shot, and we'll trust this guy's opinion. "I think he's capable of beating BJ Penn right now," UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture said. "But I think a little more experience would help, too."
So Maynard is off to get more experience, and Edgar, from Toms River, N.J., will prepare for the toughest fight of his life. Penn has never looked more dominant than in his past two fights.
Is Edgar, a wrestler with an ever-improving stand-up game who lost to Maynard in 2008, really ready for Penn? "Why not?" said Edgar (11-1, 6-1 UFC). "Say I do come up short. I'll definitely see what my flaws are and I'll be able to improve them quicker than if I never fought for it."
Let's pause for a moment to appreciate Edgar's attitude.
Edgar, 28, thrust himself into the contender conversation last May when he pounded on Sean Sherk, winning a unanimous decision against the former champ. He followed that with an impressive submission victory over Matt Veach last month.
Now, the kid from Jersey who trains and coaches with the Rutgers wrestling team has reached the penultimate moment of his career. One more mountain to climb, the tallest in his world.
"You have to have a little extra in your tank, a little extra on your technique," Edgar said about facing Penn. "He's great at everything. He does not really have any weakness. His conditioning may have been his weakness, and it seems like he fixed that. A lot of guys try to come in there with a game plan, maybe some tricks. I just think you have to be better than him. That's a tough feat, but I'm up for the challenge."