For most of Frankie Edgar’s accomplished career in the UFC, the calls from outside the cage were loud and clear.
“Why don’t you fight at 135 pounds?”
It took almost nine years from the time he last successfully defended his lightweight crown — most of that time competing at the smaller featherweight class — but he finally gave the masses the bantamweight debut so many craved much more than he had, winning a nail-biter of a split decision over Pedro Munhoz last Aug. 22.
If Edgar can follow that debut with a victory over fellow highly-ranked 135-pounder Cory Sandhagen on Saturday from UFC Apex in Las Vegas in a UFC Fight Night co-headliner on ESPN+, it could put him back into a world title fight for the 10th time and in a third weight class. In his mind, this is a No. 1 contender fight.
The long-awaited move down from his 155-pound championship weight went well for Edgar (24-8-1, 11 finishes) beyond the result of the fight. It came without the harsh weight cutting some in the sport inflict upon themselves to achieve a perceived competitive edge.
“I felt good. I’m a disciplined dude. I got down early,” Edgar told The Post over the phone on Tuesday. “I got a nutritionist. UFC [Performance Institute director of nutrition] Clint Wattenberg helped me out big time, and it was rather seamless. Looks like it’s going that way again this week.”
Even before Edgar beat future UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn for the lightweight crown in April 2010, as one of the five biggest betting upsets in UFC championship history, he heard the talk that he was too small for 155 pounds. But, at the time, lightweight was the lightest division in the promotion and his only chance to compete on MMA’s biggest stage. It wasn’t until a year later when the lighter featherweight and bantamweight divisions were created.
After three successful title defenses and a pair of close championship defeats by decision, Edgar finally made the drop to 145 pounds with a shot at champion Jose Aldo right off the bat. He would fall three times on the scorecards in championship fights during his run at featherweight, but an 8-1 mark in non-title fights between 2013 and 2018 speaks to how well he fared at the weight.
But even then, the 5-foot-6 Edgar was among the smaller men at 145 pounds. He typically walked around at 155 pounds or so, occasionally reaching 165 “when I was trying to get a little bit bigger.” That’s more typical of 135-pound fighters, and it is why the calls to get to a lower weight never went away despite the drop to featherweight.
In the wake of his July 2019 championship defeat at the hands of Max Holloway, Edgar finally resolved to give bantamweight a chance. His debut was to be against Sandhagen (13-2, eight finishes) last January, but a need for a short-notice featherweight headliner against Chan Sung Jung a month earlier pushed off his debut.
Falling by first-round TKO, Edgar left 145 behind for the Munhoz fight. And in his first competitive test at 135 pounds, he says his body responded just fine, without worry about the need to eat to stay bigger.
“When I fought that night, I felt as good as I did at any fight I’ve been in,” Edgar said.
“Now, I just don’t need to overeat. I’m not the biggest foodie, I guess you could say, except [during] fight week [when] I’m thinking about it all day,” he added with a laugh.
Now 39 years old, every fight counts even more for Edgar. While he has defied convention by continuing to excel nearly 16 years after his pro debut in an underground fight in The Bronx — at a time when MMA was not sanctioned in New York — the clock is not on his side.
But the proud Toms River, N.J., native says he doesn’t find it difficult to get up for training in the morning, and his family is firmly in his corner to continue his combat sports career into his 40s.
“My family is all game, man,” Edgar said. “They don’t want to see me stop either, I don’t think.”
Now rebooked to face the 28-year-old Sandhagen, who says he began training MMA as a teenager around the time Edgar first beat Penn, the former champ knows to expect another action-packed fight. His opponent from Aurora, Colo., owns one of the UFC’s more statistically active striking ratios in the promotion’s history, landing 6.88 strikes per minute,
Edger’s no pot-shotter himself. He likes to stay active with footwork and head movement, mixing in striking combinations with the occasional takedown attempt that a former collegiate wrestler like him has been executing virtually his whole life. He’s happy to have an opponent this weekend who’s willing to engage throughout their scheduled three-round bout.
“That’s just great. I’m not gonna look for him. He’s gonna be right in front of me,” Edgar said. “He’s gonna come and try to score, and I’m gonna try to score. Sometimes, that could play against him. It could play against what his style is. I’ve gotta be able to weather that storm and try to be able to dish it out myself.”