Frankie Edgar didn’t need to compete at UFC 222 in Las Vegas, but he did anyway. Already considered a lock to be the next man in line to face 145-pound champion Max Holloway — whom Edgar was originally scheduled to meet last Saturday before an injury to Holloway ruined those plans — Edgar merely needed to wait for his opportunity.
But waiting has never played much of a role in Edgar’s career with the UFC, though it cost him dearly this time around.
Edgar opted to remain on the card, accepting a short-notice, three-round fight against a dangerous opponent, Brian Ortega. Most assumed Ortega’s lone path to victory, much less becoming the first man to finish Edgar as he vowed to do, would come via submission. Edgar learned the hard way what complementary skills Ortega had to offer in addition to his unparalleled grappling game: vicious knockout power.
Ortega landed a crushing standing elbow in the opening round, stopping “The Answer” with a powerful uppercut that handed the former lightweight champion his first stoppage defeat in MMA.
In victory, Ortega now becomes the No. 1 contender for the 145-pound title, expected to face Holloway later this year.
Edgar, meanwhile, must go back to the drawing board — not only to correct what mistakes he made in his sixth career defeat, but to decide what comes next in his storied but aging career.
As we see it, Edgar has three options available to him at the moment: moving back up to lightweight, staying at featherweight, or finally giving bantamweight a try. We’ll take a look at all three.
Moving up to 155 pounds
There are a handful of reasons to justify this decision, but none bigger than the man who sits atop the division (for the time being, anyway). Edgar has several times been attached to a fight with Conor McGregor, none of which ever came close to culminating in an actual dance inside the Octagon.
First it was at UFC 189 in 2015, when McGregor was in need of a short-notice opponent for an interim featherweight title fight following the fallout of then-champion Jose Aldo. Edgar’s name was thrown into the mix as a replacement, with the New Jersey native previously noting he was both ready and willing to step in. The UFC ultimately opted for former title challenger Chad Mendes, resulting in a second-round KO finish for the Irishman. Mendes later admitted he wasn’t physically prepared, having only a few weeks to condition his body for a five-round fight.
Next came shortly after UFC 194 that same year. One night before McGregor cemented himself as the undisputed champion with a 13-second KO against Aldo, Edgar defeated Mendes to become the No. 1 contender. There was, at the time, nothing to prevent Edgar from facing the champion… except McGregor never actually defended his featherweight title, seeking a second championship three months later to leave Edgar in the cold.
McGregor’s first attempted crack at 155-pound gold fell by the wayside after then-champion Rafael dos Anjos suffered a last-minute injury. Edgar was once again sought as a short-notice replacement, only to have to turn down the opportunity due to a groin injury. McGregor went on to face Nate Diaz.
Years later, the two were once again tied to a five-round foray, with McGregor throwing his name into the ring as a potential replacement for Holloway at UFC 222. It’s unclear how genuine an offer it was on McGregor’s part, considering he reportedly requested the fight take place for the 165-pound title (there isn’t one). That didn’t stop McGregor from noting after Edgar’s loss that “The Answer” deserved the sort of limelight (and payday) associated with fighting “The Notorious.”
If Edgar is to ever have any chance of fighting McGregor, it will likely need to take place at 155 pounds.
Stay at 145 pounds
Despite Saturday’s defeat to Ortega, Edgar remains one of the most elite fighters to ever compete at 145 pounds. Since debuting in the division in 2013, Edgar has gone 7-3, with his only losses coming to Aldo (twice) and Ortega. He defeated a slew of top contenders, including Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes, Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez.
In essence, Edgar’s loss at UFC 222 in no way indicates that he is unfit to compete with the elite of the featherweight division. In fact, every moment leading up to the fight-ending sequence against Ortega essentially proved he could do more than just hang. Edgar was the one dictating the action, bouncing in and out of range to frustrate his taller, longer opponent. It wasn’t until the standing elbow that Edgar had his fate sealed, but he was winning every exchange before that.
What’s more, there’s the off chance the UFC will give Edgar a pass on this loss. After scratching the company’s back by helping boost a lackluster card, Edgar could potentially have his back scratched by remaining in the mix as a featherweight title contender. It’s not clear how many more wins Edgar would need to pile up before having another shot at the title, but there isn’t another fighter on the roster with an impermeable case to be ahead of “The Answer,” either.
Move down to 135 pounds
This represents arguably the most exciting move Frankie Edgar could make for his career, for a number of reasons.
For starters, while Edgar did in fact do the UFC a favor, there’s no guarantee it will be returned. He is now 0-4 in his last four tries to attain or defend UFC gold, with two of those coming in the division he currently calls home. While he may not be far off from a third try at the featherweight title, there isn’t currently a single opponent to propel him back to that pedestal either. The only names that come to mind are Jose Aldo and Jeremy Stephens, both of whom Edgar has already faced. He defeated Stephens in late 2016, and lost to Aldo for a second time earlier that year. There’s only so much he could prove in a rematch with either of those two.
As for a move to 155, a bout against McGregor seems like a long shot considering how far back he would be in the line to vie for a dance with the Irishman. What’s more, his ability to compete against larger competition is likely not what it was back in 2012 in his early 30s. Succeeding at 155 pounds, a division that boasts far more formidable talent than it did when he was excelling at the start of the decade, would be unlikely.
That leaves us with 135 pounds, a weight class more than ready to welcome a former champion.
The title scene appears backed up at the moment, with Cody Garbrandt, Dominick Cruz, Raphael Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera and Marlon Moraes all populating that sect of the division. But that’ll soon clear itself up, with Garbandt and Cruz due back in the cage soon, and Rivera facing Moraes later this year.
Assuming Edgar still has a few years left in his career, a move down to 135 pounds could finally afford him the second championship he has long pursued.