Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn are ready to do it again, one of them out to prove their first go-around was no fluke and the other in search of a vastly different outcome.
Edgar stunned the mixed martial arts world four months ago in Abu Dhabi, when he upset the heavily favored Penn to win the lightweight title at UFC 112. The everyman from New Jersey stole the show in the UFC’s first foray into the Middle East and its first event outdoors, with a victory that still resonates as one of the biggest surprises in the sport’s young history.
Edgar and Penn are headed back inside on Saturday night for their rematch. The fight is the main event of UFC 118 from the TD Garden, marking the UFC’s first trip to Boston.
“I still hold BJ in high regard. I mean, he’s a legend in this sport and he is still the greatest lightweight of all time,” Edgar said earlier this week. “The last fight, it made me force myself to bring the best out of me and now I have to do it again.”
In the co-main event, former boxing champion James Toney will makes his first appearance in the cage when he faces Hall of Famer Randy Couture.
They’ll leave center stage to Edgar and Penn, though.
Their first fight in a temporary arena next to a theme park outside the city center of the United Arab Emirates’ capital was almost like a ballet. The two spent nearly the entire fight on their feet trading strikes, with Edgar using his speed and movement to pick Penn apart.
Edgar (12-1) won all five rounds on one judge’s scorecard and four on another, falling to his knees when the result was announced. Then he took his new title back home to New Jersey, where a caravan of friends and fans welcomed him home with open arms.
“It was great, man. I actually had a little convoy meet me off the parkway and all, kind of had, like, a champion’s welcome for all the way to my house,” Edgar said. “It was cool.”
That was just about the only spoils that came with his victory, because life back home got hectic in a hurry. Edgar’s wife, Renee, gave birth to their second child a few weeks after the fight, and there was quite the honey-do list waiting for the lightweight champ.
“To be honest with you, man, you come home that week and you’re definitely on a high,” Edgar said. “But back to work. I had my second son in between these fights, so go home and change diapers, taking out the trash, just like anybody else. I stay pretty grounded.”
Penn is different in that respect, even though he prefers to keep a low profile himself.
The humble Hawaiian superstar has traveled the world preaching the gospel of mixed martial arts, becoming one of the sport’s most popular fighters. The first American-born man to win a world jiujitsu title, Penn has become more professional over the past couple years, swearing off drinking and partying for a life of proper conditioning, diet and coaching.
It’s hard to argue with his success.
Penn (15-6-1) has been almost unbeatable at lightweight, which makes his April loss to Edgar all the more surprising. Three of his losses came when Penn tried to fight at welterweight – two against Georges St. Pierre and one to Matt Hughes – and another loss came when he fought Lyoto Machida in Japan and was outweighed by about 30 pounds.
“When I first started fighting, I thought I was God’s gift to fighting,” Penn said. “I thought I would go 100 in a row with 100 knockouts, and I just sit back and I look at my record and I just can’t believe that I have six losses. It just blows me away.
“But every time you get a loss, you take a different path and you get back on the right journey of why you started this thing in the first place,” Penn added, “because it’s a journey of never ending – you never stop learning.”
Penn admits that he’s not very big on watching videos of his fights, especially the ones that he loses. Reliving the punishment isn’t always such a good thing.
But this time, Penn made sure that he understood what went wrong in his first fight against Edgar, taking away from things that he did well and not so well, and finding the holes in his opponent’s game that he believes he can exploit on Saturday night.
“If people are putting Frankie as the underdog, that’s exactly how I feel,” Penn said. “I’m the underdog. I’m the guy that doesn’t want to let the sport pass him by.”