Frankie Edgar keeps dispelling doubts
There is always this question mark hovering over Frankie Edgar: No matter how many wins the UFC lightweight champion compiles, there are those who wonder when the ceiling will collapse on him. Edgar is either too small or not talented enough to continue winning, according to those doubters. Being champion has to have been some sort of fluke.
But one man who has never questioned Edgar's ability to reach the top and remain there is highly respected Muay Thai coach Phil Nurse.
A recent addition to Team Edgar, Nurse came aboard earlier this year to prepare the Toms River, N.J., based lightweight for his first fight with then-champion B.J. Penn. From their first training session together, at Nurse's Wat Gym in Lower Manhattan, the coach knew he had a special fighter.
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Edgar (13-1-0) had the physical skills to compete with anyone at 155 pounds, but Nurse already knew that much. There were other criteria he wanted to see from his new pupil before fully committing to him.
And Edgar did not disappoint.
"With every fighter I train, there are three things that must be in place," Nurse told ESPN.com. "If one of them is out of sync, this ain't going to work.
"You have to believe in me as your coach. When I tell you to do something, you do it. Whether it makes sense or not, you just believe in me and you do it," Nurse said.
"Do I believe in my fighter? If I am training them, I believe in them. I wouldn't put all my time into training a fighter if I didn't believe in him.
"And finally, do they believe in themselves? If one of those things isn't in place, the fighter isn't going anywhere."
Edgar not only met each of Nurse's requirements, he surpassed them -- and continues to do so. The current lightweight champ has been so impressive that Nurse compares him to another of his star pupils, UFC welterweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre.
While physical talent is a major element to succeeding in mixed martial arts, there are others that lead to championships: Both Edgar and St. Pierre, for example, are extremely hard workers. Nurse points out that after 15 straight rounds of sparring, he often will ask Edgar to give him five more.
Not once has Edgar complained or attempted to slow his output during the extra stanzas. Other fighters might believe they've done enough to satisfy the day's workload, but not Edgar.
Edgar's work ethic and cardio is becoming legendary at the various gyms where he trains in the New York/New Jersey metro area. But it's self belief that Nurse said makes Edgar, as well as St. Pierre, an exceptional fighter and human being. And in Edgar's case it's more impressive, considering that his abilities are constantly scrutinized by outsiders.
There was a time when Edgar did care what outsiders said about him, but not anymore. Being a husband and father has given the 29-year-old a different outlook.
"It doesn't bother me, not at all," Edgar told ESPN.com. "In the beginning of my career, I used to be on the websites; I used to be a fan. Now I'm not.
"I watch fights to see teammates compete or to study my opponents. But I've taken a step back," he said.
"I now [fight] because I love it. My family supports me. My teammates support me. They believe in me, so I don't care if no one else believes in me."
Edgar will carry this confidence into the Octagon at UFC 125 on Jan. 1 in Las Vegas, where he will defend his title against the only mixed martial artist to have defeated him -- Gray Maynard.
Their first fight, on April 2, 2008, was a wrestling affair. The difference in that bout was Maynard's larger physical frame. He was able to overpower Edgar en route to a unanimous decision. But the rematch is expected to look a lot different.
On the feet is where Edgar-Maynard II could be decided. And that is where Nurse's contributions to Team Edgar will be most evident.
Maynard (10-0-0, 1 no-contest) has been working diligently to improve his boxing. But when punches and kicks start flying, Nurse says the edge will go to Edgar.
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"Gray is known for his wrestling," said Nurse, whose talent pool includes former UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans and 205-pound contender Jon Jones. "His stand-up has gotten considerably better, but I don't think it's on the level as Frankie's.
"We're not going to underestimate Gray's stand-up, but wrestling is his comfort zone. That's his strength."
Maynard is confident his stand-up skills will match Edgar's on fight night, and maybe even exceed them. The difference, according to Maynard, is that in Edgar he will face a relatively conventional stand-up fighter. Maynard hasn't had the luxury of standing across from an orthodox fighter in quite some time.
"Since the first fight with Edgar, I've faced southpaws every time," Maynard told ESPN.com. "All five guys were southpaws, so I haven't gotten a chance to let my hands fly because it's a whole different ballgame.
"They [southpaws] are counterpunchers, and it's a waiting game. That's why the change has been a little slow; I understand it. But I didn't want to play into their game," he said.
"I'm not going to try to explain this to everybody. I've been fighting lefties every time, so people haven't seen my hands yet. Nobody likes fighting lefties, not even lefties."
Nurse expects to see an improved Maynard on Jan. 1, but he doesn't expect it to matter. He has seen the intangibles that Edgar brings into the Octagon -- and believes they will decide the fight's outcome.
Those intangibles are very similar to those of St. Pierre, who showed them in his recent rematch with Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 in Montreal.
There is a lot of Georges St. Pierre in Frankie Edgar.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.