Old-school MMA fans still say plenty of great things about Yves Edwards
. He appreciates it, in a way.
A part of him likes the fact that people still remember his string of dominant years around the middle of the decade. And it's nice to hear some of them say that, had the UFC had a lightweight title in circulation back then, he might very well have held it.
It's nice, but it's not enough. Not now.
"People can say I was the uncrowned lightweight champ, but it sucks being the uncrowned champ of anything," he says. "You don't have the belt, and you never had it. I can't put 'uncrowned lightweight champion' on my resume. That hurts so bad. That really still hurts, to tell you the truth."
At 34 years old, and with well over 50 pro fights to his credit, Edwards, now back in the UFC for the first time since 2006, has reached the stage in his career where he can't help but wonder what his legacy will be when it's all over.
Will he be remembered simply as another "UFC/Pride veteran"? Will he be a member of the small fraternity of fighters who started in the late '90's and managed to keep on going into the new era of the sport?
Or will he be the guy who might have been a champ, if only the timing had worked out a little better?I want to leave behind something, a body of work that I can be proud of.
-- Yves Edwards
Just based on his record, the years between 2002 and 2005 seem to have been the best of Edwards' career to date. Those were also the years where, for the most part, the UFC effectively had no lightweight championship, meaning that Edwards might have spent his best years chasing a title that didn't really exist in any concrete way.
"I think about that a lot," Edwards says. "I used to think about it more. I try not to think about it so much now. At the time, it really, really sucked, you know? Now I feel like I have an opportunity to try and rectify that."
At UFC Fight Night 22 in September, Edwards edged out a decision over John Gunderson to clock his first win inside the Octagon since the night he caught Josh Thompson with a flying head kick back in 2004. That flashy move is still enshrined in the UFC's "Baba O'Riley" highlight video
that plays in the arena before each event goes live on TV.
The sad irony, says Edwards, is that while the kick still gets fans riled up, he doubts there are that many people in any given arena who can name the fighter who delivered it.
The last two or three years of his career have been entirely too mediocre, he says, which is why his current run with the UFC is an opportunity he's determined not to squander.
"I don't feel like I'm close to the end of my career, but I'm more realistic about things now. I know I'm not a kid anymore and I'm not invincible. I still feel that way sometimes, but in the back of your mind you know every fight could possibly be your last. I think about what I want to leave behind, and no, I don't want to leave behind the last couple of years. I want to leave behind something, a body of work that I can be proud of."
For Edwards, as for just about every fighter in MMA, that means getting gold around his waist. The respect of the hardcore fans is nice, but it's not something you can put your hands on or show your grandchildren.
"I want to make a really good run at that belt. And when I get there I want everyone to feel like, yeah, this is a legitimate fight. Ultimately, the goal is to retire with it. But at some point I feel like I have to get that belt. I have to."I have to see that belt in my house.
-- Yves Edwards
The hard part is, it's not 2004 anymore in the UFC's 155-pound class. There are no easy fights to be found. These days, every opponent is a well-rounded threat, and the ranks are thick with hungry up-and-comers.
That makes for a tough road to the top, and Edwards knows it. He also knows that, at his age, this could very well be his last shot to become an actual UFC champ.
"Getting the call [to rejoin the UFC], what it meant to me was, 'We're going to give you another opportunity to be the best in the world.' I want to take full advantage of that," he says. "If I make a real effort at it and I fall short, I can look back and say, I did everything possible to try and make that a reality. But in order for me to feel like I left behind something I can be proud of, I have to get that belt around my waist. I have to see that belt in my house."
That's a tall order in today's UFC, particularly for a fighter in his mid-thirties who's already been through 13 years worth of battles. But, as Edwards says, "If you're doing this for any other reason, you're doing it for the wrong reason."
And if you're satisfied with being an uncrowned champ, you're probably in the wrong business.