Frankie Edgar is too small, they say.
The voices dimmed a bit when he beat Sean Sherk. Some others went away when he beat BJ Penn twice. But Gray Maynard was the final hurdle. Beat a guy who manhandled you the first time, they said, and maybe we'll believe.
Edgar didn't beat Maynard, but in some senses, what he did at UFC 125 was just as impressive. Edgar survived a first-round thrashing that would have finished most fighters, and fought back from a two-point deficit to force a draw, allowing him to retain his UFC lightweight belt.
And with that, the final doubters and questioners should be silenced.
That's not to say Edgar will never lose. Of course not. Just that he has nothing more to prove about his toughness, nothing more to prove about his size. Every fight is a test of where you stand in the division, but he should never have to face any more doubts and questions about why he's in the division.
I never understood them to begin with. Edgar's been winning since he stepped into an MMA cage. Yes, he's undersized for the weight, but doesn't a fighter like that deserve respect rather than ridicule?
Don't we want game fighters? Don't we want guys who willingly answer the call and challenge themselves againt the best, all the time?
That's Frankie Edgar. He could easily make 145. He might even be able to make 135. He might have even had an easier time in those divisions, but he chose to fight the bigger, stronger guys. Those are the fighters we should appreciate. Cutting down is physically hard but mentally comforting. Fighting up is physically hard and mentally challenging. That makes Edgar one of the few fighters who knows that regardless of the opponent he'll be outsized.
Given that, what he's done is nothing short of remarkable.
I scored the fight for Edgar 48-46, believing he took rounds 2-5 with his effective striking and footwork, dancing in and out of range and leaving Maynard often swinging at air. It was a stunning comeback after what he experienced in round one.
Maynard completely decimated Edgar in the opening frame, looking like he was about to romp to a one-sided coronation as the new champ. He rocked Edgar backwards multiple times. He floored the champ with a left hook. He had him on jelly legs for nearly an entire half of the round. He fired every piece of heavy artillery at a wounded target, yet he couldn't land the killshot.
People who know Edgar well talk about how hyper-competitive he is. He can't take losing. He can't stand it, so much so that when he was a high school wrestler, any time he lost, he seriously considering quitting. It would eat at his psyche. It would gnaw at his self-confidence.
Edgar had never suffered a round like this in his mixed martial arts career. He'd only lost once before, of course, and that was against this very same opponent. And now, he was off to the worst start in his career.
While the judges' scorecards aren't known until after the fight, Edgar had to know he was down two points. In a five-round fight, against a guy who'd already defeated him, that's a huge hurdle. It meant Edgar would have to win all four remaining rounds by a 10-9 score to pull out a win if the fight went to a decision.
He nearly did it, pulling it off on the scorecard of one judge, Marcos Rosales. In the end though, it was a draw.
"Amazing," said lightweight Clay Guida, who defeated Takanori Gomi by submission earlier in the night. "Two warriors going at it. It shows you how incredible Frankie Edgar's chin is. He got dropped twice, almost three times in the first round. To battle back? I'm not going to say anything about the judging. It was a very close fight. Everyone saw that. It could've gone either way."
Guida said the fight was a lightweight version of the bout between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin, when the challenger Carwin nearly knocked out the champ Lesnar early before Lesnar rebounded to win.
Edgar didn't leave with the victory, but he left with the belt, as the title does not change hands on a draw.
He should also leave with the respect of the masses. After all, Maynard has been unbeaten throughout his career and Edgar fought him tooth and nail for five grueling rounds to even things up. Maynard is the bigger fighter, walking around at about 185 pounds between fights (Edgar's more around the 165-pound range). He's also 5-foot-8 to Edgar's 5-foot-6.
Time after time, Edgar walks in against the favorite and gives him the fight of his life. He's always undersized and sometimes outgunned. But overlooked or underappreciated? That should never happen again.