If the news that former UFC lightweight champions Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn were going to fight each other a third time (this time at featherweight) after coaching the next season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' (TUF) came out of left field to you, you're not alone. Edgar feels the same way.
"Last week, pretty much," Edgar said of when he received the offer to fight Penn on those terms. "I reached out to Dana [White], said 'What's up, what's going on?'. He said he'd call me back and then hit me with that news. I definitely didn't expect it," Edgar told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "It's exciting nonetheless. Coaching the show is definitely good for your career and it's something I've never done before. It's exciting."
For Edgar, it wasn't just that the offer to fight Penn at featherweight came down made it surprising. The reality is a fight between he and Urijah Faber was being discussed, but ultimately didn't work out in negotiations. Edgar didn't want to go to bantamweight while Faber didn't want a featherweight bout. White refused to do a catchweight. When the Penn angle appeared in the picture, the UFC and Edgar switched gears completely.
"If the weight classes could work, obviously it would've been something new to do," Edgar remarked. "Obviously I fought B.J. twice. Fighting Urijah would be something new, something I could've looked forward to, but it's going to be fun to coach against B.J. He's an interesting character, obviously a legend in this game. He's down a new weight class. It'll present a different challenge."
Besides, Edgar notes matter of factly, when "Dana calls me, asks about B.J. [Penn]. I usually say yes.
"You know me, I'm pretty much a yes guy," he confessed. "I made some phone calls to the team and told them, but they were all supporting it. They were all cool with it, so it worked out."
A third fight between Edgar and Penn is intriguing for many, especially one contested at featherweight. The stakes and spotlight are naturally going to be heightened by the Fox Sports 1 exposure. But after beating Penn twice, many are wondering what Edgar really gets out of this.
Despite previously stating he wasn't that interested in spotlight or heavy media intention when he last competed against Charles Oliveira, Edgar is beginning to have a change of heart at this career juncture.
"You know what it is, it's the show," he acknowledges. "That's first and foremost. Coaching the show is definitely something that's going to help my career. Look at some the past coaches. They're some of the most popular guys in the UFC. I felt it was going to happen sooner or later and this is how it had to happen.
"B.J. is calling me out, saying he can beat me," he notes. "My competitiveness also comes into play."
Edgar isn't necessarily excited about the process, though, which he says begins in mid-October. But he's doing what he can to make it work. His family will be joining him in Las Vegas. Familiar coaches Ricardo Almeida, Mark Henry and others will be on staff. The legendary Renzo Gracie, who once fought Penn, is also likely to be making an appearance on Edgar's behalf.
This late into his career, Edgar is also reflective of Penn and how his now long-time foe has changed. Whatever shortcomings Penn has had recently, Edgar believes there's a reason to believe a correction to featherweight can fix much of them.
"I think his best performances of late are at 155," Edgar argues. "The guys at 70 are getting bigger and more athletic. They cut more weight.
"At 55, [Penn]'s not super sucked in. I think he can make 45. Supposedly, hearing from Dana, he's really motivated. I know you hear that a lot, but hopefully he makes it, gets down and we can have some fun at 45."
And by fun, Edgar means devastation. He and Penn have spent ten rounds together, but neither has been able to really gain the upper hand. With a third crack at the mixed martial arts legend, Edgar wants to change that. This time, things have to be different. Definitively different.
"In conversation, I said I want to finish B.J. That's what I did. I said 'I want to finish him.' Obviously he called me out, the last two wins weren't convincing enough for him for him to say 'I'm done'.
"I gotta give him a reason to say, 'I don't want to fight this guy no more.'"
Now more than ever, Edgar believes he's poised to do such a thing. He's started off things nicely at featherweight and believes he's far better and more comfortable with the process of fighting than he's ever been. "I haven't been sitting around these last three years. I've been in the gym every day. Even when I don't have fights I'm in the gym improving. My confidence is getting better and better. When I first fought BJ, I was a little in awe. It's B.J. Penn, you know? The second time around, you could see my confidence built from there. Now we've got a three year gap and I've done what I've done. My maturity is going to show in this next fight."
Still, questions about what the show can do for Edgar abound. Penn is no slouch or irrelevant figure, but he literally has no resume at featherweight. As Edgar sees it, though, a strong performance against Penn piggybacking off of the exposure from TUF is just the sort of magic elixir he needs to kill two birds with one stone.
"My aspirations are always going to be towards the belt," Edgar admitted. "This may be a little sidetracked because I'm going to be out of competition for a while. I'm fighting BJ, who hasn't fought at 45."
And that's where Edgar sees the real benefit of being on the show. Competition matters, he notes, but there's no substitute for being the guy people want to pay money to see.
"It's not always about who is most deserving," the former champion concedes. "It's about who is the most popular and can sell the most pay-per-views. This show can only help that."