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For Frankie Edgar, the correct 'Answer' is less damage, more gold

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Three-and-a-half hours into the six-fight main card in Manila, after Neil Magny lost (then won) and an inspirational performance by Mark Munoz in his swan song fight (then a moving speech), Frankie Edgar became a nightmare of efficiency. In what was dubbed a "superfight" against former WEC champion Urijah Faber, Edgar was pretty freaking super. He sprinted to the cage and executed a game plan in a game so easily given to chaos.  

What a determined effort that was.

And after 25 minutes of technical precision, all the bragging rights went to the UFC's erstwhile lightweight champ. Biggie trumped Tupac. East beat West. Toms River flowed that much deeper than the Sacramento River. "The Answer" outclassed "The California Kid." Edgar -- who was fairly quiet in the lead-up to this super-quiet "superfight" in the far-off Philippines -- made a point of reminding UFC president Dana White he was owed a title shot. At this point, the UFC should probably listen.

It should either be Edgar versus Conor McGregor -- two diametrically opposed forces with a mile of technical appeal -- or Edgar-Jose Aldo II, which would be par for the course since Edgar rematches just about everybody, and sometimes rematches the rematches.

Whatever the case, Edgar is primed to challenge for the featherweight belt again. Yet it’s all a little odd, this reshaping of perception. It wasn’t all that long ago that people considered Edgar one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the game. That was back when he was vastly undersized in every fight and getting nicked up in his victories. These days he’s left out of that discussion for the most part, yet he’s walking out of the Octagon in near-mint condition.

And that’s the difference that has emerged with Edgar in the smaller frame; throughout his residency at 145 pounds he’s truly minimized the damage he takes. There was a time when Edgar would bleed at the touching of the gloves. Gray Maynard, who nearly killed him not once but twice, left his face a purple wheezing mess. Ditto Benson Henderson after a pair of five-round wars, one -- at UFC 144 in Japan -- which featured a brutal upkick that would have flattened lesser men.

People expected to wince through Edgar’s fights back in those days when we hailed him as great. Not anymore as he tiptoes back into that discussion. This version of "The Answer" contains the best parts of the former one (the flickering, countering, triple-jabbing, wrestling, combo-throwing dervish mania) without the nasty price tag (his chin, if you haven’t noticed, has become a mirage).

It’s true that Edgar didn’t win his featherweight debut at UFC 156 against Aldo, but he began to enact a change in philosophy. He began to deliver his punches in volume with a keen sense of self-preservation. He learned to utilize his quicks to this end. In last four fights -- against Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn, Cub Swanson and now Faber -- Edgar dishes far more than he receives. He doesn’t have to bleed to know he’s in a fight. These days he just sticks to the script.

Maybe that’s why his striking coach Mark Henry was shouting out combinations for him to try in French on Saturday. Henry, who’s been with Edgar for years, has been pounding home the concepts of longevity since before Edgar dropped down. They communicate in various languages to remain unknowable in the course of a fight. It's their thing. But the bigger point is that Edgar hears the instructions, and he adheres to his game plan. Has it worked? Edgar has looked more aware of himself -- and more dominant -- in his early-30s than he did in his late-20s.

Saturday was another example of Edgar at his finest. Faber, who has never lost a non-title fight, couldn’t get much going. Edgar, with the jagged movement of a lie detector test, peppered him from afar. He used his takedown attempts to effect, and controlled the space. He generally disrupted Faber’s rhythm, and -- at times -- rendered him helpless. He cruised to a victory against a guy who doesn’t get handled like that too often.

And when it was all said and done, Edgar looked like he could go another couple of rounds if need be. He didn’t show the signs of the struggle. It was the new Frankie Edgar showcasing himself in the "superfight" in Manila, the one who keeps his wits about him while carrying out an assignment.

So what should his next assignment be? To either avenge his last loss, or to upset the entire country of Ireland. This version of Frankie Edgar looks capable of either.

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