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Frankie Edgar explains why he accepted non-title fight against Brian Ortega at UFC 222

Frankie Edgar’s road back to gold grew even more snakebitten earlier this month when featherweight champion Max Holloway was forced to withdraw from the pair’s rescheduled title fight at UFC 222 after suffering a leg injury in training.

The bad news arrived just three months after Edgar’s first scheduled meeting with Holloway, a Dec. 2 fight at UFC 218, was similarly scrapped due to an injury suffered by Edgar. And after effectively being shelved since May, Edgar said he was tired of sitting around and waiting. So rather than sidelining himself again until Holloway was healthy, “The Answer” opted to remain on UFC 222’s card, helping to save a pay-per-view in dire need of star power.

He’ll now fight fellow top contender Brian Ortega on March 3 in a short-notice co-main event that will determine the next challenger to Holloway’s throne. And on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, Edgar discussed his frustration with the whole situation.

“I was pissed, man,” Edgar admitted to host Ariel Helwani. “Obviously we were supposed to get down in December and I got injured, and now here we go, he gets injured, so it’s just unfortunate. It’s the way things go. I was bummed for a little bit, a little bit depressed, but you know, I got over it, man. I just wanted to stay on the card. I’m itching to fight, it’s been too long, so here we are. Now we’ve got to fight Ortega.”

Edgar explained that his long layoff since his win over Yair Rodriguez was the primary factor that drove his decision to remain on UFC 222.

Edgar is 36 years old and isn’t sure how many years he has left in the sport. He only fought once in 2017 because of the unfortunate circumstances that surrounded the Holloway fight, so at some point, he had to prioritize maximizing his earning potential over waiting around for an ideal opportunity, even if that opportunity was already supposed to belong to him twice.

“Man, I haven’t fought since May. I just didn’t want to wait,” Edgar said. “Time’s ticking and I want to get in there. Last time I got (hurt), I think, three weeks before the fight, so I have a bunch of camps under myself and no fight to show for it, so I just want to go in there and put my skills to use. I only get paid if I fight, so I definitely want to get in there.

“I’m glad it was Ortega, because it makes the most sense,” Edgar added. “He’s No. 3, right under me, and that actually makes the most sense for the division. But yeah, at that point, man, I was just wanting to make sure I had someone to fight.”

Edgar said that once he knew Holloway was officially out, he told his manager Ali Abdel-Aziz to simply find him a fight, regardless of opponent.

A move to Feb. 24’s UFC on FOX 28 event was briefly discussed, but ultimately the UFC settled on a No. 1 contender matchup against Ortega, a 26-year-old submission wizard whose undefeated run includes a dazzling second-round guillotine over Cub Swanson last December at UFC Fresno.

“He’s game. He’s about as game as it gets,” Edgar said of Ortega. “He’s not scared to sit there and throw with the best of them. He’s got a very slick guard, dangerous jiu-jitsu game. So he’s a dangerous opponent and I’ve got to give him credit to jump on this fight on short notice. But I think he got a new contract, he could take my spot, so he has a lot of things on the table that could get going for him too.

“Holloway’s no joke either on his back and with his submission game, and their body types are very similar, so it wasn’t too much of a change,” Edgar added. “And I’ve got (coaches) Ricardo Almeida and Mark Henry in my corner always adjusting things as we go, so I know I’m confident in my preparation and what these guys have been working on.”

Ortega is a worthy consolation prize for fight fans disappointed about UFC 222, but also an extreme risk for Edgar.

“T-City” has won five consecutive Octagon appearances against increasingly difficult opposition. All of those wins have come via stoppage, both by knockout (Clay Guida, Thiago Tavares) and submission (Swanson, Renato Moicano, Diego Brandao).

But Edgar has played the part of spoiler for up-and-coming prospects in the past, and with the window of his fighting prime beginning to inch its way closed, the former UFC lightweight champion said the push to stay busy took precedence over his chase of two-divisional gold.

“I’m not saying the belt lost its value,” Edgar explained. “I mean, to me, I still hold it pretty high, something that definitely is one of my goals that I want to check off before I’m all said and done. But you’ve got to fight. We’re prize fighters. I need to fight for a prize. I don’t get paid unless I fight. It’s not like basketball or baseball, you get some guaranteed money. I only get paid when I’m in that Octagon, so I’ve got to get in there and make sure I get mine.”

Edgar noted that while the UFC hasn’t specifically told him a win over Ortega would net him a shot at Holloway, he would be stunned if it didn’t. He also expressed interest in fighting on April 21 in what would be a hometown affair at the UFC Fight Night event in Atlantic City, although the New Jersey native was quick to preface that by reiterating that his focus first rests solely on toppling yet another red-hot contender off his perch.

“I take pride that I win when people don’t think I’m gonna,” Edgar said. “I don’t think like, ‘Oh, I’m going to ruin this guy’s plans,’ or anything like that. I just want to make sure my plans stay intact, and that’s what I do: Go out there and just try to win fights. I don’t care if I’m fighting a guy that I’m supposed to beat, not supposed to beat, younger, older. The objective is still the same, I want to go in there and win.”

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