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With the years piling up, Frankie Edgar starting to feel the urgency of his career: ‘Time’s ticking’

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Frankie Edgar fights Brian Ortega at UFC 222.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — In an era of cheapened stakes and interim titles, Frankie Edgar remains a throwback to a simpler time in mixed martial arts.

It’s part of the reason why he accepted a short-notice, non-title fight against undefeated contender Brian Ortega at UFC 222, despite the fact that a title shot against UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway already belonged to him. While many fighters would’ve shied away from the risk and waited out their chance at gold — and Edgar even received plenty of advice to do the same — he wanted to compete on March 3 simply because that’s what old-school fighters do, consequences be damned.

“My fans don’t want to see me not fight. Even some of my friends were telling me to wait and sit … but I think the real fans just want to see guys fight,” Edgar said Thursday at UFC 222 media day. “They want to see good fights. Titles, all this interim stuff and everything, picking and choosing nowadays, it’s definitely left a little bit of a stain, I think, on the sport, so if I can just go out there and just put on a show for everybody, that’s [what I want to do].”

It’s the kind of mindset fight fans have come to expect from Edgar, who at 36 years old, finds himself becoming one of the old dogs on the lighter-weight circuit.

While many of the contemporaries from his era have faded away, “The Answer” remains as relevant as ever, a winner of seven of his last eight, even as his 37th birthday looms. It’s common to see similar longevity from athletes in the heavier weight classes, where power can offset the loss of fast-twitch muscle fiber, but rarely do fighters of Edgar’s size find success well into their late-30s. In that way, what Edgar has done is increasingly remarkable. But even he knows it can’t last forever, and that crunch of the clock is something Edgar has become acutely aware of as his time left in MMA wanes.

“I just want to be active, period,” Edgar said. “I haven’t fought in almost in a year. I didn’t want to sit out for a year. But yeah, I’m not going to get these days back. Time’s ticking. I’m 36 years old; don’t feel it, don’t look it, but it’s the facts and I’m not going to get those years back. So I don’t want to sit idle and let those years pass.

“I want to get some fights under my belt.”

That urgency has led Edgar to the familiar situation he finds himself in for UFC 222, staring down the barrel of a matchup against a hungry young contender, hearing all about how said contender grew up watching the exploits of “The Answer.”

Just last year, Edgar was tasked with a similar duty when he took on Yair Rodriguez at UFC 211. Rodriguez was the red-hot prospect, the flashy newcomer vowing to use the former lightweight king as a stepping stone toward something greater. And Rodriguez lost badly.

Edgar hopes to make history repeat itself on Saturday.

“[Ortega] is a great submission guy, but I think his gameness is the biggest thing,” Edgar said. “He’s been down. In his UFC career, he’s been down in a lot of his fights and he finds a way to win, even in third round. I think he has the most third-round finishes. That just goes to show you that he’s more game than probably, maybe anyone I’ve fought. That’s a dangerous guy. You can be up on the cards and think you’re smooth sailing, and he’ll find a way to win. So I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent focused.

“It’s only three rounds. You give up that first round, you’ve only got two to make it up, so you want to make sure you go out there and start hot. A five-round fight, you can maybe give up that first round, start slow and pour it on, especially someone like myself. But I’ve got to make sure I’m guns blazing out the gate.”

MMA is a sport that religiously feeds its old to its young, so Edgar knows UFC 222 won’t be the last time he’s thrust into a potential changing of the guard matchup. They’re going to become more commonplace the longer he stays in this game, whether it’s Ortega or Rodriguez or the next hungry youngster at 145 pounds.

But even as he embarks on Year 13 of an MMA career that’s stronger than ever, Edgar is content to keep sending those challengers right back, and smiling all along the way.

“After the fact, it’s nice to say I told you so,” Edgar admitted, laughing. “In the lead-up, man — I believe in myself and I’ve been doubted early in my career, in the middle of the my career, in this part of my career — I feel like everybody doubts me, and you can’t pay attention to those people, so I kinda try to just worry about myself and I’m confident in everything I do. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll definitely be one to say I told you so.”