Were he a businessman, the former UFC champion might have made a different decision. But Frankie Edgar has never tried to be anything other than a fighter.
So when UFC suggested it could replace injured featherweight champion Max Holloway with unbeaten, No. 3-rated Brian Ortega of Harbor City, Edgar didn’t balk. He accepted the fight that will serve as Saturday’s UFC 222 co-main event to the women’s featherweight title defense by Cris Cyborg at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I’m itching to get in there. I was supposed to fight [Holloway] in December and got hurt … and then he gets hurt four weeks before this fight,” Edgar said. “That’s two training camps in a row. I want to perform and put my hard work to use.
“I want to get in there. I want to get paid. Honestly, I just want to get to work.”
Edgar (21-5-1) has fought just twice since July 2016. He suffered a broken orbital bone during a November sparring session and was forced to scrap his first scheduled shot at Holloway.
On Saturday, he draws a highly regarded up and comer who might be the most resilient and sophisticated opponent of his career. Ortega, 27, has a record of 13-0. But Edgar, 36, knows his window of opportunity for a title fight might be narrowing.
Despite the age difference, Ortega’s camp is not taking anything for granted.
“Any fighter loses a step with age, but with his hard training ritual, anything can happen in a fight, whether the guy’s young or old,” James Luhrsen, Ortega’s boxing coach, said of Edgar last week. “It’s like an old dog. When you put him in a cage, he’s got bite in him.”
“I feel this is my time. I can feel my body peaking, how the workouts that once made me sore feel like a warm-up now,” Ortega said.
“Why not go for greatness and take this guy who was supposed to be fighting for the world title? He’s never been finished in his life. Why not be the first? There’s these visions that might scare me, but they motivate me.”
Edgar says at this point in his career, he has the wisdom to deal with whatever fighting style an opponent presents.
“There are adjustments, but I don’t train for one guy. I train to be the best fighter I can be,” Edgar said. “I’ve seen a lot of different styles in my career. I’ve fought a guy like Ortega, guys that are crafty on their back and can sling ‘em on their feet. I believe in my preparation. I’m not a one-trick pony.”
Edgar said Ortega was “the future of our sport in the 145-pound division. I know he’s a very dangerous opponent for me — I won my [lightweight] belt at 28 — but I like a challenge.”
The stakes to win were raised further for Edgar last week when current lightweight champion and former featherweight champion Conor McGregor posted on Instagram that he sought to fight Edgar following the Holloway injury.
“I put my name forward to step in at UFC 222 to face Frankie Edgar … but I was told there wasn't enough time to generate the money that the UFC would need,” McGregor wrote. “I was excited about bouncing in last minute and taking out the final featherweight …”
Fighting McGregor would provide Edgar the opportunity of becoming a rare UFC two-division champion, but Ortega is a major obstacle to clear in order to reach such a match.
“You’re only as good as your last fight, and that point is especially true in this situation,” Edgar said. “I could’ve waited for the title shot. I didn’t. A lot’s on the line. I know that.
“But to me, a lot’s always on the line. I never want to lose a fight. I put pressure on myself no matter what, and I’ve been fighting the best guys in both divisions ever since I threw my hat in the UFC ring.”
Besides, Edgar isn’t certain McGregor really had much of an interest in fighting him.
“I think it’s Conor being Conor, being opportunistic to keep his name in the news cycle,” Edgar said. “I don’t think he’ll come back and fight me. We’ve had many opportunities to cross paths, back when he wasn’t a champion, when he was hungry and didn’t have all this money. And now that he’s in this position, I don’t think he’ll fight me.
“But it would be a shame if I don’t have him on my record when all is said and done.”
Main event: Cris Cyborg (19-1), Costa Mesa, vs. Yana Kunitskaya, Russia, (10-3), for Cyborg’s women’s featherweight belt
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
When: Saturday, pay-per-view portion begins at 7 p.m. Pacific
Television: Pay-per-view, $64.95; preliminaries on FS1, 5 p.m. Pacific
Undercard: No. 2 Frankie Edgar, New Jersey, (21-5-1) vs. No. 3 Brian Ortega, Harbor City, (13-0), featherweights; Sean O’Malley (9-0) vs. Andre Soukhamthath (12-5), bantamweights; No. 10 Stefan Struve (32-9) vs. No. 12 Andrei Arlovski (26-15), heavyweights; No. 6 Cat Zingano, Chula Vista, (9-2) vs. No. 5 Ketlen Vieira, Brazil, (9-0), women’s bantamweights