Kenny Rice: “Frankie Edgar Knows His Way Home”

RKheadshotThe GPS hesitates, and then reboots. We find the correct country road. This is an area that indeed qualifies New Jersey as “The Garden State.” An hour an a half from Philadelphia, thick with woods that are just beginning to bloom after a very long winter, deer can be seen leaping about in the distance as we navigate the barely two lane gravel road leading to a two story house. But where is the gym? After preparing to walk to the front door to ask, another small dirt road is visible to the right, and an unpretentious prefabricated single level building is in view. This is the home of Elite Wrestling in Jackson. The professional home of former UFC champion Frankie Edgar.

It was here, at age 13, that Edgar started training under the supervision of renowned wrestling coach Steve Rivera. It is here, after world titles and fame, that Edgar still works out, making the twenty-five minute drive almost daily from his Toms River home. He is finishing his schedule today, drenched in sweat and maneuvering around dozens of youngsters, ranging from nine to early teens, working on the mats at various corners of the large open room. Rivera and his assistants are busy teaching the basics, the same ones Edgar learned well over a decade back.

He is comfortable here, the way most are with repetitive familiarity. The boys and girls are as well, disciplined and focused in their training, not giving attention to the camera being set up just outside on the patio. They all know who Edgar is, and they have seen media here before talking to the most recognized Elite alum. Perhaps they daydream briefly, that with hard work, they might be stepping out for an interview someday.

In a few weeks, Edgar will switch to his other home gym, Ricardo Almeida’s in Hamilton, for more intense training for his upcoming fight with B.J. Penn, July 6 in “The Ultimate Fighter” finale. It will be the third meeting between the two, both unanimous decision wins for Edgar, and one year to the day of his last fight, a unanimous decision victory over Charles Olivera.

The man known as “The Answer” laughs as he sits down, and reminds he can’t respond to many questions about the recently completed taping of the latest edition of “The Ultimate Fighter,” where he coaches against Penn. Suffice to say, the house will return to a more professional environment this season. Headed by two consummate professionals and former champions, Edgar and Penn are well known and respected for their work ethic, their accomplishments, and above all, what they have done inside the octagon rather than outside it. The two are similar as well, in that each has a true sense of home and establishing roots, Edgar in Jersey, Penn in Hawaii.

This isn’t the ideal match for Edgar. He lost his lightweight crown to Benson Henderson in a decision, lost a controversial split decision in an immediate rematch, and then dropped weight to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in yet another decision loss, that one unanimous. But this is the fight the UFC wanted, and so be it. Edgar is aware of where his home of fighting has been and remains, so the trilogy will be completed this summer. It might be expected in most circles, that he will win for a third time against the great Penn, but if he loses, there is no doubt critics will point out that Penn, the former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion, is 35 and has two losses and a draw in his last three fights, but he came back to beat Edgar.

“I don’t think of it like that. It’s a big fight for both of us, we both know what’s a stake for the winner. There could be a title shot again and the title always is in the big picture for me.” The 32 year old Edgar acknowledges, “I know people look at the age, how long, how many fights, all that. But I don’t want to put a number on it for me. I feel great. I believe, I hope at least, to have five strong years remaining.”

He flashes a huge smile at the thought. “And it isn’t like either B.J. or me really have to study the other very much to get ready for this one. We know.”

This is the longest layoff of his pro career that began in 2005. He sees this as a positive, more time at home with wife Renee and sons Francesco and Santino. More time around Rivera, the man who started him on the path that led to three appearances in the state high school championships at Toms River East and then an All American collegiate wrestling career at Clarion University in Pennsylvania, then to assistant coach at Rutgers University. “Seems like I’ve known Steve forever, it’s good to be here, regroup. He still corners me in some of my fights.”

Being home for this sabbatical from the cage, has been a time to reflect, a time to gain prospective on a career where 9 of his 16 wins have come by way of decision, and all four losses have come the same way.

“Oh the decisions, ” he sighs and smiles simultaneously. “I just move on from that or else it’s in your head. I want to dominate, like every fighter I want to get better. I think I may have come out a little slow and then finished stronger. That’s usually the case in the wins and losses. But like what happens in The Ultimate Fighter, I can’t give too much away.”

He gives a firm handshake, a laugh and says goodbye. Time to head home. And Edgar knows his way.

-Kenny

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