UFC 118

Winning combination

Edgar preps for lightweight title defense by adding boxing to repertoire

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / August 28, 2010

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Frankie Edgar didn’t expect his life to change very much when he beat BJ Penn for the UFC lightweight title on April 10. The Summit, N.J., native said he surrounds himself with friends he has known since high school and none of them was going to let success go to his head.

He took a little time to savor the victory in UFC 112, but, after only a week off, he began training again. While preparing for the rematch with Penn, Edgar welcomed a baby boy to his family.

Tonight, in a five-round bout, he will try to retain his belt in the feature match of UFC 118 at TD Garden.

Edgar, a former plumber, said he’s more than ready to face Penn again.

“I always train hard,’’ said Edgar, who weighed in at 154 yesterday. “I approach every fight with the same intensity. I’ve been training with a lot of good training partners. I’m definitely getting a lot of different looks.

“[Penn] will make some adjustments, I’m sure, and I’ve got to make a couple of adjustments based on his. I’ll need to make some game-time decisions obviously to determine what he’s going to do. It’s going to put a little bit more pressure on me maybe to try to go for a takedown and maybe there will be a little more ground game.’’

Although his strength is wrestling, Edgar has worked hard on his striking skills to become a more well-rounded fighter.

“My last three fights, I stood up pretty much the majority of the fight,’’ said Edgar, whose pro record is 12-1. “I’ve definitely been doing a lot of that stuff.

“I have a great boxing coach in Mark Henry. He’s on me every day. I feel like I’m improving with him from fight to fight. It’s something I’m able to do now and it definitely complements my wrestling. I feel jiujitsu and wrestling are so intertwined. They definitely complement each other. The boxing and muay thai, the coaches I have have really helped me adjust.

“It’s fresh. I’ve been wrestling my whole life so it kind of gets redundant at times, but the boxing is new to me so it’s kind of like playing with a new toy.’’

As much as UFC president Dana White acknowledges Penn’s dominance in the lightweight division, White thought Edgar could beat Penn.

“We gave him the title shot because he’s a bad little dude,’’ said White. “I absolutely thought that he could pull it off. The reality is that BJ Penn fought Frankie Edgar’s fight, he didn’t fight BJ Penn’s fight. Frankie suckered him into fighting his fight. BJ has got great ground skills, he’s got great wrestling, he didn’t go for any takedowns. He didn’t try to take the fight down once. It totally surprised me.’’

White certainly doesn’t expect that to happen again. He said he is sure to see a rejuvenated Penn because he wants the belt back.

“Now, these are the kind of fights that I really love,’’ said White. “You’ll get these fights with a bunch of smack talk between two guys — ‘I’m going to do this to you, I’m going to do that to you.’ The thing about a fight like this is, two guys who are as talented and as good as they are who both want to prove something. BJ wants to prove that was a fluke and Frankie wants to prove it wasn’t. Those are fun fights.’’

Edgar, 28, said he is feeling more pressure as the reigning champion than he did when he was the top contender, but he believes that’s normal.

“You try to be business as usual, but obviously I have the belt now and the pressure has intensified, but that’s just the nature of the beast,’’ he said. “You have to adjust with that pressure and I think I’m doing a good job with that.’’

Beating Penn for a second time will be a tall order, but Edgar thinks he can prevail.

“I always believed in myself and I always felt I could’ve done it,’’ said Edgar. “But if you didn’t do it yet, you never really, really know. I was definitely pleased with the outcome.

“Now, for the second time around, I know I can do it. I’ve done it once and there’s no reason I can’t do it again. I know what it’s like to lose and want to bounce back and kind of get that retaliation, and he’s got a chance to do it right away. He’s been on top of the division for so long, I’m sure it’s got to be a little awakening for him to not be where he was for such a long time.’’

The other featured fight pits heavyweight legend Randy Couture against boxing great James Toney, who is making his UFC debut. Although some have billed it as the fight that will determine which is stronger — boxing vs. mixed martial arts — White said that was never his intention.

“[Toney’s] going in there with boxing skills against a mixed martial artist,’’ said White. “But when they get inside of that octagon, a fight is going to happen. It’s going to be a fight. No matter what skills they have, or whatever, a fight is going to happen between Toney and Couture.

“It was never my goal to do this thing. [Toney] chased me around and called me all kinds of names and terrorized me. He wanted a fight, he picked a fight and he’s got one. We’re going to do it [tonight].’’