Even though there is no championship belt at stake, Toms River native Frankie Edgar still has a lot on the line tonight in his three-round featherweight mixed martial arts fight against Charles Oliveira.
The former UFC lightweight champion has suffered three straight losses. He needs a victory tonight in UFC 162 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to get another crack at a title.
"I always put a lot of pressure on myself," Edgar said in a phone interview this week from Las Vegas. "I treat every fight the same, whether it's my first fight, 10th fight or a title fight. The pressure is always there to win, no matter what."
Edgar (15-4-1), a 31-year-old married father of two, hasn't fought in a nontitle bout since 2009.
The former wrestler for Toms River East High School won and defended the lightweight title in two bouts against B.J. Penn (16-9), then earned a pair of victories against Gray Maynard (11-2-1) before losing his lightweight (155 pounds) crown to Benson Henderson (19-2) and coming up short in the rematch.
In his last fight, his first at featherweight (145 pounds), he dropped a close decision to UFC champ Jose Aldo (22-1).
All three defeats were close, split decisions that did very little damage to his reputation as one of the sport's best and most exciting competitors. Edgar is rated No. 3 in the UFC's featherweight rankings and No. 10 in the pound-for-pound list that's compiled by mixed martial arts media members.
"A loss to Oliveira would be a big setback for him," UFC president Dana White said via email from Las Vegas. "But he's an extremely talented fighter with a long career ahead of him. Since 2010, Frankie has been one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He's lost three really close decisions in a row, but he lost those fights to two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
"A win over Oliveira would definitely put him back in the title picture (at featherweight). There are guys like Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas in front of him in terms of title shots (against Aldo), but Frankie would be back in the mix with a win (tonight)."
There is also a possibility Edgar could pursue a UFC title in a different weight class.
Although he won the UFC title at lightweight, the 5-foot-6 Edgar was considered small for the weight class. He had little trouble dropping the 10 pounds to make featherweight and presumably would be willing to drop another 10 to campaign as a bantamweight (135 pounds). Dominick Cruz (19-1) is the UFC bantamweight champ.
"I usually walk around between 155 and 160 pounds between fights, so dropping to featherweight wasn't a big deal," Edgar said. "The guys I'm fighting at 145 are maybe a little faster, but I just try to fight my own fight no matter who I'm in there against."
He will have to change his strategy somewhat to beat Oliveira (16-3), a 23-year-old from Brazil who now lives and trains in Houston. Edgar is known for his durability and heart and has a reputation for fighting at his best in the fourth and fifth rounds of title fights. Because this is a three-round fight, he will need to get off to a faster start.
Since he started fighting in the UFC in 2010, all four of Oliveira's wins were via submission and three were in the first or second round. He has yet to prove himself against top competition, however. His three losses were first-round defeats against Cub Swanson, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller.
"I would not call (Edgar) a slow starter," Oliveira said in an interview on UFC.com. "He is always aware of where he is at in the fight. But I do like to set the pace, and I'm always looking to finish the fight as fast as possible.
"Frankie is a champ for a reason. He has big wins against the best fighters in the world. I will have to be at my best when I fight him."
The ideal scenario for local MMA fans would be for Edgar to defeat Oliveira, earn one or two more victories then challenge Aldo or Cruz for a championship in Atlantic City.
Edgar hasn't fought in Atlantic City since beating Miller in Reality Fighting 14 at Boardwalk Hall on Nov. 18, 2006.
The UFC ended a seven-year hiatus by returning to Atlantic City last year when Maynard defeated Clay Guida at Revel Casino Hotel on June 22, 2012. Previously, they held six cards on the Boardwalk between 2000 and 2005.
"I love Atlantic City, and it's a great fight town," White said. "We don't have anything locked in at the moment, but we're looking at coming back to A.C. or Philadelphia possibly next year."
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