Edgar prepares to take on Henderson

Frankie Edgar (L) strikes B.J. Penn with a high kick during their bout in the Ultimate Fighting...

Frankie Edgar (L) strikes B.J. Penn with a high kick during their bout in the Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament in Abu Dhabi in this April 10, 2010 file photo. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Neil Springer, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

For Frankie Edgar, 2010 was the year of B.J. Penn.

Edgar's only two fights during this period saw him capture the UFC lightweight championship from the MMA legend and then successfully defend it in the rematch.

Then came a familiar face in 2011, Gray Maynard, who handed Edgar his sole loss three years earlier.

Edgar survived a brutal first round in their second tilt at UFC 125, bouncing back to force a draw in one of the best fights of the year.

Their last encounter in October mirrored their previous bout, with Maynard beating up Edgar all over the octagon in the opening minutes. Only this time, Edgar turned the tables and knocked out Maynard in the fourth round.

Having only fought two different opponents over two years, it goes without saying that Edgar hopes 2012 won't be all about Benson Henderson.

"I wouldn't be surprised because of the way things have gone in the past," Edgar joked over the phone. "Obviously a decisive win would make sure that doesn't happen.

"It's definitely nice to have a new guy to get ready and prepare for. A different style, different strategy, different face -- just everything. It has its challenges, too, because I wasn't in there with him (before). I don't know what he's going to bring to the table."

Edgar defends his lightweight championship against Henderson in the main event of UFC 144 on Feb. 25 in Saitama, Japan. The card will also feature a light-heavyweight scrap between Quinton (Rampage) Jackson and Ryan Bader.

Since Henderson's last WEC appearance saw him on the receiving end of Anthony Pettis' stunning 'Showtime Kick' en route to dropping the promotion's lightweight belt, he managed to fly under the radar of many casual fans upon joining the UFC in early 2011. Since then, though, Henderson has been on a tear, besting Mark Bocek, Jim Miller and Clay Guida to earn a shot at the belt.

Edgar said he isn't shocked the former WEC champion covered so much ground in the span of one year.

"I'm really not," Edgar began. "After watching tape and seeing the skills he possesses and the type of fighter he is -- he brings it. He fights with a lot of heart, so I'm not surprised. He seems like a hard worker and hard work pays off.

"I don't really think there are holes in his game. I've just got to make sure I capitalize on the things that I do well. I've just got to make sure I fight my fight and don't get dragged into one of his fights."

Japan was once a hotbed for mixed martial arts during the glory days of PRIDE Fighting Championships, but it has been on life support since the promotion folded in 2007.

PRIDE was perhaps best embodied by Kazushi Sakuraba, a former pro-wrestler turned MMA fighter who almost always fought larger opponents. The Japanese fans loved Sakuraba's ability to outwit, outlast -- and more often than not -- finish his stronger foes.

During his run in PRIDE, he defeated Jackson, Vitor Belfort, Ken Shamrock and Kevin Randleman. But it was his victories over Gracie family members Royler, Royce and Renzo that made him a superstar in Japan.

Despite being one of the smallest fighters in the lightweight division, Edgar has risen to the top of the 155-pound ranks. If he were Japanese, he'd be a national hero.

Edgar said he wasn't sure if his style played a role in him being booked in the UFC 144 main-event slot.

"You know, it could be," he said. "You'd be better off asking Dana (White) or Lorenzo (Fertitta). But I feel I'm one of the old-school kind of mixed martial artists -- fighting bigger opponents and finding ways to win.

"We weigh the same the day of the weigh-ins, but a lot of guys put some weight on and are substantially bigger than me the next day."

But Edgar knows he has got his work cut out for him. Henderson is well-rounded, tough and excels at shutting down his opponents' strengths. He has also been steadily adding muscle over the years, setting up yet another classic big versus small fight in Japan.

"It's tough to say where your strengths are until you get in there and mix it up," Edgar said. "The only thing I can say is I have championship experience. I know he has fought championship fights in the WEC, but being in the UFC is a bit of a different animal.

"I really couldn't say I'll be better standing up, better on the ground, or at wrestling until we get in there and get after it."

FAVOURITE MOMENT

As the UFC is set to hit the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time since the pre-Zuffa days, many are left wondering if the world’s largest MMA promotion can revive the Japanese MMA scene.

Once the mecca of the sport, Japan was home to countless classic fights during the heyday of PRIDE Fighting Championships.

For UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, his fondest Japanese MMA moment was when his mentor Renzo Gracie fought Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE 10 in Saitama on Aug. 27, 2000.

“My favourite PRIDE memory would be Renzo and Sakuraba, when Renzo got his arm popped out and didn’t even tap, didn’t even make a face — nothing,” Edgar said over the phone. “He even told the referee, ‘Oh, it happens all the time,’ and he tried to keep fighting. I train with Renzo. I’m a big fan. I was a fan of him before I even trained with him. That’s probably my favourite moment.”


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