Frankie Edgar hopes to make history Saturday.
The former lightweight champion needs to beat current featherweight champion Jose Aldo to become just the third man to win an Ultimate Fighting Championship title in two divisions.
The fight is the five-foot-six Edgar’s (15-3-1 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC) first appearance at featherweight following a 13-fight UFC run as an undersized yet incredibly scrappy lightweight. In the past, Edgar fought near his walk-around weight, and he insists the cut down to 145 pounds has not been overly challenging.
“When I was at 155 pounds, I was forcing myself to eat more and lift a little heavier and try to put on size,” Edgar said. “Now I feel it’s just more natural. I feel like my conditioning is better. I’m actually a little bit quicker, and it’s just a little less stressful instead of having to worry about trying to eat every two hours.”
Aldo (21-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) is one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters and will be no pushover as the pair headline Saturday night’s “UFC 156: Aldo vs. Edgar” event at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The matchup is one that fight fans have long pined for, though some of the lustre of the pairing was dulled by Edgar’s recent losses to current champ Benson Henderson. Still, it’s certainly a big fight for the promotion and could have significant impact on the futures of both men.
“I see people talking saying, ‘This isn’t a superfight,’” said UFC president Dana White at Thursday’s pre-event media day. “Let me tell you, there are a lot of people that want to see this fight.”
Meanwhile, Aldo returns to action following a one-year layoff necessitated by injuries suffered in a minor traffic accident in his native Brazil. The bout was originally expected to take place this past October in Brazil, but when Aldo was forced to withdraw from the fight, it was reschedule for the UFC’s traditional Super Bowl-weekend event, and the champion lost his home-field advantage.
“I would have liked it to be in Brazil because of the fan factor,” Aldo said. “Everybody rooting for us is a very important factor. But Las Vegas is going to be great. I know there’s going to be a very large fanbase, and of course I grew up watching all the boxing fights in Las Vegas. It has a special charm in it for me.”
The 26-year-old Aldo has recently teased a potential move to lightweight as age has naturally seen his body mass increase, though his trainer, Andre Pederneiras, believes such a change is at least one year away. Still, with a 14-fight win streak at featherweight and relatively few legitimate contenders in the immediate picture, an inspiring performance against a former lightweight champion could provide the motivation Aldo and his team need to move up a division.
In the night’s co-feature, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans (17-2-1 MMA, 12-2-1 UFC) is a heavy favourite over Brazilian veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC). Yet the matchup was given a healthy dose of intrigue on Thursday when White revealed that an Evans win could net him a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (33-4 MMA, 16-0 UFC).
“If Rashad won on Saturday night and wanted to go to 185, we would consider that,” White said with a telling smile.
Evans’ name has recently emerged as a leading candidate for Silva, who is nearing the end of a UFC Hall of Fame career and is currently seeking out the biggest fights available as he starts to wind down a 16-year career. Top middleweight contender Chris Weidman is also on a short list of potential opponents and would appear to be the backup plan should Evans fall short against Nogueira.
Evans hasn’t fought at 185 pounds during his MMA career, but he’s admitted that a chance to fight Silva, one of the sport’s biggest superstars and most-respected athletes, would make it worth his while to shed the additional weight. But he’s not looking past the task at hand.
“I just want to go out there and compete with the best guys,” Evans said. “Anderson is a great guy outside of the cage, and he’s one of my favourite fighters to watch inside the cage.
“But for me, it’s first things first, and that’s fighting Nogueira. That’s the only thing I really care about right now.”
Another title shot will also be at stake at UFC 156 as former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem (36-11 MMA, 1-0 UFC) faces Antonio Silva (17-4 MMA, 1-2 UFC).
Overeem previously earned a shot at the UFC title with a December 2011 victory over Brock Lesnar, but he was pulled from the planned bout with then-champ Junior Dos Santos when he failed a Nevada State Athletic Commission-issued pre-fight drug screen with an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio. Because of that result, Overeem couldn’t be licensed for the fight and has been sidelined since.
During his time off, Overeem submitted five voluntary tests and was also subjected to Nevada State Atheltic Commission-administered blood and urine testing. All seven tests were negative, and Overeem was granted a license for the UFC 156 appearance.
Should he prove victorious, White said he will be next in line for current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.