by Ben Fowlkes from MMAJunkie.com:
Former UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar had personal reasons for attending the opening ceremony of the New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J., at the end of May.
The 32-year-old Edgar has an aunt and a cousin with Down Syndrome, he said. His aunt competed in a version of the games as a younger woman, so he thought it’d be nice to show up and lend his support as a pro athlete from the Garden State.
What he didn’t expect was that he’d also get something out of it, something he could use now that he’s eight years into his pro career, and still trying to recapture the fire that made him a UFC champion once.
“Sports, it brings people together in so many different ways,” Edgar told MMAjunkie. “Just to see the smiles on the athletes’ faces as they’re walking out and getting cheered by the fans and their families, that was something really special.
“For me it is a job, something I have to do. I mean, I do enjoy it, but it does get a little tedious at times when you’re doing it every day, all day. To see people going and competing for the joy and for the sake of fun, it kind of reminds me that I get to do something for a living that people enjoy doing. Working out and participating in sports, it’s something people do for recreation, and for me it’s my life.”
That can be tough to remember when you put in as many gym hours as Edgar does. You start out doing it for fun, then it gradually becomes your job. And a job is work, something you have to do, something you secretly long for a way out of, or at least a break from. A certain monotony sets in.
Then you find yourself at the Special Olympics and suddenly you remember that, for other people, sports are something they look forward to, something that gives them purpose. They wish it could be their life, the way it is yours.
To hear Edgar tell it, those moments of clarity don’t come often, but they do put things in a certain perspective.
“It’s tough to live in the moment sometimes,” Edgar said. “I’m very goal-oriented. I always have the next fight or a task at hand that I’m worried about. It’s tough to step back and say, ‘Hey, this is pretty fun, what I get to do.’ I think I’m getting better at that as I get a little bit older.”
That’s the good part about getting older. The bad part, especially if you’re a pro fighter, is just about everything else.
At this point in his career Edgar has won a UFC title, lost a UFC title, changed weight classes, and lost his bid for another UFC title. Now he finds himself gearing up for a third fight against a ghost from his past, former lightweight champion B.J. Penn, from whom he took the UFC belt in the spring of 2010.
It’s a fight that seems to have more meaning for Penn than for Edgar, who won both the initial meeting and the immediate rematch. On paper, a third victory over Penn, who’s bounced in and out of retirement lately, doesn’t do much for Edgar, who insists that his one and only goal is “to be a world champion again.”
At the same time, he knows Penn will have no shortage of motivation in their third meeting, especially since the Hawaiian can’t be sure how many more chances he’ll get inside the octagon.
“B.J.’s a competitor,” said Edgar. “I know those wins I have against him still sting a bit. But I’m not worried about why he wants to fight me. He’s just the next guy I’m going to fight, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go out there and get another win.”
Because even after reminding himself to live in the moment and enjoy his work rather than trudging through it, Edgar still has a cage fight to worry about on July 6.
And as much as he loves his job at times, Edgar said, “I don’t want to be second-best at anything.”