Toms River, New Jersey, the hometown of Frankie Edgar, is more than a stone’s throw from Madison Square Garden, but anyone who ever watched a fight or knew a shred of history about the fabled arena knows the importance and history a fighter becomes a part of by performing there.
That is the way the 35-year-old Edgar looked at it. Going to Knicks and Rangers games there is one thing. Fighting before tens of thousands chanting your name is another. He was fearful his chance would never come. It did Saturday at UFC 205 (online betting) -- in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
There was just one problem: Jeremy Stephens was trying to ruin it -- and he almost did in the second round by throttling Edgar with a left kick to the jaw with 2:36 left in the frame. However, Edgar survived the temporary dazed state to beat the younger fighter by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, and 29-28) and remain strongly in the hunt for another shot at interim UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo or Conor McGregor, if he wants to come down to defend the title again.
“This feels incredible,” Edgar said. “It wasn’t an easy camp, I actually tore my MCL and had to get an epidural in my back, but nothing was going to stop me from fighting in New York City. Jeremy is a beast. I knew I was going to have my hands full. He brings it every time he steps in the Octagon, and he did exactly what I expected. That kick rung my bell for a second, but I felt I rallied back.
“Of course, one judge gave Jeremy the round but what can you do? He’s a tough guy, and I knew that could happen. I want to fight in Brooklyn. That’s all I care about. I should have someone in mind. I should say a name. I’m just going to get back in the gym, talk to my team and get ready to fight. Give me the Brooklyn card.”
Against Stephens, Edgar’s trademark determination was the difference.
Stephens shocked him with the front kick and then followed with a knee. Edgar’s wrestling background kept surfacing, as he scored with constant takedowns.
Edgar, who improved to 21-5-1, needed the victory to make up for his loss to Aldo at UFC 200. Stephens fell to 25-13, losing for the fourth time in his last six outings.
“I prepared very well. I feel I’m in excellent shape,” Stephens said. “Frankie just landed those takedowns. I gave up a couple and he capitalized on those. I felt like I was standing up well, knocked him down; he was running around a lot, but I gave up too many takedowns. I felt I was close to finishing him when I landed the kick and the knee back-to-back. Frankie is a really tough guy, though. He was hanging onto me. I tried to land some elbows. It just didn’t get the job done. I’m looking forward to being home with my family.”
Nurmagomedov Dominates Johnson
Poor Michael Johnson appeared game enough. He took shot after shot after shot, and Khabib Nurmagomedov had to wonder how much Johnson could take. Referee “Big” John McCarthy settled that by ending the fight at 2:31 of round three before Nurmagomedov won by submission via kimura.
Nurmagomedov, now 24-0, was immediately aiming his attention at you-know-who, and he grabbed the attention of the Irish-partisan crowd that filled a healthy portion of the Garden by daring to challenge McGregor -- before McGregor even attempted to wrest the lightweight title from Alvarez.
Soon after stopping Johnson, Nurmagomedov yelled at UFC President Dana White through the cage that he wanted a shot at McGregor. Then he announced it to the crowd.
“I want to try to stay humble, but I learned the amazing power the UFC PR machine has,” Nurmagomedov said in broken English. “They keep on protecting that Irish chicken. This is true, this is true. I came in and executed my game plan. Michael is good, but I am the best in the world. I want to stay humble, but I have to talk. Ireland only has six million peopl;, Russia has 150 million. I want to fight your chicken. Let’s go. Let’s go.”
By then, Nurmagomedov’s words were drowned out a chorus of boos from the Irish audience.
Johnson fell to 17-11 and has lost three of his last four.
“I was confident in my striking,” he said. “I didn’t question his, but I know what I am capable of. I worked hard in the gym to prepare for his takedowns, but bottom line, he is a great chain wrestler and I need to get back in the gym and make progress. He just got me in the end of the fight. I want to get back to my gym, work on some things and hopefully find an opponent in the top five or top 10.”
Boetsch Erases Natal
Does Tim Boetsch not cross you as the jolly man you no one wants to mess around with in a bar? The rather portly 35-year-old middleweight loves to fight, and it showed in his disposal of Rafael Natal via first-round knockout. Boetsch drove his record to 20-10, winning for the second straight time, while Natal fell to 21-8-1, losing for the second straight time.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Boetsch, who when not fighting might make a great department-store Santa Claus. “I took my time, I looked for the perfect shot and I found it. Once I got him to the cage, I was able to slow him down a bit and he wasn’t able to find his range anymore, so I knew I had to capitalize. Very happy with my performance tonight.”
Natal was obviously disappointed and vowed to return.
“I’m disappointed, but I can take nothing away from Tim,” he said. “I have lived in New York for eight years, and it has been my dream to fight in Madison Square Garden. I will be back.”
Luque Pounds Muhammad
In a blink, it seemed to be over. There was Vicente Luque looking down at Belal Muhammad, and there was McCarthy ending it just 79 seconds into the fight. It was the fourth straight victory for the Luque, who drove his record to 11-5, while Muhammad fell to 10-2, losing for the second time in his last three fights.
“I didn’t see the night ending that early, but it is New York and I got a late opportunity to be here so I knew I was going to put everything I had out there,” Luque said. “Belal Muhammad is one of the toughest guys in our division, so I was prepared to go all three rounds, but I got it done in one and it just doesn’t get better than that.
“Performing like this in Madison Square Garden is the most special thing ever to me. I was born in New Jersey, and I’ve been to New York City many, many times, so this is a really special moment to me. I want and deserve a top 15 opponent. Anyone in the rankings. I would love to face a great striker to put on a show, but I’m ready for whoever comes next.”
Carmouche Opens, Makes More History Against Chookagian
Liz Carmouche has a habit of being part of UFC history. She competed in the first-ever women’s match in the UFC when she fought Ronda Rousey for bantamweight championship at UFC 157.
She made more history by becoming the first UFC fighter to win at the fabled Madison Square Garden, scoring a split decision over Katlyn Chookagian in moving her record to 11-5 after winning her second straight. Chookagian fell for the first time in her career, dropping to 8-1.
“It feels amazing to pick up the first ever UFC victory in New York City,” Carmouche said. “I didn’t anticipate the takedowns coming as easily. I really wanted to stand and bang with her, but the takedowns came natural and I decided to exploit that. When Katlyn landed the kick in the third round, I was worried. I didn’t feel like the fight would be stopped, but I knew it might sway the judges. I am very happy to be back and want to get back to work soon. I’ll take anybody in the division.”
Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.