Take a number, keep busy, maybe you'll get lucky.
That's essentially the convoluted message Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has delivered to the upper echelon of its talented lightweight roster since April 10, 2010. On that hot, arid desert night half a world away in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, an undersized, out-of-his-league blue collar fighter from Toms River, N.J., Frankie Edgar, pulled off the upset of a lifetime:
He took UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn the distance and defeated him "unanimously."
However, that overwhelming decision from the three judges sitting ringside didn't sit well with company president Dana White. Let's roll it back, he said. Penn, and fans everywhere, deserved to see a rematch as soon as possible.
Why? It was impossible to fathom that Edgar had "The Answer" for the super-talented Hawaiian. He got lucky. Penn was off his game, while Edgar was on his. The stars aligned that night in the Middle East and the universe conspired to punish the prodigal Penn.
But then, more than four months later, Edgar did it again at UFC 118. Unanimously. Despite 50 minutes locked inside a cage together, Penn could still not decipher the 5'6" riddle wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in mystery. As a result, he was summarily shipped up to welterweight, his future at 155-pounds essentially paused until further notice because of his back-to-back shortfalls.
Edgar, who spent all of 2010 focused on this one man, was now free test his skills against the rest of the crowded contender pack. His first test would be none other than Gray Maynard, the only man to ever best him after 15 minutes of professional mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.
And "The Bully" almost did again at UFC 125, only more definitively the second time around, brutalizing his resilient counterpart to the brink of unconsciousness in the opening frame of their five-round championship clash. Defying logic, as well as most likely all laws of physics, Edgar didn't just survive, but thrived, roaring back to even up the scorecards and force an unsatisfying draw.
Once again, White ordered an immediate rematch four months into the future at UFC 130, explaining that after hours of deliberation, Maynard could not be denied another opportunity -- WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis be damned (my words, not his).
Injuries to both fighters, however, would delay the trilogy match until UFC 136 this weekend (Oct. 8, 2011) in Houston, Texas. It's been 18 long months since Edgar won his world title. He'll have fought just two men, each twice, during that span, holding perhaps the promotion's most dynamic division hostage with second chances and immediate rematches.
That will all, hopefully, come to a glorious end in "The Lone Star State" this weekend.
After a main event that hopefully matches its most recent predecessor in terms of heart-pounding action, gritty determination and dizzying drama (but not in outcome) the rest of the lightweight contenders not named Penn or Edgar/Maynard who have patiently waited outside the championship cage for more than two years will now, finally, be invited inside.
And the timing couldn't be more perfect. Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez, former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson, Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard and the two men who suffered the most during this span -- Pettis and Jim Miller -- are all cleared to finally make their best runs to the top of the division.
Show us what you got, it's now or (maybe) never, make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.
They don't come around often these days.