UFC champ embodies Rutgers' wrestling mantra


 

It's almost as if Frankie Edgar wants you to doubt him, just so he can prove you wrong. The current Ultimate Fighting lightweight champion was not supposed to take the title from BJ Penn last spring in Abu Dhabi and nobody believed he would retain his belt when the two fought again on Aug. 28 in Boston.

Nobody that is, except for Edgar. And sure enough, when the final bell rang, Edgar remained the champ.

"It was a new experience for me to be out there defending my title," Edgar said. "I tried to treat it just like any other fight, though. I didn't take it from the whole aspect that I'm the champ or anything."

While proving his doubters wrong in a global spotlight is a recent occurrence for Edgar, his underdog mentality paid dividends as early as his high school wrestling career in New Jersey.

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As a freshman at Toms River East High School, Edgar's wrestling team took on Jackson Memorial High School, a team ranked fourth in the state at the time.

As the underdog, Edgar once again rose to the occasion. His effort did not go unnoticed.

"The reason why he stuck out is that we were a team ranked fourth in the state when he was a freshman and he beat the crap out of our senior," said former Jackson head coach Scott Goodale, who is now the head coach at Rutgers. "That's when I said, ‘I really, really like this kid.' I loved his work ethic and his willingness to want to win."

So when Rutgers introduced Goodale as its new wrestling coach and Edgar finished his collegiate wrestling career at Clarion University (Pa.), it was all too clear that the two would join forces.

It also comes as no surprise that as Edgar becomes a poster child for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Rutgers wrestling team is in the midst of a rebirth, poised to compete for a national championship.

"He's behind the whole resurgence," Goodale said. "When we all sat down three years ago, our plan was to get on the front of everybody's mind and Frankie has helped as much as possible. He's been with us since Day 1."

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With the UFC and mixed martial arts on the rise, Edgar's success has also been brought to the forefront. And as he continues to rise in popularity, he does not forget to thank those who helped him get there.

"[Rutgers wrestling support] has been great," Edgar said. "I really feel that they are big assets to my training for my fights. It's good. They are high-level wrestlers that are helping kids improve and I feel they are helping me improve too."

That's why in interviews and public appearances, you can see Edgar sporting Rutgers wrestling apparel. To Goodale, this act is just as important for the program as training with the Scarlet Knights everyday — something he is unable to do because of his schedule.

"I know what [head football] Coach [Greg] Schiano and [head women's basketball] Coach [C. Vivian] Stringer mean to this University, but right now, wherever this guy goes, kids talk about him," Goodale said. "Recruiting becomes easier because of him. He's the face right now of what is becoming an unbelievably popular sport.

"There are football players that love the UFC. There are college coaches that love the UFC. There are professional athletes that would die to talk to Frankie Edgar. He's blowing up right now and everywhere he goes, people associate him with Rutgers wrestling."

Edgar's popularity is a direct reflection of the hours upon hours he puts into his training, a work ethic that — as Goodale hoped it would — rubs off on those around him.

"Frankie is selfish when he trains, and I don't mean that in a bad way," Goodale said. "He will not miss a workout no matter what's going on in his life. When he had a baby, he cut the umbilical cord, put the band on his wrist that said he was in the hospital, got his workout in and then came back and visited the baby.

"He's very selfish when he trains and our guys need to be that way. He's the best example. There is nothing better."

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If you need proof that Edgar impacted the wrestling culture at Rutgers, look no further than Vincent Dellefave.

Now a sophomore on the Banks, Dellefave grew up in Toms River just like Edgar, and the two even had the same trainer. In a way, he is the Robin to Edgar's Batman.

"Since I was young, I was the little guy with him. He'd bring me everywhere and we'd train together," Dellefave said. "We both wrestled at the same high school. He'd come back and train when I was little and he was in college. I used to go to his high school matches to watch him compete."

Having Edgar on the Rutgers staff was paramount to Dellefave's decision to become a Knight over offers from other prominent programs.

"There is nothing negative about having a guy like Frankie Edgar a part of your program," he said. "The stuff that he brings to the table, no other wrestling program in the country can have that. We have something that nobody else can have. The way he rubs off on everyone is contagious."

Right by his side as always, Dellefave looked on inside TD Banknorth Garden in Boston as Edgar faced not only Penn, but also a sea of Penn supporters.

"I was at the weigh-in the day before the fight and he got booed bad," Goodale said. "He's the champ, and he got booed. It was a big BJ Penn crowd. He handles it in stride. He's very grounded. I think the MMA would like him to be a little more vocal about what he's going to do in a fight, but that's just not him."

To Edgar, the opportunity provided nothing more than another chance to prove everyone wrong, advice that he passed along to Dellefave and the Rutgers wrestling team.

"He tells me, ‘Don't worry about anyone else, just keep doing what you're doing and you'll get there,'" Dellefave said. "‘In your life there will be people telling you that you can't do it — there will be haters — but if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll be able to do anything you want to.'"

And while seats on the Edgar bandwagon are vastly overbooked and people are climbing the walls to get in, Rutgers wrestling has always been there.

"People want to know where Frankie is training," Goodale said. "So now people are following Rutgers wrestling because that's where he trains."

Rutgers wrestling continues to flourish as Edgar continues to prove his doubters wrong, something he has done his whole life.

"[Aug. 28] was crazy, first UFC fight in Boston. The fans were great. They were kind of against Frankie, but as the fight went along it was kind of how things have always been going on," Dellefave said. "People start growing onto Frankie and before you know it, people are chanting for Frankie." 


A.J. Jankowski

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