“The 5 Habits of a Champion”, A Conversation with Former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar

I had the pleasure to have a phone interview with Frankie Edgar. Frankie is an American mixed martial artist who competes as a Featherweight in the UFC and is a former UFC Lightweight Champion. He holds notable victories over former world champions Sean Sherk, Hermes França, B.J. Penn Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes. As of June 5, 2017, Edgar is ranked as the #2 featherweight fighter.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell me the story of “Frankie Edgar”?

Frankie Edgar: The story of Frankie Edgar! I’m just a Jersey kid from suburbs, from the Jersey shore and grew up wrestling, always strive to obtain some goals through my life, ended up fighting in UFC and I’ve made a decent career for myself so far. That’s like the cliff notes.

Are there the 5 things that you wish a buddy pulled you over and told you before you joined the UFC? What are the 5 things you wish somebody told you?

Frankie Edgar:

  1. You know, this doesn’t last forever, I had long career, I am on my 11th year, people don’t usually last that long, but luckily I have been able to, but still, I know the end is near and you know, when your first encounter, you embark on your career, you’re not sticking in the end. You’re thinking about now and you don’t realize it’s going to end and that’s why I started aligning myself with the UFC gym and some other opportunities to make sure I have something else to kind of go to after my career.
  2. You got to worry about yourself in this game, there’s a lot of people that want to attach themselves to you and take advantage of you and whisper in your ear, telling you this and that but you got to look out for yourself. No one is going to look out for you like you and that’s the lesson I’ve learned throughout the years that I’ve if I was told, it maybe have help me out with the beginning.
  3. A fight career doesn’t really involve a pension. That’s another thing that’s something someone could have told. So, I kind of knew that what I was getting in but you don’t realize it, you’re a young kid, you just want to get into a cage and fight but as I, you know, got a family, started having kids, I realized, I got to start thinking about the future and again, that’s another reason why I’ll be opening gym.
  4. It’s still a learning experience. I’m a 11 year veteran and there are not many people who have probably been in UFC longer than me at this point right now. I still kind of just started feeling like a veteran so I feel like I’m still learning.

There probably is not a more physical sport than UFC fighting. It’s probably the most physical, the most intense. Do you ever feel like there are going to be long-term costs by being punched in the face so often?

Frankie Edgar: Yeah. I mean it’s inevitable. Of course, there’s repercussions to getting hit in the head and dealing with it. I think UFC does a great job of making sure that we’re in the right state of conditioning. We have all the right tools and access to the right doctors to make sure we’re not taking too much damage to my body and my head. I work out very hard all the time and I really don’t take much time off. Of course I know I’m taxing the body, but, you’ve got to crack a couple eggs to make an omelet at times. This is the life I chose and I understand. Right now I feel great and I think in the future, it may catch up with me, but I’m kind of under the philosophy, “if you rest, you rust”.

When you are striving to accomplish your goals, obviously saying yes to a lot of things is very, very important, but I think the piece that people don’t always remember is that you have to say no to a lot of things. How important is that and what are some of the things that you’ve had to say no to in the pursuit of your goals?

Frankie Edgar: Yeah. You got to learn to say no. Just saying no to temptation at times, when you’re in a camp and there’s maybe a party or just anything, an event that you’d like to go to, but you can’t because you have training, you have to say no.

Sometimes you got to say no to even over-training. It’s tough to kind of do that, especially as a fighter. You have a lot of pride and don’t want to say no about over-training, but as you get older you learn there’s times when you need to back off and just say, no, I’m done today and then sometimes it’s more beneficial for you.

Are there moments during your fights where you’re feeling a specific adverse moment and you realize that your mindset and mental toughness helped you overcome? I mean, what is going through your mind? Let’s just say that you’re just about to be submitted. What is going through your mind and how do you not give up in that moment?

Frankie Edgar: You know, luckily I haven’t been in too many submissions as of recently, but my first fight at UFC, I got caught in a very deep knee bar. I thought I was up on the cards and I knew there was a minute left and I made a choice. They said, all right, well either tap and walk away with no injury or win and maybe have my knee a little bit banged up and I really thought I want that fight. I didn’t want to give up a submission loss after, you know, putting all that work. So I decided, let when my knee pop and to find a way to win and hang on to that last minute.

Do you find that you won some of your fights because you were mentally, not physically, stronger than your opponents?

Frankie Edgar: Yeah, absolutely. There’s going to be common time in a fight or even in life where you’re going against someone and you’re willing to just go a little bit further than they are and that’s the difference in a win or a loss.

You have to battle, if you’re not properly in the game mentally you’re really not going to be there physically and everyone sees the physical part of it but no one really sees the mental part of it and that’s just such the biggest part in just little ways. Mentalizing as in, you need discipline for your diet. You can’t get too down on yourself after a bad performance. Mental, it’s just the, you know, just the mental focus you need to attack every day.

Do you have a specific morning routine that helps you set up your day? What kind of a routine you have to begin your day?

Frankie Edgar: I usually pack my gear and my equipment the night before. I get all my clothes, everything I need before; I set up my shake that I’m going to have in the morning. I’ll come down, make some breakfast, tickle my kids a little bit, kind of get on my way up to that and just grab my gear and go.

What have been your favorite fights so far in your career?

Frankie Edgar: The title fights are always a great, especially the first one. That’s something you’ll never forget but I think my third fight with Maynard, you know, we had that history, the trilogy fight and able to win on a knock out after almost getting stopped myself in the fight, was I think one of my favorites.

You lost a fight. You drew a fight and then the last time you fought him, you won. What is your mindset going into a fight like that when you’re fighting a guy who beat you before?

Frankie Edgar: You’re just trying to minimize the mistakes you made in the first fight, if there was any or try to utilize some of that stuff he showed in the fight against them. I tried to get some real approach to it. It’s not like I’m looking for revenge because Manyard beat me out because I’m trying to won on myself and improve on, you know, my past performance.

I want to transition into your adventure with UFC gym. That seems like such a wonderful fit for you given your background. What drew you to that opportunity specifically where you are going with that?

Frankie Edgar: You know I just realized this is my life. I’ve been in combat sports with wrestling for over 20 years. I’m into fitness, I’m into health and I just thought it was the perfect transition from when I am done to get into being a gym owner and so link myself over with UFC gym was just a no brainer, you know, this is my life and I want to continue it to be my life. It is a family thing and it’s something I can do with my family. So, it was just the right choice for us.

Are you looking to acquire multiple locations with this? What is your Grand Mission for this?

Frankie Edgar: Yeah, you know, I never want to sell, that’s not my thing, never try to sell and obviously our focus is on this first one in North Brunswick, New Jersey and I’m actually having our anniversary party, this January 20th. It’s going to be, some good classes, some good prize giveaways with little party for UFC 220 and I mean, I really want fill a member base here at this gym and work on opening others.

Would paying it forward in with respect to training other coming fighters be a part of your mission as well?

Frankie Edgar: I mean I’m already doing that for my teammates. We all help each other. I kind of come from a small team, but we have a pretty good stable of fighters. Guys in multiple fights, ranked in the top 10 and we help each other. We’re not fighting them helping the teammate and vice versa and that’s something I’ll always do.

If you could change anything or if you could talk to the 18 year old version of yourself, what would you tell him?

Frankie Edgar: Don’t worry about the now so much. It’s a long game. I mean, at 19, I thought a wrestling loss was the end of the world and here I am 15 years later, still in team. So, don’t worry about the “now” so much.

What are five habits, if you could name five that you might have learned to help you get to the top of your game and if you could maybe elaborate on why each of those habits are important to you?

Frankie Edgar:

  1. I think discipline, its number 1. You’ve got to have discipline in all aspects of your life if you want to be successful at anything. Discipline to get up and go into the gym, discipline to eat right, discipline to go to bed early, that’s something I try myself on it. I try to do everything right. So no matter what happens in my fights, I know I did all the right things.
  2. And then sacrifice. You got to be willing to sacrifice in life, especially in the combat sports. You can sacrifice things, you want to do sacrifice things, you don’t want to do, but it’s got to be part of your life and sometimes sacrifice makes it all worth it to like I know if I sacrificed it, put a lot of things to the side that I wanted to do, that makes the victory that much more sweet.
  3. Something I pride myself on is punctuality. I hate when people are late all the time. If you talked to all my coaches throughout the years, they’d say I’m, always on time. I’m never late and that just kind of gets your routine going. If you’re late, it means you’re kind of not respecting your art, you’re not respecting your coaches, not respecting your teammates. So I always think punctuality is very big.
  4. Then focus, focus is in another huge thing for me. I can go to the gym, punch the clock like I say, a lot of guys do, you know, train for two hours and leave and still obtain nothing during that time because I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t in the moment. You see a lot of guys, they think, you know, I got my heart rate off, I got to go work out, I sweat but what you get out of it? Was your mind there? Were you present? Did you pick something up off that? So that’s four.
  5. And then I just think, you know, you guys have got to be grittier than the next guy and I think that’s got to with mindset as well, you know, saying, Hey, I’m a little sore today. I don’t feel like working out, it’s hard but you got to have that grit and say I’m going to do it. I don’t care if my legs fall off, I’m going to get to the gym and, and get the job done.

Out of those five that you mentioned, which has been the hardest for you to develop?

Frankie Edgar: I mean all of those are compatible to me, thankfully.

I think what’s been the hardest for me, is that you can’t have so many highs and lows. If you get too high on a win or too long on a lost, you kind of get thrown off track and that’s something that was tough for me to do.

What advice can you give to entrepreneurs to deal with their challenges?

Frankie Edgar: Yeah, I mean, what I would tell my athletes is exactly what I tell entrepreneurs. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs. You shouldn’t worry too much. You always talk about here about how so many people fail. Thomas Edison, Michael George, all these successful people failed so many times, but you got to fail in order to succeed. Don’t let failure totally just throw you off track, so keep your head up and work towards your goal.