Yves Edwards had a strange moment in Seattle this week.
He was standing around talking to former UFC champ B.J. Penn, just chatting, when current UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson walked up to the pair and asked, as politely as he could, whether he could take a picture with them, since they were two of his fighting idols, and had been for years.
"I'm like, man, you're the lightweight champ!" Edwards chuckled. "That stuff is huge. It'd probably be bigger if I was retired and he wasn't the guy who had something that I still wanted to get, but still. That's huge to me."
Edwards (42-18-1 MMA, 10-6 UFC) turned 36 this year. He's got more than 15 years as a professional fighter under his belt, and with his first-round knockout of Jeremy Stephens (20-9 MMA, 7-7 UFC) at Saturday's UFC on FOX 5 event at Seattle's KeyArena, he demonstrated why he doesn't need to plan his retirement party any time soon. The "Thugjitsu Master" is still going strong, but when he hears the young crop of fighters asking for pictures and praising his early work as the uncrowned champ of a nonexistent division, he knows it means that the end is out there somewhere, probably a little closer than he'd like it to be. What he doesn't know is how much time he has left, or what he'll do when it's time to go.
"The thing about this game is, it's pretty addictive," Edwards told MMAjunkie.com (MMAjunkie.com
) following Saturday's event. "You get going, and you can't stop."
Consider that when Edwards made his UFC debut in September 2001, current champ Henderson was still in high school. Saturday night's challenger, Nate Diaz, was only barely old enough to drive.
Edwards' body is still holding up well after all these years, he said, since thankfully he hasn't "been on the wrong end of a lot of wars." But as flattering as it is to have the younger fighters looking up to him, Edwards isn't ready to fade into the sport's memory just yet. Even if he wanted to, he's not sure he knows how.
"Something's wrong with fighters, first of all," Edwards said. "It's kind of like, if you're a pedophile? You can't really fix those guys. That's just what they are. There are some people who are serial killers. You can't fix those guys. There's a lot of guys out there that have to fight. There are some people in this, and they're not fighters. It's not the majority, but those guys are there. They're good athletes and they know how to make money, but they're not fighters. Most of the guys in this, they have to fight. They don't have a choice. I'm one of those guys."
So what happens when it's over? He'll probably stick around in gyms, Edwards said, trying to help others, to impart some of the wisdom he's accumulated both on purpose and on accident after so long in the fight game. But when he finally moves on to that stage of his life, he doesn't want to do it as the guy who was good back before it meant as much. He doesn't want to be the guy who people remember mostly for his work in the early 2000s, but who managed to hang around in the UFC for a few more years anyway. Fighters are always coming up to him and telling him that they grew up watching him or that they're honored to fight on the same card with him, and "that's flattering," Edwards said.
"But when I think about my career, I still want that shot. I understand the window is closing and I'm getting older and I don't have as much time as a guy like [Henderson], but at the same time, I want to get a title shot. I want to earn that."
Whatever's wrong with him that keeps him in this, unable to even think about stopping, Edwards still has some time left to put it to work for him. The shorter that time gets, the more precious it becomes. One day you wake up, and your youth is all spent. When that day comes, you want to have more to show for it than some photos with the people who reached the heights that you never did.