On a wet, disgusting Tuesday morning in Brick, NJ, I find myself in the Rhino Fight Team training facility. The guys are already at work. There’s Steve De Angelis, the nineteen-year-old Battlecage Xtreme 145-pound champion; Shawn Forman, a promising amateur; Carl Beams, a dangerous boxer and kickboxer; Kevin Roddy, a Reality Fighting and Battlecage Xtreme champion; and Chris Liguori, the Reality Fighting welterweight champion.
The man behind Rhino is Rob Guarino, a talented fighter in his own right who’s helped the Rhino Fight Team become one of the deepest, nastiest teams on the East Coast. Guarino runs a no-frills, all-business operation. There are no t-shirts for sale, no beginner classes, no belt color system, and no membership specials at the Rhino gym. Guarino’s chief concern is making sure his Rhinos keep racking up the wins. Nothing more, nothing less.
Guarino’s indefatigable commitment to building the most devastating fight team around is embodied by 26-year-old badass Frankie “The Answer” Edgar. After a decorated high-school and collegiate wrestling career, Edgar’s maiden voyage into MMA came shortly after he began training with Guarino two years ago. Rob took Edgar, Jay Coleman, and a few other Rhinos into the Bronx for a “local” show in a small, hostile gymnasium. With a raucous crowd very much against him (and the rest of his team) and a much-hyped opponent in Eric Uresk across the ring, Edgar shook off a huge knee to the face early in the round, scored a vicious takedown, and pounded out a gritty first-round win. He’d gone into enemy country and gave their boy a beating. Not bad for five weeks of MMA experience.
Edgar made his professional MMA debut shortly thereafter, earning his first win in convincing fashion over Mark Getto at Ring of Combat 9. Edgar has since been on a tear, earning dominant wins over Jay Isip, Steve Macabe, Deividas Taurosevicius, Jim Miller, Tyson Griffin, and Mark Bocek.
More impressive than Edgar’s 7-0 record is the level of competition he’s faced already in his burgeoning MMA career. Edgar wanted so badly to fight at Ring of Cage 10 that he weighed in with sneakers and sweats on to make 160 lbs. so that he could fight Macabe at welterweight; he finished Macabe in the first round with a chin choke (Guarino had just taught Edgar the move). Taurosevicius, now a rising star with the IFL’s NY Pitbulls, and Miller, the Reality Fighting featherweight champion and Cage Fury Fighting Championship lightweight champion whose only career loss was to Edgar, were the top lightweights on the East Coast. Tyson Griffin was not only undefeated, but he’d stopped world-class striker Duane “Bang” Ludwig and WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber, and the UFC had trouble finding someone who’d fight him. As for Mark Bocek, a Grapplers Quest U.S. National Champion and a World Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Champion, he had yet to lose an MMA fight. Edgar dominated them all.
Up next for Edgar is what promises to be his toughest test to date. At UFC 78 in Newark, NJ on November 17, the rising star from Toms River, NJ will step into the cage with hard-hitting veteran Spencer “The King” Fisher. I visited the Rhino headquarters recently to speak a little with Edgar about his fight with The King and his surging MMA career…
Q: Your wrestling has transitioned particularly well to MMA in a very short amount of time, and you seem to have a slightly different look for each fight. What type of training are you doing?
FE: I surround myself with these guys (Team Rhino) all the time. They travel with me and are always around me. For Tyson (Griffin), I trained here because it was short notice and stuff like that, but for Bocek, I concentrated on my jiu-jitsu a little more and trained out in Dallas and Philly. You’ve got to change it up to your opponent, you know? Right now for my wrestling, I’m coaching at Rutgers right now. I help out there, and I trained at AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) a little bit for this one.
Q: Talk to us about training with the AKA guys.
FE:There was (Josh) Thomson, Dave Camarillo – he’s the jiu-jitsu guy, Jon Fitch was in a little bit, Koscheck a little bit. I got to surround myself with some pretty good guys out there.
Q: What was the biggest benefit from working with those guys?
FE: Just the intensity level and the fact that they’ve competed at such a high level. They’ve been there and they were able to help me with a lot of the experience they’ve gained so far in the sport.
Q: What’s the most special thing about being a part of the Rhino Fight Team?
FE: Just the camaraderie. We’re all local kids, all a similar type from similar walks of life, you know.
Q: Before you came to Rhino, had you studied any fighting discipline other than wrestling?
FE: It was just wrestling. And maybe a couple of bar fights.
Q: There’s a crop of exciting young UFC lightweights right now, and of them, you’ve had the biggest wins over the toughest competition. You like it that way, don’t you?
FE: You’re in the UFC and you’re going to fight a tough guy no matter what, so you might as well fight a name because that’s going to prepare your career that much more. You know, you don’t want to keep fighting guys you’re supposed to beat. You want to fight the guys you’re not supposed to beat. That’s how you’re going to get your name up in the rankings.
Q: This is your third UFC fight, but you recently signed an extension, correct?
FE: Yeah, I have three more fights now after this one.
Q: What do you expect from Spencer Fischer at UFC 78?
FE: I’m expecting a real tough fight, man. He never has a boring fight. I’ve seen him fight many times, and I know he’s going to bring the fight to me, so I’m not going to have to go look for a fight in that cage.
Q: You’ve already cut your teeth in the UFC and are well on your way to being an established star at 155 lbs. in the UFC. What can fans expect to see from you in your next fight at UFC 78?
FE: They’re going to see the progression – progressing more as a fighter in experience and talent and everything all around. I want to show that I’m getting better, working hard to be the best I can be.
Q: Has the UFC indicated at all what could be next for you if you beat Spencer Fisher at UFC 78?
FE: Nothing. They didn’t give me anything, which is good, you know. I just want to concentrate on this one.
Q: Is there any extra pressure fighting in front of hometown fans?
FE: Not really. Once you’re in the octagon, you kinda forget where you are. I’ve fought in Vegas and I’ve fought in Sacramento, and I could have been fighting in my backyard. It’s the same thing. This next week might be a little different being home, being bothered a little bit. I try to turn my phone off and think about just taking care of business. So I’m trying not to get too caught up in it. One I step in there, I don’t think it’ll affect me at all.
Q: Did you request to be on the UFC 78 card in Newark, NJ?
FE: Well, they kind of approached me about it, and I think they knew I wanted to be on it.
Q: When you step into the cage, is it an athletic competition or is it a fight?
FE: It’s always a fight, you know what I mean. Preparing for it is an athletic competition because you worry about technique and skill. You get in there and get hit in the face, and it turns into a fight real quick.
Q: Where do you see yourself in terms of the UFC lightweight division as a whole?
FE: I’m still pretty new at this – only 2 ½ years in it – so, I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I think I’m nowhere near where I need to be yet, but I still think I can compete with anybody in there right now. So I think it’s kinda nice to know that I still have a lot of proving to do, and I still feel that at this level I can compete with anybody.
Q: Let’s say I come back here and talk with you in a year. Where do you hope to be by then?
FE: Honestly, I’d like to be right there in title contention, if not holding the title.
Q: As a fighter and as a fan, which fighters do you particularly enjoy watching?
FE: Chris Liguori, man (laughs)! Definitely my work-out partners. They’re in there just like you’re in there. As for the guys in the UFC, you know, you watch one guy for a little bit, and you just say “Oh yeah, I like this guy.” The whole 155-pound division is great because everyone’s ready to go. We’re non-stop fighters. St-Pierre is also great to watch, very well-rounded. Shogun is very fun to watch. And Randy Couture is just a legend, so I always enjoy his fights.
Q: By the way, how did your nickname come to be?
FE:(Laughs) To tell you the truth, Chris (Liguori) just gave it to me and it stuck. I was always answering back, you know.
Q: There’s been a lot of attention over you still working as part of the family plumbing business, so let’s touch on that a little. When your fighting career is done, would you like to remain in the sport as a coach, or do you hope to take over the family business?
FE: If everything goes as planned, I’ll be fighting for a long time. That’s what I want to do. I don’t know how long the business will even be around for me to take over, but I enjoy this sport. I enjoy working out, I enjoy helping people. I’m coaching now at Rutgers. I’ll always be involved in wrestling, and I’ll always be involved in mixed martial arts. That’s my future.
Q: Are any of the wrestlers over at Rutgers looking to get into MMA after school?
FE: (smiles) Yeah, I think so.
Q: I’m going to throw out a few names to get your thoughts. Easy enough. Here we go:
Joe Stevenson – Tough, tough fighter; one of the toughest guys in my weight class.
BJ Penn – The best guy in my weight class.
Sean Sherk – Uhhh…another tough guy in my weight class.
That’s a very political answer about Sherk – (laughter)
Dana White – the boss.
Joe Scarola – F—– queer.
Serra vs. Hughes – Serra. I’m going with the Long Island boy.
Q: What’s the one thing that aspiring young fighters might not understand about what it takes to become a top-level fighter?
FE: The commitment level that you need. I know a lot of local tough guys. The average street fight lasts 30 seconds, but you’ve got to be 100% committed to this sport. Anyone can jump in a ring and throw a couple punches and say, “I did it.” But to be successful, you need 100% commitment. You’ve got to be ready to commit your whole life to this.
Q: Before we go, I have to ask this: Will there be a UFC 78 after party, and am I invited?
FE: Yes, there will be. Bliss in Clifton. You’re more than invited.