MMA may look like an individual sport of one-on-one combat, but it really does take a team for a fighter to reach his full potential.
UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has built a solid team around him over the last few years, and one very important piece of the puzzle is his boxing coach, Mark Henry. Over his last few fights, everyone has noticed Edgar’s marked improvement in boxing and that in large part is due to the work he’s done with Henry.
A fellow resident of New Jersey, Henry owns and operates Pino’s Pizza and has done so for the last 16 years, but his love of boxing has always been present as well. A former member of both the U.S. boxing team and the Army boxing team, Henry was called by a friend to come in and work with Frankie to help improve his boxing skills.
It took some convincing, but eventually Henry went into the school to hold pads and see where Edgar’s boxing game was at.
“I remember the day we did it and (his coach) was like ‘man (Frankie) doesn’t look too good’ and I was like ‘this kid’s going to be special’ and he turned out to be,” Henry told MMAWeekly.com.
In the early part of their relationship working together, Edgar and Henry only saw each other sparingly. A few sparring sessions here and there, but no real solid work. That was until Henry watched Edgar fight Gray Maynard back in 2008, and that convinced him they needed to work together more often.
“What happened was before (the first) Gray Maynard fight we were only hooking up once a week. I hooked up with Frankie after his first pro fight and we used to only hook up like once a week maybe, and after he lost to Gray and I said I don’t know what you’ve been doing but you need to do more boxing, you need to go four days a week if you want to do this thing serious,” said Henry.
“You have the potential, we have to hook up at least four days a week. Since the Gray loss we hook up religiously three to four days a week and so it hasn’t always been about the evolution, it’s just been about putting in the time.”
The time has carved Edgar into one of the best boxers in MMA. His footwork and hand speed baffled former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, who is also regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. Edgar’s improvement has shown in the gym before the fights, which is where Henry is most proud of the work they’ve done together.
“I have a guy who is especially good, he’s professional, he’s a local guy, and he’s phenomenal, New York Gold Gloves a couple times, New Jersey Gold Gloves. He was amateur fighter of the year and now he’s pro 11-0. This kid’s really good and he’s one of Frankie’s main sparring partners boxing-wise. I remember we used to not even be able to go four rounds with this guy, I’d be afraid of Frankie getting killed and now he goes out and he’ll go 10 rounds with him,” Henry revealed.
A boxing man at heart, Henry only worked with Edgar in the beginning, but the results have brought more students to learn the “sweet science.” Henry now trains several fighters including Ricardo Almeida, Chris Ligori, Roger Gracie, and will soon be working with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.
With Edgar’s next title defense just days away, Henry is more motivated than ever to see his prodigy go out and get another win.
“We’re the kind of camp we really try to stay humble, but me personally I’ve kind of wanted this one ever since he lost,” Henry said about the Maynard rematch. “I’m very competitive and you’d have to be crazy not to want a chance again at somebody you lost to. For me personally, I was always kind of hoping for this.”
The chance will come on Jan. 1 when Edgar puts his UFC lightweight title on the line against Gray Maynard in the main event of UFC 125 in Las Vegas.