Leon Edwards takes his game to the next level with impressive win over Kamaru Usman
On the night in 2019 when he scored an impressive victory over Gunnar Nelson, a fighter whose style was all wrong for him, Leon Edwards' moment was stolen when Jorge Masvidal walked away from an interview and hit Edwards with a combination that he dubbed "a three-piece and a soda."
The video went viral, helped make Masvidal a bigger star and led to him eventually getting to fight Nate Diaz for the so-called BMF title at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Edwards was lost in the shuffle. Because there were so many people around, he wasn't able to hit back. Masvidal punched him and then trashed talked him during an interview with ESPN's Laura Sanko.
Edwards had just defeated Nelson, a highly regarded submission ace, but most of the post-fight talk about him was focused on Masvidal cracking him on the chin. Edwards had to overcome so much in his young life, including his father being murdered when he was only 14 and living on the streets in Jamaica when there were drugs and violence everywhere he turned.
Things seemed to go against him everywhere but in the cage, where all he did was win. He had to sit out two years because of injuries and the pandemic, and then after returning had another 14-month stint on the sidelines.
But now, after defeating Kamaru Usman by majority decision in the main event of UFC 286 Saturday at The O2 Arena in London, England, the skeptics have nothing left to say. The doubters, if they still exist, are being willfully ignorant.
This is a guy who hasn't lost since dropping a decision to Usman in 2015. Since, he's reeled off 11 consecutive victories and solidified his place as MMA's top welterweight with a pair of victories over Usman in a seven-month span.
He headlined a card at his adopted home in England and not only sold out the place with 17,588 fans in attendance, he set a gate record for the O2. The $8.6 million paid gate was four times better than any UFC show in England previously, UFC president Dana White said.
The judges scored it 48-46 twice and 47-47 for Edwards, giving him a majority decision seven months after the head kick heard around the world knocked Usman out cold in the waning seconds of UFC 278 on Aug. 20 in Salt Lake City.
Usman was a heavy favorite nonetheless in the rematch, but Edwards brought out the stars and did the job with a virtuoso performance. Without a point deduction for grabbing the cage, Edwards would have won four of the five rounds on two cards and three of the five on other.
It was finally his moment, as he was welcomed to the cage like a conquering hero by the adoring home fans. And during the fight, the fans were chanting "Head kick! Head kick! Head kick," urging him to finish it in style again.
It overwhelmed Edwards afterward, as he spoke of his moment in the sun.
"It meant the world to me," Edwards said. "To be able to have overcome so much in my career, I took the hardest road to get here. I feel you all know that, but I took the longest road to get here. To be able to finally earn my respect the hard way, knowing that no one gave me nothing, it's even more satisfying for me and my team."
He's clearly one of the best fighters in the sport now, and that can't be argued. Perhaps after the head kick KO of Usman, there was an argument considering that Usman had dominated long stretches of that match. On Saturday, though, Edwards convincingly shut down that argument.
He nullified Usman's wrestling — Usman landed only four of 15 takedown attempts and did little with them — and Edwards connected on an astounding 74% of his significant strikes. Usman was only in the fight in the fifth round because he is one of the all-time greats who has an insatiable will to win. Many of the rounds were close, but Edwards proved he was the better fighter from start to finish.
The only downer on the day from Edwards' perspective came when he followed White at the post-fight news conference. White told the media that Colby Covington would get the next title shot. That didn't sit well with Edwards, who pointed out that Covington hasn't fought since defeating Masvidal on March 5, 2022, in Las Vegas.
Edwards wanted to get his hands on Masvidal, not because Masvidal has earned a shot but because of that "three-piece and a soda" from 2019.
"I just don't like him," Edwards said of Masvidal. "I think he's weird. ... The only reason I'd give him a title shot is because I don't like him. ... It's an easy fight for me. ... He's just a weird weirdo."
Edwards has proven that he's a champion's champion. He has beaten one of the best to have ever done it twice in a row and there was little argument about the result of either.
For those who may still doubt Edwards, remember this: That says a lot more about them than it ever could about Leon Edwards himself.