A few of Leon Edwards’ first phrases after he usurped the welterweight crown final August morphed into half-speech, half-bellow.
“Take a look at me now!” he stated that evening in Salt Lake Metropolis.
Nice as his comeback, head-kick knockout of Kamaru Usman was, Edwards ought to have supplied a warning that what was to return would handle to high it.
In entrance of a raucous O2 Enviornment in London, crammed to the brim with followers of the Birmingham-based badass, a masterful Edwards did Saturday evening what he did not do final time: He gained the motion all through the UFC 286 predominant occasion to efficiently defend his title.
Doubters had forged aspersions on Edwards’ potential to defend his belt in a 3rd assembly (a rubber match as a result of Usman had gained their first struggle in 2015). The brand new champion entered as a strong +200 or increased underdog to the previous longtime 170-pound king.
Who can blame the handicappers and bettors? Outdoors of the jaw-rattling, last-minute excessive kick that crumpled Usman to the canvas in August, Edwards was on the unsuitable finish of the final 19 minutes of motion. Usman’s wrestling took Edwards out of his rhythm that evening practically seven months in the past, and the soon-to-be champ appeared flustered and, within the phrases of coloration commentator Joe Rogan, “dejected.”
That model of Edwards stayed behind in Utah, changed with a assured champion who clearly was the higher fighter all through the majority of the complete 25-minute period.
If not for a number of Edwards fouls (Usman would have gone to the free-throw line for a one-and-one had this been a part of a March Insanity bracket) that necessitated some extent deduction within the third spherical, all three judges would have awarded Edwards the win. With the penalty, he nonetheless managed 48-46 on two scorecards and a 47-47 for a majority resolution in his favor.
Edwards (21-3, 10 finishes), who at 31 is 4 years youthful than Usman (20-3, 10 finishes), pounded the ex-champ’s balky knees and weak midsection with kicks all through. Per UFC Stats, he landed vital 50 strikes to Usman’s legs, 36 to the physique and 34 to the top. In a testomony to his terrific economic system of motion, Edwards related on 75 % of his whole strike makes an attempt.
No fight-finishing head kicks materialized this time, however Edwards discovered a house upstairs together with his crushing knee strikes that saved Usman at bay. He acknowledged afterward within the octagon that he’d been focusing low to as soon as once more arrange the excessive kick.
“Clearly, his coaches labored his protection on that,” Edwards stated of the challenger. “I couldn’t get it round anymore. I set it up with physique kicks and leg kicks, however truthful play to him.”
To not say Usman was out of competition. Between rounds two and 4, it was anybody’s struggle. Usman’s wrestling wasn’t as efficient, with few takedowns succeeding and none maintaining Edwards down for lengthy sufficient to take benefit. Solely 4 of 15 photographs recorded as official takedowns, and Usman laded only one vital strike whereas on the bottom.
However the former champion nonetheless hits like a truck, and he tagged his rival a number of instances whereas standing through the center quarter-hour of a gripping battle.
“I knew I might go on the market and take his photographs,” Edwards stated. “Even when he was pressuring, not a lot occurred.”
The shortage of an efficient takedown recreation value Usman dearly. At 35 years previous and preventing in his tenth straight scheduled five-rounder, the ex-NCAA Division II nationwide champion lacked explosion on a number of makes an attempt to carry Edwards, who moved to wrestling-challenged England from Jamaica as a toddler, to the ground.
If a type of double-legs had gotten Edwards flat on the mat, granting Usman license to land bombs from above, perhaps we might be speaking a few two-time champion.
However we’re not.
Edwards clearly gained the primary and fifth rounds due to his total extra impactful strikes, together with knees to the chin and an elbow to the dome within the ultimate body. He practically repeated the fifth-round head kick feat after a stinging uppercut, however the challenger managed to dam sufficient of it.
The misplaced level for grabbing the fence to stop an Usman takedown loomed giant, placing a attract play, however the lack of a clear-as-day Usman spherical did him no favors.
“I knew it was an in depth struggle,” Usman, who assured he isn’t strolling away from MMA, stated within the cage. “Nice recreation plan. I’ve at all times stated it from the beginning, I knew I’d see Leon.”
It was Edwards evening, with the Englishman soaking within the adulation of his UK brethren. Whereas clearly celebratory, he was much less animated, not operating on the identical adrenaline as final summer time by the point a mic got here his manner. As an alternative, it’s been there, achieved that for this champion.
Take a look at him now.