He proudly wears a tattoo of the Samurai battle cry ‘Death before Dishonour’ across his chest – and has been an awesome martial arts fighter since he was just 16 years old. It seems that British fighter Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards has been on a life-long quest to become an MMA world champion.
But now, the one man standing in his way at the moment is the current UFC world welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Usman is certainly some obstacle to face, and the 34-year-old welterweight champion is rated pound-for-pound the best UFC fighter in the world. The Nigerian-American has so far destroyed most of his challengers in the ring, and his only loss was what many would call a blip at the very start of his career.
An unstoppable force
Since winning his title from Tyron Woodley at UFC 235, Usman has successfully defended his crown five times. The former freestyle wrestler is nicknamed ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ for a good reason.
The title fight between Usman and Edwards is billed for August 20, 2022, at the Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Not surprisingly, it’s the headline attraction of 12 bouts at UFC 278.
And here’s the final intriguing element to the August championship tussle. The fight isn’t the first meeting between the two fighters – it’s a long-standing rematch.
The two met as young prospects back in 2015. Usman won the fight with a unanimous decision on all three judges’ scorecards.
At the time, Usman’s wrestling pedigree dominated that contest. It wasn’t exactly destruction – but there was no doubt that the older, more experienced fighter would come out on top.
He was able to take Edwards down six times in the octagon. Usman went after Edwards straight away, and with 111 strikes, it might appear a one-sided slaughter in retrospect.
But at the time, it wasn’t – Rocky is fast and showed some great moves of his own. There were times when that first bout seemed a closer fight than it seems now on paper.
Since that three-round contest seven years ago, Usman and Edwards have performed superbly in their own ways. Both have won all their fights and are in a prime form approaching the rematch.
Who will win?
Betway appears to have Usman tipped as the clear favorite; this reflects his dominance of the division and his current form heading into the fight. However, with a 9-match win streak under his belt (if you discount that no-content with Belal Muhammad), it would not be wise to consider this match-up a foregone conclusion.
Usman has had the more crucial path to glory: becoming a world champion and gaining all the critical plaudits along the way. His MMA career record is 21 fights, 20 wins, and one loss by submission (a clumsy rear-choke against Jose Caceres way back in 2013).
He has shot up through the rankings and dominates the division. He seems to have gotten stronger and stronger. Certainly earning the title of a sophisticated fighter with great fitness, judo skills, and long-lasting cardio endurance, Usman is not a slugger who purely relies on strength and punching power, although he proved that he could produce a stunning knockout against Masvidal.
(Usman Knocked out Masvidal in spectacular fashion at UFC 261)
Meanwhile, Edwards has built a powerful momentum of his own, with nine unbeaten appearances since the original encounter with Usman. The English southpaw is now ranked world number two in the division, with many arguing he should be number one.
Edwards has, of course, been looking forward to a rematch for years. He has built his confidence back with a string of great victories.
He seems to be burning for this rematch and chance for revenge against Usman. That defeat back in 2015 must-have haunted Edwards in the intervening years. Who would or even could be sure he can’t pull off a title upset? Edwards is taller and four years younger, with a solid work ethic.
‘Rocky’ is a clinically efficient fighter, and his strength is being a great kick-boxer capable of clean, crisp strikes. Some fans have accused him of playing it safe at times. However, his style seems to work for him and, most importantly, produce tangible results.
One of his knockouts still stands as one of the fastest – an eight-second KO against Seth Baczynski in 2015. Edwards was smarting after a defeat against Claudio Silva and appeared to come into the octagon with a point to prove. Before the announcer had finished the contestants’ names, the fight was over. Edwards immediately stopped punching his fallen foe and danced around the ring in triumph.
The lightning finish won him a $50,000 ‘performance of the night’ bonus. It currently stands as the fourth fastest in UFC history. It was the ultimate demonstration of Edward’s speed and skill. His kicks are fast and seem to have laser-guided accuracy.
Commentators believe Edwards always stands a chance in any fight – because if he can land the right shot at the right time, it can be all over in an instant. But will Usman give him such a chance?
Edwards is saying he will win the fight and the title – to show that British fighters don’t have to move abroad to win championships. Should the Birmingham-based fighter take the championship he will only be the second British UFC champion.
Michael Bisping took the middleweight crown in 2016 – but he lived and trained in America when he did so. Edwards is not only talking about taking the title in August – but planning title defenses back in his hometown of Birmingham, a prospect that the residents of the city could not be happier with.
It would certainly be a boost for MMA in the UK, and there would surely be a huge support for the homegrown boy with a world title to his name. But first, there’s the little matter of Usman between him and the crown.
Can Rocky defeat the Nigerian Nightmare? Experts say that with Edwards striking power, anything is possible.
Usman has the moves and the holds, though – and so far, that has seen off all challengers. Perhaps the final component in the hotly anticipated bout will be the fact that the first battle between the two was a three-round affair.
This title fight is scheduled to be a five-round rematch. Could that longer timescale be a decisive factor?
Will the younger Edwards have more time to land the vital knockout blow? Or will Usman’s guile, experience, and fitness help him retain that title?
The world of UFC is waiting with bated breath. Whatever happens, Usman versus Edwards is sure to be a classic.