Leon Edwards is, in a way, the polar opposite of the man he’ll stand across from in the cage on Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Diaz, Edwards’ opponent at UFC 263, has become a larger than life figure despite an up-and-down record and lengthy periods away from the game.
Edwards has had a lengthy period out, too, but he’s 8-0 with a no-contest since his last loss, a 2015 decision to Kamaru Usman, now the UFC champion. Edwards gained his fame when Jorge Masvidal walked away from an interview to punch him, which he deemed “a three piece and a soda.”
Where Diaz is colorful and outrageous, Edwards, a -650 favorite at BetMGM, is bland and unassuming. At least, it should be noted, he’s unassuming and non-controversial outside of the Octagon.
But Edwards, who believes he — and not Colby Covington — deserves the next shot at Usman for the welterweight belt, said he won’t be vanilla inside the cage.
“I’m a much bigger guy,” said Edwards, who is No. 3 at 170 pounds. “I’m a natural welterweight and I’ve been a welterweight my whole career. My shots are going to impact him more, you know? My [advantage] is on the feet, 100 percent. I’m a much better striker in all departments. Also in grappling, I’ve proven time and time again that I’m a well-rounded martial artist.
“I’m not a guy who goes in and looks just to strike, or whatever. I’m going to go in and mix it up and use whatever I need and, basically, to take him apart.”
Edwards has been a remarkable story in rising to contention. But he’s had an extraordinary string of bad luck that kept him out of the cage for nearly two years.
He defeated Rafael dos Anjos on July 20, 2019, and then didn’t get back to work until March 13, 2021. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 forced cancelation of his planned bout with ex-champion Tyron Woodley. Then he signed to fight uber-prospect Khamzat Chimaev.
First, Edwards got COVID, then Chimaev did. That fight was scheduled three times before it was finally scrapped for good. Edwards returned on March 13, but his string of bad luck followed.
After he had a good first round, he inadvertently poked Belal Muhammad in the eye. Muhammad couldn’t continue and the fight was a no-contest.
But Edwards said he got what he needed out of that bout.
“I don’t really believe in ring rust in the first place, because I work so hard and I’m always training and working on my skills,” he said. “I got in there, I prepared for the fight, I did the weight cut and then I made the walk and I fought. It got stopped in the second round, and that was terribly unfortunate. What difference would it have been if I had knocked him out in the first or second? None, to be honest. But because of the way it ended, people made an issue of it, but it’s fine.”
So on a loaded card, one filled with great fights top to bottom, Leon Edwards is kind of being overlooked.
It’s not, though, because of his fighting ability.
“Leon Edwards can fight, man, bottom line,” UFC president Dana White said. “All the other stuff, it’s secondary and not really that important. What matters is whether you can fight, and Leon Edwards has shown again and again that he’s one of the best fighters in the world. That’s what is important.”
And Edwards wants to use a stirring victory over Diaz to remind the world what he’s capable of and to put himself into a position for a title fight.
He wants to force White’s hand by fighting so well, he gives White no option other than to change his mind and pit him next against Usman.
“Nate Diaz has this reputation and all of the hype and that’s actually good for me,” he said. “Everybody will be watching and when I do what I do, people are going to want me to be the one [fighting for the title next].”
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