UFC 286: Leon Edwards oozing with confidence after finishing Kamaru Usman 'on my worst day'
Leon Edwards' last-minute knockout of Kamaru Usman is the one he'll be most associated with for the rest of his life. Nothing else he could ever do in the fight game will surpass coming from well behind against the top fighter in the world in the waning seconds and scoring a dramatic knockout victory.
Edwards rallied from way behind to stop Usman at 4:04 of the final round, just as the UFC broadcasters were wondering where Edwards' urgency was. The win made him the UFC's welterweight champion and led to Saturday's rubber match (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) between the men in the main event of UFC 286 at the O2 Arena in London.
Nearly five years to the day prior to his title defense against Usman, Edwards finished Peter Sobotta at 4:59 of the final round, scoring a TKO finish with one second left by vicious elbows.
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The circumstances between the two fights were vastly different. He was well ahead against Sobotta and the stakes weren't nearly as high as they were in the Usman fight in August. But even though many questioned his approach down the stretch in the second Usman fight, and his coach, Dave Lovell, excoriated him between the fourth and fifth rounds, urging him to pick up the pace, Edwards remained calm because he knew he could do it.
"You just don't stop looking for a way to win," Edwards said.
Edwards' victory might have been a little shocking to those who don't follow the sport religiously because Usman had been so successful and circumstances combined led to Edwards having less of a profile than he might have otherwise had. This is a guy who hasn't lost since 2015, when he was beaten by Usman by decision in their first fight. Edwards has gone on to win 10 in a row, with a no-contest, since then. But Edwards sat out first for 21 months and then for 14 months, a combination of the pandemic, injuries to himself and to his opponents.
He lost a welterweight title shot against then-champion Tyron Woodley when the pandemic began and the card was canceled, and then missed out on a bout against highly regarded Khamzat Chimaev when Chimaev contracted a bad case of COVID-19.
So when he met Usman in August in Salt Lake City, Utah, he perhaps wasn't given as much credit as he probably deserved.
And then when the fight played out the way it did, with Usman dominating Rounds 2, 3 and 4 and in total command until the sudden finish in the final minute, much of the talk before Saturday's bout has been about what Usman could do.
Overlooked, perhaps, is that Edwards has a runway to improve. If Edwards is better on Saturday than he was in August, what impact will that have on the way the bout is contested?
"There's technical issues that I could easily fix in training camp and what I've fixed already," Edwards said of the possibility he's a better fighter Saturday than he was on the night he won the belt. "Now we're not fighting at altitude. Now we're fighting in the [United Kingdom], where I live. This is not altitude stuff, and that played a massive part in my performance that night. And it won't play a factor in the performance Saturday night. So yeah, it's going to be a good evening, and like I said, I'm looking forward to it, and I can't wait."
Salt Lake City is at 4,220 feet above sea level, while London is basically at sea level, coming in at 36 feet above. He said the fatigue played a role in what he said was the worst performance of his career.
And that's another point that has him oozing with confidence. Usman has attempted to buoy his confidence by pointing out how he was in command of the fight until the finish. Edwards could only chuckle as he looked back on it.
"He has to find something to latch onto [to explain away the loss]," Edwards said of Usman. "He's got to build his confidence back up, because going into [UFC 278] he thought he could never be taken down, never be hurt or knocked out. So I think you have to find something to latch onto and that's what he's trying. He was winning the fight, but who cares?
"It goes down as [Usman] going out cold from a head-shot, and that's all that matters. When it's all said and done, winners win. Even on my worst day, my worst performance, I still knocked him out. So winners win, like I said."