MANILA, Philippines – Just like that, Leon Edwards found his “Rocky” moment inside the octagon.
Edwards (20-3, 1NC) overcame all odds as he knocked out UFC’s No.1 pound-for-pound fighter Kamaru Usman (20-2) in the last minute of UFC 278 on Saturday, August 20 (Sunday, August 21, Philippine time) at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The scorecards had Usman ahead coming into the fifth round, but Edwards kept going and landed a slick head kick that put the former undisputed champion cold on the ground.
“I can’t put it into words. It’s been a long four years,” Edwards said after the fight. “You all doubted me, said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now!”
With the belt on his shoulders, the newly crowned UFC welterweight champion burst into tears while talking to his mother, saying the words with pride: “I told you, mum.”
The road to UFC gold wasn’t easy for “Rocky.”
Edwards fell short against Usman during their first matchup in 2015. But the Brit fighter, who also became UFC’s first Jamaican-born champion, bounced back and won eight straight bouts.
Despite that, Edwards’ momentum halted in 2019 as he was sidelined due to injuries and the pandemic. Then, an unexpected finish spoiled Edwards’ comeback in 2021 after his bout against Belal Muhammad ended in a no contest due to an accidental eye poke.
“God is on my side,” Edwards said. “I said it all week, I feel like this is my moment. Everything that happened in the past, I’m out for two years, the pandemic, all of it. The odds said I can’t come back and do it. Look at me now, champion of the world.”
Edwards proved that he deserved the title shot when he went toe-to-toe and ended up victorious against the vicious Nate Diaz in 2021. He also proved it early in the title fight when he broke Usman’s perfect takedown record and almost secured a submission finish in the very first round.
The new champ knew he was down in the scorecards against Usman and is ready for a possible trilogy.
“That’s one of my worst performances but it is what it is, I got a clean finish,” said Edwards.
“I know that we’ll have a rematch down the line. He believes that he’s the best, pound-for-pound champion. But the belt belongs to nobody inside the octagon.”
“I love to see how he comes back now. When you think that you’re that great and you got knocked out like that, you change,” he added.
Edwards was also thrilled to hear the possibility of having his first title defense in England.
“I stayed in the United Kingdom to prove a point that we can do it. The UK MMA is on the rise and I’m happy to be the front-runner to motivate those guys,” he said. “We can do more and we can have more champions coming from the UK in the next five years.” – Rappler.com