It was a real life ‘Rocky moment’ in August 2022 that defined the career of Birmingham’s Leon “Rocky” Edwards. The Jamaican born fighter would defy all odds and pull off one of the most improbable come-from-behind victories in the history of mixed martial arts against Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman.
Edwards, not known for his finishing ability, saw his UFC title aspirations diminishing as his long-time rival Usman cruised to a points victory. The UFC commentary team were already preparing to close show when the savvy Brit set Usman up for the perfect head kick knockout, claiming the UFC welterweight title for himself.
Edwards and Usman are set to face each other again at UFC 286 on March 18. Despite the loss, Usman is the betting favourite going into the fight, with many citing his superior cardio, and the success he found in the first fight as a means to victory in the rematch.
‘Whether I Was Tired or Not, You Got Knocked Out’ Edwards Responds to Usman’s Criticisms
During the UFC 286 pre-fight presser, Edwards addressed how he felt about defending his title for the first time, “[I’m excited], this is my first main event in the UK, and to be able to come back, headline it, defending my belt against Kamaru Usman, and it’s going to be a great night. The UK is excited, I’m excited, It’s going to be good”
One of the main points of contention in the first fight was the altitude that Edwards and Usman fought at. UFC 278 took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is over 4,000ft above sea level making the oxygen level very thin for the fighters. Fans theorize that Edwards will have renewed cardio going into the rematch, since London is only 36 feet above sea level.
When prompted about whether the altitude played a factor in their first fight, Edwards replied: “Yeah 100%, you can see from an example where Cain Velasquez fought [Fabricio Werdum] at altitude, and he was known as ‘Cardio Cain’, you know. And he tired after like a round or two, and altitude definitely played a part in my performance, I couldn’t get my body to move the way I wanted it to move. Round one started off great, then after that, [it just kind of shut down].
Kamaru is using that as a way of saying ‘you were tired in the fight’, and, whether I was tired or not, you got knocked out.”
UFC 286: A Defining Event for Both Edwards and Usman
UFC London’s headliner sees two fighters turning a corner in their respective careers. Edwards looks to silence all his critics by proving the first victory in Utah wasn’t a fluke, and that he belongs at the top of the sport.
Usman on the other hand is in a fight against time, as the Nigerian born, Nebraskan raised wrestler not only competes against Edwards; he competes against his aging body. Usman is 35 years of age, which is considered old for a welterweight, and he also faces a litany of issues with his knees which make training and fighting much harder. With a defeat at UFC 286, Usman’s window of opportunity quickly begins to close and he may never touch the belt again. It’s all or nothing for our UFC London headliners.