Leon Edwards: Turning Skeptics Into Believers

credit: UFC

I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to see Kamaru Usman defend his title against Leon Edwards.

Purely from a selfish, entertainment point of view.

Edwards had done enough to earn it, no doubt. But I wanted to see Usman take on Khamzat Chimaev. That was the fight that stood out to me. It was the monster all-rounder taking on the new monster all-rounder. The king against the usurper. The winner would be the guy who sat on the throne. Rightfully.

No Colby rematch because of some weird faux rivalry. No bullshit Masvidal rematch because it would draw big at the box office. And no Leon Edwards fight because, well, he’s just not good enough to beat Usman, is he? That’s what I thought.

Well, for 19-ish minutes on Saturday night he wasn’t.

Edwards started the fight well. He didn’t immediately fall under the heat of the Usman mental pressure. The pound-for-pound king had the Birmingham man in position to dominate early, but he didn’t. Edwards rose, and attacked himself. Taking Usman down for the first time in his career with a beautiful trip as he connected with a bodylock. Usman got some space but only enough for Edwards to take his back and threaten, unsuccessfully, with chokes. The opening round ended with Edwards taking the 10-9 with some nice strikes from the back.

Game on!

Or, well, maybe not.

For the next 19 minutes Usman took control. In the dense Salt Lake City altitude, Edwards stayed competitive but Usman was constantly ahead. Picking up easy takedowns, dodging any of Edwards’ attacks and basically producing the dominant display I, and maybe others, expected. Why isn’t this Chimaev fighting Usman? Ugh.

The commentary team rightly called Edwards’ struggles and the seeming Sunday morning (Irish time) stroll that champion Usman was now taking. Cageside analyst Din Thomas, ably supported by brainless yes-man Daniel Cormier on commentary, suggested Edwards had fought his fight and was now just looking for a moral victory in a decision defeat. Although that was obviously too harsh, nobody was thinking Edwards, who had 1 KO victory since his sophomore UFC appearance in 2015, had much of a chance of winning – try as he may.

But we were all wrong.

Leon Edwards connected with one of the greatest strikes in UFC history. A right hand fake was followed by a left jab which forced Usman to trust his boxing acumen and move that head off centre line. When he did, he was met with an excocet shin to the dome. The shot produced in Team Renegade, heard around the world. Years of training, decades of dedication, hours or sweat, blood and tears to never give up, despite everything, and produce the goods. Brilliant.

Suddenly, I forgot I didn’t want to see the fight. We all did. Chimaev who? Taken away by the majesty of one of the greatest comebacks in our sport’s history. Call me a hater before the fight, and you’d be right – I absolutely was. But a hater no more.

Earlier in the night we saw Anthony Joshua lose fans by the thousand after his world heavyweight boxing contest with Oleksandr Usyk, which ended in a generous-to-Joshua split decision win for the Ukrainian, was immediately followed by the Londoner petulantly throwing belts out of the ring and going on what felt like a feature length rant about…. well, nothing. He took Usyk’s moment away and made himself look terrible.

The aftermath of Leon Edwards’ victory was the exact opposite. It may not have been the most coherent speech, but it was from the heart. A normally quiet, withdrawn guy, he let all the words he had held in suddenly out. And when he spoke to his mother on the phone backstage, a moment brilliant caught by UFC production, the tears came out too. From him, and I’m sure many watching at home. A brilliant moment, after a brilliant moment.

Not only didn’t Leon Edwards produce for his fans and family, he turned skeptics into believers. Me included. A star-making performance. One kick to change a whole life.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma

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