Friday, June 2, 2023

UFC 286: Leon Edwards beats Kamaru Usman to retain welterweight title

Edwards is on a 12-fight unbeaten streak in the UFC.

Britain’s Leon Edwards retained his welterweight title in front of his home fans as he beat Kamaru Usman by majority decision at UFC 286 in London.

Edwards, 31, was the more dangerous striker throughout as he prevented the majority of Usman’s takedown attempts.

The victory over Usman, 35, sees Edwards make his first title defence since beating the Nigerian in August.

The bout at the O2 Arena was billed as the biggest British MMA fight in history.

In shocking Usman to avenge a 2015 defeat and win the title in August, Edwards became only the second British UFC champion and the first since Michael Bisping in 2016.

Edwards’ achievement prompted the UFC to host a trilogy bout and its first numbered show in Britain since 2016, when Bisping defended his middleweight title against Dan Henderson in Manchester.

Following his victory, Jamaican-born Edwards opened the door to a fight with former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington, who was sat at cageside, but also said he might travel to Miami in April to see Jorge Masvidal’s fight with Gilbert Burns.

“That man [Covington] has sat out for two years. I might take a little trip to Miami and see what’s going on there,” said Edwards.

“I know it was a close fight so I knew I had to land the cleaner shots. He didn’t land many clean on me. He just had lots of pressure. Thanks to Kamaru for being a great competitor.”

UFC 286: Leon Edwards reflects on his journey after title defence over Kamaru Usman

Edwards cements best welterweight status

Edwards’ win over Usman in August ended his dominance of the division, the then pound-for-pound number one having been on a 14-fight UFC winning streak that yielded a title win in 2019 followed by five successful defences.

The first sighting of Edwards on the night brought a huge cheer as the big screen showed the champion arriving at the arena to the theme of Eye of the Tiger – a song synonymous with the Rocky boxing movie franchise, which inspired Edwards’ nickname.

Anticipation grew throughout the evening as celebrities filtered into the sold-out arena for the historic event, including snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan and actors Jared Leto, Anya Taylor-Joy and Tom Holland.

Former champion Usman made his cage-walk first and was booed loudly from the pro-Edwards crowd as he stepped inside the octagon.

Edwards, in black and gold shorts to signify a UFC champion, was in contrast greeted with passionate support as he high-fived fans while shouting “Let’s go”.

The early stages saw Usman pushing forward, using his jab and feinting takedowns. Edwards then started to use his kicks effectively as the round wore on, landing a heavy body kick towards the end.

The next 10 minutes saw Usman continuing to push forward looking for takedowns, with Edwards looking to evade and kick from distance.

The third round brought a nervous moment for Edwards as he was deducted a point by referee Herb Dean for holding on to the cage to prevent a takedown by Usman, which was greeted with disdain by the crowd.

With the fight close going into the fourth round, fans tried to inspire Edwards by chanting “Rocky” as the Birmingham fighter continued to chip away with leg and body kicks while working to nullify Usman’s wrestling.

Leon Edwards kicks Kamaru Usman