On the night in 2019 when he landed an impressive win over Gunnar Nelson, a fighter whose style didn’t suit him at all, Leon Edwards’ moment was stolen when Jorge Masvidal walked away from an interview and hit Edwards with a combination he called “a three piece and a soft drink.”
The video went viral, helped make Masvidal a bigger star and eventually led him to fight Nate Diaz for the so-called BMF title at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Edwards was lost in the shuffle. Because there were so many people around, he couldn’t hit back. Masvidal punched and then talked him down during an interview with ESPN’s Laura Sanko.
Edwards had just beaten Nelson, a highly regarded ace for submission, but most of the talk about him after the fight focused on Masvidal punching him on the chin. Edwards had to overcome so much in his young life, including the murder of his father when he was only 14 and living on the streets of Jamaica when drugs and violence were everywhere.
It seemed to go against him everywhere except in the cage, where he just won. He had to sit out for two years due to injuries and the pandemic, and after his return he was sidelined for a further 14 months.
But now, after defeating Kamaru Usman by majority decision in the main event of UFC 286 Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, England, the skeptics have run out of words. The doubters, if they still exist, are willfully ignorant.
This is a man who has not lost since dropping a decision to Usman in 2015. Since then, he has racked up 11 straight wins and cemented his place as MMA’s top welterweight with a pair of wins over Usman in the space of seven months.
He headlined a card at his adopted home in England and not only sold out the venue with 17,588 fans in attendance, he also set a gate record for the O2. The $8.6 million paid gate was four times better than any previous UFC show in England, UFC President Dana White said.
The judges scored twice 48-46 and 47-47 for Edwards, earning him a majority decision seven months after the head kick heard around the world knocked Usman out in the waning seconds of UFC 278 on August 20 in Salt Lake City.
Usman was nonetheless a heavy favorite in the rematch, but Edwards brought out the stars and got the job done with a virtuoso performance. Without a point deduction for grabbing the cage, Edwards would have won four of five rounds on two maps and three of five on the other.
It was finally his moment, as he was welcomed into the cage as a conquering hero by the adoring home fans. And during the fight, the fans chanted “Head kick! Head kick! Head kick”, urging him to finish it off in style again.
It overwhelmed Edwards afterwards, as he talked about his moment in the sun.
“It meant the world to me,” said Edwards. “Because I’ve been able to overcome so much in my career, I’ve taken the hardest road to get here. I think you all know that, but I’ve taken the longest road to get here. To finally get my respect the hard way “Knowing that no one has given me anything, it gives me and my team even more satisfaction.”
He’s clearly one of the best fighters in the sport right now, and there’s no arguing with that. Perhaps there was an argument after Usman’s knockout, as Usman had dominated long stretches of that match. But on Saturday, Edwards closed that argument convincingly.
He nullified Usman’s struggling – Usman only landed four of 15 takedown attempts and did little with them – and Edwards connected on an astonishing 74% of his significant strikes. Usman did not compete until the fifth round as he is one of the all-time greatest with an insatiable will to win. Many of the rounds were close, but Edwards proved he was the better fighter from start to finish.
The only damper on the day from Edwards’ perspective came when he followed White into the post-fight press conference. White told the media that Colby Covington would get the next title. That didn’t sit well with Edwards, who pointed out that Covington hasn’t fought since he defeated Masvidal on March 5, 2022 in Las Vegas.
Edwards wanted to get his hands on Masvidal, not because Masvidal deserved a shot but because of that 2019 “three-piece and a soda”.
“I just don’t like him,” Edwards said of Masvidal. “I think he’s weird. … The only reason I’d give him a shot at the title is because I don’t like him. … It’s an easy fight for me … He’s just a weirdo crazy.”
Edwards has proven himself to be a champion champion. He has beaten one of the best ever twice in a row and there was little debate over the outcome of either.
For those still doubting Edwards, remember this: that says a lot more about them than it ever does about Leon Edwards himself.