UFC 278: Leon Edwards is prepared for his “Rocky” moment.
This Saturday at UFC 278 against champion Kamaru Usman in a rematch, Edwards will finally get his long-awaited chance at victory. And Edwards is overjoyed that his name was finally called after nearly three years of waiting.
Leon Edwards on UFC 278
Edwards recently said on The MMA Hour, “It’s going to be a fantastic birthday present. It’s five days before my birthday.”
“It’s been a long, long, long journey. He said, It’s been, what, two or three years? It’s been nine, 10 fights in a row. I earned this shot a long, long time ago. So I am looking forward to grabbing it with both hands and representing for my country and my family.”
For Edwards, the chance almost didn’t materialize. Due to injuries, bad luck, a few lackluster performances, and a number of more marketable opponents for Usman, the Birmingham native has been on the verge of a title shot for a number of years but hasn’t been able to punch his ticket.
Edwards remained optimistic that his moment would eventually arrive, and it has.
“I always knew I was going to fight for the world title,” he said. “I was worried as far as time, when, but I always knew that I would fight for the title when the opportunity comes. It’s just the wins. That was the only annoying thing. I did everything right. I should have it. You’ve got Colby having two shots at a title shot, Masvidal twice had a shot, and they didn’t earn nothing.
“Now I’m here, racking up wins. I’ve got the second-most wins in the division [next] to the champion.”
Edwards is currently unbeaten in ten fights; his lone defeat came against Usman in 2015, when he was just 23 years old. Usman’s superior wrestling in that match led to a resounding decision victory for him. But that was seven years ago, and according to Edwards, the current competition will be completely different.
Would it be different this time?
“He’s improved his boxing,” he said. “I think now he’s understanding — he’s still basic in what he does, but he understands what he’s doing as far as the striking goes. When we first fought, it was a striker vs. wrestler match. Now, it’s going to be a totally different fight. It’s a mixed martial artist vs. a wrestler-boxer. It’s a totally different fight than it was back then.
“This won’t be a wrestling match, it’ll be an MMA match. When I first fought him, I didn’t understand. I did wrestling just to do wrestling. I didn’t enjoy wrestling. Over the last seven-eight years, I’ve put myself in positions where I’m actually enjoying wrestling now. I even do wrestling more than my striking sometimes.
“I’ve always said I don’t need to be the best wrestler in the world to beat Usman,” he continued. “I’ve just got to be the best wrestler for what he does.”
At UFC 278 Edwards will finally have the chance to validate that hypothesis. Usman, who is currently among the sport’s top fighters pound-for-pound, hasn’t suffered a defeat in almost a decade. But “Rocky” intends to hand Usman his first UFC loss when Edwards finally enters the cage with him for the second time.
“I’m 100-percent confident I will be a world champion come August,” Edwards said.
The Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City will host UFC 278 on August 20.