Brett OkamotoESPN Writer3 minute read
LONDON — Leon Edwards was the first to admit he gave a terrible performance in his welterweight title fight against Kamaru Usman eight months ago. He delivered a much better one against Usman at UFC 286.
Edwards (21-3) recorded his first defense of the UFC 170-pound championship on Saturday in front of a home crowd at London’s O2 Arena, earning a majority decision on the scorecards. Two judges scored the five-round title fight 48-46 in favor of Edwards while a third scored a 47-47 draw.
It was a very different fight and different Edwards than eight months ago. Edwards was clearly losing to Usman (20-3) at UFC 278 when he landed a superb head kick that knocked out the then-champion and pound-for-pound No. 1 contender.
On Saturday, Edwards was composed and energetic, visibly leading the dance for the most part.
“I knew I could go out there and take his punches,” Edwards said. “Even when he was pressing, not much happened.”
According to UFC stats, Edwards outshot Usman 123-113 in total strikes and defended 11 of his 15 takedown attempts. Even when Usman managed to drag Edwards to the ground, he failed to hold him down or generate a significant amount of offense. Usman was credited with five minutes of control time in the bout, half of what he racked up in August.
Still, Usman said afterwards that he felt he had won. However, he did not discuss the result and praised Edwards, whom he defeated in a three-round non-title bout in 2015.
“I knew it was a close fight,” Usman said. “Great game plan. I always said it from the start, I knew I would see Leon again and I didn’t finish. I will see him again. I always gave him props for everything he could do “He’s like me. It’s in his blood. Lots of respect, London. You’ve got yourself a great champion and a heck of a lad.”
Edwards, who was born in Jamaica and now fights in Birmingham, England, really changed the complexity of the fight with his anti-wrestling. He forced Usman to put a lot of energy into the 15 takedown attempts, and his ability to get back up must have discouraged Usman during the fight.
Edwards made a huge mistake in the third round when he caught the fence on a takedown attempt. Referee Herb Dean ruled the foul sufficiently flagrant to deduct a point, which threatened to erase Edwards’ lead on the scorecards.
However, Edwards refused to let the point deduction get into his head, as he continued to pepper Usman with an effective strike. He used kicks to Usman’s body and legs to slow his aggression, while occasionally raising left kicks to his head. The English crowd chanted “Head shot, dead”, a phrase invented by Edwards after his victory by KO.
“Obviously his coaches worked his defense on that,” Edwards said. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I set him up with body kicks and leg kicks, but fair play for him.”
There are several options for Edwards’ next defense. Former interim champion Colby Covington was in London for Saturday’s contest and immediately began calling Edwards. Edwards accused Covington of dodging him for years as he rose through the ranks of the UFC.
There’s also a potential grudge match with Jorge Masvidal, who was embroiled in a backstage brawl with Edwards in 2019.