By Sunday morning the UK will know if they have a second UFC Champion. The event is UFC 278, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Champion is the best in the world, Kamaru Usman. The challenger and our hope is Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards.
Kingston to Birmingham
Born in Kingston, Jamaica. Leon lived in a one-room wooden shack with his parents and little brother. He knew his father did “questionable activities”, although he did not know how much he did them. At age nine, Leon, his mother, and his brother moved to the Aston area of Birmingham, England. His father has already made the move before the family followed.
At thirteen, four years after his move to England, Leon would find out his father was murdered.
“I knew what he was involved in, so I knew eventually something would happen to my dad,” Edwards says.
“When it’s a late phone call you know it’s something bad. He got murdered.
“definitely made me angrier and more willing to partake in that life. It pushed me into a life of crime.”
The news of his father’s murder pushed a young Edwards into years of crime. Knife crime, drug dealing, and street fighting. His mother, keen to deter her son away from the life his father led, made Leon now seventeen, join a local MMA gym.
A natural and “looked special”, Leon took to the sport instantly. He trained day and night and stated “MMA saved my life” and “took him down a different path”. By nineteen Edwards would have his first professional MMA bout.
Leon would go on to win 8 of his first 9 fights. Although the only loss was a Disqualification due to an illegal knee. He would become the BAMMA champion and defend that title, and then the UFC call came.
Edwards would make his promotional debut for the UFC against Claudio Silva on November 8th, 2014. He lost the fight via split decision.
It would be his next fight where Leon would catch the eyes of the masses. He fought UFC veteran Seth Baczynski five months after his debut. The fight would last just 8 seconds as Leon cracked Seth with a left hand, shutting his lights off. The victory marked one of the sixth fastest knockouts in UFC history. He would also earn himself a Performance of the night bonus. $50,000 richer too.
By the end of 2015, Leon would hold an MMA record of 10-2. His next opponent would be The Ultimate Fighter winner Kamaru Usman. A highly decorated wrestler. The fight would go the distance with Leon winning 1 of 3 rounds on two judges’ scorecards. A competitive fight, which saw Usman working hard for each takedown and Leon doing well in the standup.
Following this loss, Leon Edwards would rack up a five-fight win streak in the division. Taking out names such as Vicente Luque, Bryan Barberena, and Albert Tumenov.
The run of wins would get Leon the Main Event fight against then superstar, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. Battered and bloodied, Cowboy tipped his hat to Leon in defeat. His biggest test to date. The world finally saw Leon as an elite fighter.
Rocky would then extend his winning streak to nine in a row. Taking out Gunnar Nelson and former champion Rafael Dos Anjos.
Can’t catch a break
After this fantastic run of form and many mentioning his name in title conversations. Leon’s bad luck would begin.
He would be scheduled to fight Tyron Woodley, who was the division’s former champion. The fight was scheduled for March 21st, 2020.
However, COVID-19 restrictions would see the event scrapped.
425 days after his bout with Rafael Dos Anjos, Edwards was removed from the UFC rankings. But one day later he was scheduled to fight undefeated prospect Khamzat Chimaev. The match-up would see Edwards move into the #3 ranking. The fight was scheduled to take place in December. However, on November 29th, Chimaev and Edwards would test positive for COVID-19.
The UFC would reschedule this fight between Edwards and Chimaev two more times. Both were due to Chimaev’s lasting effects of COVID.
More bad luck
Finally for Edwards, a late replacement would see him return to the cage. Belal Muhammed would step in. A wrestling-heavy Welterweight on a five-fight win streak. Although a dominant first-round display, Leon would accidentally poke Belal in the eye, rendering him unable to continue, just 18 seconds into the first round.
Keen to get back in the cage Leon opted to fight one of the UFC’s biggest draws next, Nate Diaz. Nate was unranked and highly touted as one of the toughest fighters on the roster. A big gamble for Leon, whose luck didn’t seem to be on his side lately.
The fight would be the first five-round co-main event in UFC history at UFC 262. The bout was moved to UFC 263 with Nate suffering a minor injury.
Dominant for 24 minutes and 30 seconds, Edwards was cruising for a victory. Bloodying Nate’s face up but Nate would stun Leon with just 30 seconds left to go in the fight. Wobbled on his feet, Leon would last the last 30 seconds and earn himself a unanimous decision on all three judges’ scorecards.
Now on a 10-fight winning streak, it was hard to deny Leon a title shot. His last loss was over 7 years ago to the current champ Usman. Yet the UFC still tried to get Edwards another fight in, before the eventual rematch. They would schedule him against Jorge Masvidal. Leon obliged. However, Jorge would pull out of the fight, thus, allowing the UFC to finally book the rematch. Kamaru Usman vs Leon Edwards II at UFC 278. For the UFC Welterweight Championship Belt.
Us Brits lost a champion when Bisping lost to Georges St Pierre at UFC 217 nearly five years ago. We waited years for it to happen the first time and we grow impatient of not seeing another champion. Leon Edwards would fit perfectly into that spot. He not only has the talent to become the best, but he has a story to inspire a whole new generation of British fighters.
Featured image credits to Embed from Getty Images