LONDON — leon edwards was the first to admit that he had 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 a different Edwards from eight months ago. Edwards was clearly losing to Usman (20-3) at UFC 278 when he landed a stunning kick to the head that knocked the then-champion and pound-for-pound No. 1 candidate unconscious.
On Saturday, Edwards was poised and energetic, visibly leading the dance for the most part.
“I knew he could go out there and take his shots,” Edwards said. “Even when he was pushing, not much happened.”
According to UFC Stats, Edwards outscored 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 couldn’t keep him down or generate any significant amount of offense. Usman was credited with five minutes of control time in the fight, half of what he racked up in August.
Still, Usman said afterwards that he felt like he had won. However, he did not dispute the result and praised Edwards, whom he beat in a three-round non-title fight in 2015.
“I knew it was a close fight,” Usman said. “Great game plan. I’ve always said from the beginning, I knew I’d see Leon again and I’m not done. I’ll see him again. I’ve always supported him for everything he’s been able to do.” Its like me. He has it in his blood. Much respect, London. You have a great champion and a great guy.”
Edwards, who was born in Jamaica and now fights out of Birmingham, England, really changed the complexity of the fight with his anti-wrestling. He forced Usman to exert a lot of energy on all 15 takedown attempts, and his ability to get back to his feet had to put Usman off as the fight unfolded.
Edwards made a big mistake in the third round when he grabbed the fence during a takedown attempt. Referee herbal dean he considered the foul flagrant enough to deduct a point, which threatened to wipe out Edwards’ early lead on the scorecards.
However, Edwards refused to let the point deduction get to his head, as he continued to pepper Usman with efficient punches. He used kicks to Usman’s body and legs to slow down his aggression, while occasionally landing left kicks to the head. The English crowd chanted: “Head shot, dead,” a phrase Edwards coined after his knockout victory.
“Clearly their coaches worked their defense on it,” Edwards said. “I couldn’t handle him anymore. I set him up with body kicks and leg kicks, but fair game for him.”
Edwards’ next title defense will be against former interim champion Colby Covington, UFC president Dana White said in his post-fight news conference.
Covington was in London for Saturday’s contest and immediately began challenging Edwards. Edwards accused Covington of dodging him for years in his rise through the UFC ranks.