With 55 seconds remaining in the fifth and final round and down on the scorecards, Leon Edwards defied the odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a beautiful head kick to knock out UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in Salt Lake City this month.
Edwards’ win was like a real-life Rocky story – with the trials and tribulations the Birmingham fighter has had to go through over the past seven years acting as the perfect backdrop for what would be one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.
Since his sole UFC defeat to Usman in 2015, Edwards has been on an incredible run of nine wins on the trot prior to his rematch with the man known as the “Nigerian Nightmare”. While that kind of form would traditionally catapult a fighter to extreme notoriety and acclaim – it hadn’t even earned Edwards a title shot.
There was a myriad of reasons that contributed to Edwards’ inability to secure a chance at the title, with his career seemingly filled with setback after setback. After fights against former champion Tyron Woodley, up-and-coming prospect Khamzat Chimaev and the well-known Nate Diaz were canceled due to either the Covid-19 pandemic or injury – it appeared as though in spite of his obvious talent, becoming the welterweight king just wasn’t meant to be for the Team Renegade fighter.
Couple that with a no-contest result against 21-3 opponent Belal Muhammad, and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Edwards. However, in December of last year, he had the chance to establish himself as the number one contender in the division when his fight with Diaz was rescheduled. Not only was it a great opportunity to get back in the octagon, it also provided him the platform to show his skills in the main event watched by millions.
He delivered in spades, dominating his Stockton opponent for the vast majority of the fight. He controlled proceedings with his supreme kickboxing skills, as his judging of distance, piston-like jab and accurate kicks to the leg, body, and head appeared to break Diaz down. You can never count him out though, and in true Diaz fashion, he rallied back in the final round to land a pinpoint left hand that visibly rocked Edwards.
In survival mode and waiting for the bell to ring, Edwards managed to hold on and secure a unanimous decision victory. Despite Edwards’ emphatic win, all people could talk about post-fight was him nearly being stopped – yet another roadblock in a ridiculously turbulent career.
More importantly, though – he got the win – which set up a grudge match between him and Jorge Masvidal, two fighters who had a clear disdain for each other. Their mutual dislike stemmed from an incident at UFC London in 2019, when Masvidal assaulted Edwards backstage – delivering three punches unprovoked to the Brit’s face which he referred to as a “three-piece and a soda”.
Just like on so many occasions before, the fight didn’t materialize after Masvidal pulled out with an undisclosed injury. While that would’ve been a tough pill for Edwards to swallow, it meant that he would receive a title shot earlier than expected. However, if he was going to upset the applecart and become just the second person from the UK to win a UFC title, he was going to have to do it against a man he has previously lost to, and someone who was considered pound-for-pound the best in the world.
If Usman defeated Edwards, he would’ve tied Anderson Silva’s record for the most consecutive wins in the UFC, which stands at 16. He was on track to do just that, as he headed into the final round clearly up on the scorecards and in control of the fight. That was until Edwards delivered a left head kick for the ages. By feinting the jab and straight left hand, Usman parried and ducked his head considerably to the right, allowing Edwards to produce a left head kick to the side of Usman’s dome that rendered him unconscious immediately.
It was an incredible come-from-behind victory that will go down as one of the most shocking results in UFC’s history, and it sets up a trilogy fight between the two men that will whet the appetite of avid and casual fans alike.