Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman: UFC 286 in London sees British champions in the spotlight

UFC flyweight Molly McCann writes for BBC Sport about Leon Edwards’ much-anticipated welterweight title defense against Kamaru Usman at UFC 286 in London on Saturday.

Edwards, 31, from Birmingham became only the second British UFC champion in history when he avenged a 2015 defeat to shock Usman in August. Their trilogy fight at the O2 Arena has been billed as the greatest British MMA fight in history.

Can Edwards keep the title or will Usman spoil Rocky’s homecoming?

Fighting is a fun thing.

You can go through an entire career and not really get the full respect you deserve until that one moment comes. And then everything changes overnight.

Sometimes in price wars, talent doesn’t always mean you’re the best because you have to sell and be a bit known.

Leon Edwards always had the talent, but he was never given enough time to speak and build the hype. But you can’t Beat a pound for pound big like Kamaru Usman and no longer be ignored. His performances made sure of that.

Leon may have been late, but he’s at the party now.

Imagine all that he has overcome. He not only inspires the countries he represents, Jamaica and England, but every fighter around the world.

When you’re looking at someone looking for a brilliant legacy and story, I think you’re always looking for the underdog, and Leon’s story has always been like that. Leon’s story is the stuff of legends.

There’s his backstory, busting with Jorge Masvidal at UFC London in 2019 and being removed from the UFC rankings in 2020 for inactivity.

After Leon defeated Rafael dos Anjos in 2019, Leon did not fight for almost two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and multiple fight cancellations.

He fought with everyone but people backed out like when his fight with Khamzat Chimaev was canceled three times.

It’s like you come to the goal and then the goal posts are moved. The list goes on and on, but Leon just kept his cool and got there.

He’s the crème de la crème and he’s where he deserves to be.

Leon’s timing and patience are his great strengths.

Of course you could say his resilience and so many other things, but I think his patience is key. Just look at his win over Usman. He lost that fight, got muscular. But Leon doesn’t react emotionally – he just stays present.

He knows when it’s his moment. As a result, he produced one of the biggest moments in UFC cover history.

When Michael Bisping defended the middleweight title against Dan Henderson in 2016, it was a cool era. I was made for Bisping to do what he did on home soil, but you have to remember that everyone wanted to be like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.

Then there was Bisping, he was the one who actually made it a tangible thing for British fighters to become UFC champion.

I would like to think that Leon will have the same impact as Bisping. I think he deserves that.

He carried himself well and has always remained true to himself and all his people. Jamaica has a truly rich heritage of brilliant amazing culture. The food, the music, the fashion – I feel like Leon embodies all of that in a way.

And then he came to the UK and his community in Birmingham harnessed his potential and made sure he used all of his natural qualities.

I can understand that because it’s no secret how proud I am to be from Liverpool and how that has shaped me.

Leon Edwards celebrates beating Kamaru Usman at UFC 278
Leon Edwards celebrates beating Kamaru Usman at UFC 278

I first saw Usman in UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter. I was impressed by his work ethic, it was cool to see how hard he was willing to work for his family. I could admire that.

In person, he’s really genuine. In fights and in showbiz, when people are on the mic they have to sell the fight so I’m not sure we always see his authentic self, but when you meet him he’s a good breed of cat.

Usman’s talents are unquestionable. When he went to his new coach Trevor Whitman, he found another gear that former coach Henri Hooft never got out of him.

Hooft had him kicking, kneeling and elbowing, but Whitman really taught him his reach, the importance of his jab and the preparation of his signature shots.

I truly believe this fight will be different than last year’s rematch. We’ve seen two fights between these guys now and I think Usman will try to wrestle harder, longer and secure more on the ground.

Despite this, Leon is mentally stronger than ever.

I don’t see a goal this time, I think it will go over the distance, but I’m counting on Leon. We all wanted him to win last time and he made us believe he could do it again. Trust me it wasn’t a coincidence.

Also, a quick word on Jack Shore from Wales, who is up against Makwan Amirkhani on the undercard.

Jack is in a comeback fight and moves up to featherweight after losing it first fight of his career against Ricky Simon.

I think we’re going to see the best Jack Shore we’ve ever seen. There’s nothing quite like going out as a Brit and fighting at home, I absolutely love it.

I was asked to be on the map but I needed to recover. I fought three times in 2022. For the past 18 months, I’ve given my all for the UFC and the fans, and my body and mind have needed to rest and catch up.

I knew it would be good to appreciate this UFC London as I was in the last few cards and fought on three with one canceled due to Covid.

I’ve missed a lot of St. Patrick’s Days for UFC London… I’ll enjoy seeing a Guinness when I see this one, I’m telling you.

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