Leon Edwards put on a beautiful performance Saturday evening inside the 02 Arena against the former champion, Kamaru Usman. “The Nigerian Nightmare” was unable to successfully implement the grappling that had won him their 1st encounter in 2015.
It was the tool which was leading him to another victory in August at the pair’s rematch before a thunderous head kick at the closing minute of round five changed everything.
Pound-for-Pound. Headshot. Dead.
While “Lenny Two-Times” wasn’t able to find a killing blow in this trilogy bout, he made an important adjustment and invested HEAVILY in the leg kicks. At UFC 278, Edwards chose to not leverage this particular weapon all that much. He threw 13 leg kicks, and while landing them all, favored the head and body significantly more.
Boy could that not have been more different at UFC 286. Edwards landed 50 LEG KICKS on 53 attempts and also landed about 28 more strikes to the head and body. We saw stellar striking from the Birmingham resident, it was all unlocked by improved defense in the grappling situations and an increase in his ability to not let Usman cut the cage off.
Kamaru’s cage cutting in the rematch is what caused many problems for Edwards, and his awareness of Usman’s tactics in the trilogy led to many moments of circling out or evading the looping entries of his. power hooks. Interestingly enough, Usman was 5/12 on takedowns at UFC 278 and 4/15 at UFC 286, which points to Edwards’ improvements on getting back to his feet and not letting Kamaru secure positional dominance. Usman’s control time at UFC 286 was literally half of what it was in the rematch. That is one of the most impressive additions to Leon’s arsenal, following this defense.
While more of a personal opinion, the fact this fight took place NOT at elevation, seems to have some influence on Leon’s defense of the Welterweight throne. In August, he was clearly struggling with his stamina as both the fight and Usman’s grappling offense progressed. Where we saw a dejected and defeated Leon at the conclusion of round four at UFC 278, in this trilogy bout, he was cool as a cucumber.
I could not be happier for Leon Edwards to begin a new era at 170lbs. It was the Woodley Weight Division, then a Nigerian Nightmare took over. Now, we’ve witnessed an underdog solidify his upset of the reigning king — Welcome to the “Rocky” era.
P.S. Belal deserves the f******* title shot.