Round by Round: Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards 2 at UFC 278
Ahead of the highly anticipated trilogy between Birmingham’s welterweight champion, Leon Edwards, and the former kingpin, Kamaru Usman, I figured it might be an interesting idea to re-watch their rematch at UFC 278 and go round-by-round to see how it went wrong for Usman, and areas where both can improve for this Saturday’s trilogy.
Worth noting, Usman is 5 years older than Rocky and has been vocal about issues with his knees for years. I know many are speculating that we’ll see a decline in Usman’s ability on March 18th, and that the age may have caught up with him following such a dramatic stoppage just 5 months ago.
No touch of gloves before the initial bell, a lot of bad blood between the two in the lead-up with many assuming Usman would decisively handle the British-born Edwards. Usman applying great pressure and keeping Edwards behind the black lines, but several strikes downstairs by Edwards afford some brief breathing room.
Usman re-applies the pressure by working behind the jab and is so educated at cutting off the cage before diving in for a takedown. Edwards initially defended well, but with 3:15 left in the round, he was grounded. He finds his way back up and scrambles 15 seconds later. Constant trip attempts by Usman make Edwards uncomfortable, but Leon Edwards seriously swings the momentum by becoming the first man to take down Kamaru Usman and lands right in full mount.
Leon moves with Kamaru and takes his back, locking in the body triangle with a minute left. Threatening with the RNC and restricting the breathing of Kamaru are clearly making Usman expend a lot of energy to stay defensively sound. Closing moments see Edwards touching with a few elbows.
Overall, the first five minutes showed that Leon Edwards CAN match Kamaru on the ground and is able to deal with the pressure and takedown threat on the feet. Have to give the opening round to the underdog, but the question in my mind before we enter the second round: Can Leon keep that up for 25 minutes?
Round One: 10-9 Leon
Talk about wanting to, “get one back” as they say, Kamaru Usman really engaged more offensively in the first 30 seconds. Jumping in with hooks and trying to pour the power on to find the clinch as opposed to feint and then shoot, Usman pressures Leon to the cage and is just unloading within the first minute. Several exchanges have Edwards just covering up and trying to circle out, this is where the champion is trying to show some levels, but an eye poke with 3:23 left in the round might reset the momentum.
Leon and Usman trying to establish themselves at the midway point, with Edwards stinging the champ with several combos. Leon shoots for a takedown which Usman sprawls effectively and works on a nasty front headlock. But Edwards powers up and with a minute left, Usman is going to work with Edwards against the cage. Usman almost doubled Edwards in significant strikes this round and with 30 seconds left, grounds the Brit and controls him to the bell.
The bigger storyline of the round was the effective offense while Edwards was cornered against the cage. Usman was comfortable ripping to the body and mixing elbows in upstairs when he knew Edwards was less able to evade with the footwork. While Leon secured the takedown in the first round and would try to clinch up, it was just less effective in the second round. Really good bounce back from a competitive first five minutes.
Round Two: 10-9 Usman
The opening minute shows feints from both guys. With it being 1-1, I think each fighter understands the gravity of securing this round. Usman leans down and grabs Edwards as a fake, but when Leon didn’t retract his leg, Usman just grounded him. Edwards pops back up but now he’s trapped with Usman’s hands clasped around his body.
Edwards pummels under, reverses, and circles out once again. But Usman puts him behind the black lines and continues the expert cage cutting. Edwards clinches, knees, and pushes forward. Usman responds with another big exchange with Edwards trapped against the cage and Kamaru once again grounds him. Usman nearly has the back of Leon just under 2 minutes left.
Love the wrist control Usman is displaying, just neutralizing Leon’s ability to frame and get back to his feet. Edwards tries to create a scramble but Usman transitions to control the posture of Edwards and now rises up to elicit some ground and pound. Edwards is just trapped and has no answer for this position. Front headlock dominance from the champion with a few big strikes on the feet to end the third.
In the most dominant round of the fight, Kamaru executes the game plan early and sticks to it as the round progresses. Leon had no real work on the feet before he was grounded. While he popped back up to the feet, it seemed like his ability to circle out and defend the continued grappling assault from Usman was waning. Once Usman secured Leon on the ground, it was just beating him in each position. Edwards defended well, and at one point was in a position VERY similar to the one Ciryl Gane found himself in against Jon Jones.
Leon did not further insert himself into a submission or a fight ending position, but still lost this round in clear fashion. Feels like the champion has the momentum firmly in his grasp as he grinds away the challenger’s confidence. Not enough damage for a 10-8 in my opinion… But easily the most dominant moments of the fight up until this point.
Round Three: 10-9 Usman
Cardio seems to be leaving Leon Edwards as he enters the championship rounds. Each guy loads up big on their first shots of the round but both miss. Edwards with a few good kicks to the body, and finds a body lock on Usman within the first minute. Positional error, but after Usman over-swings, Edwards just pounces on him.
Usman breaks the body lock and then reverses with a big takedown of Edwards, as noted by the broadcast team there was little resistance from Edwards on that takedown. Great ground and pound from Usman, really peppering the body and selecting some shots upstairs with the elbows. Love the active work from Usman here as it was a little absent in the first few rounds. Edwards crawls to the fence, but is still heavily controlled by Usman.
Herb Dean steps in and, as Leon was working back up with a fence grab, brings Edwards back down and places Usman on his back. Each guy has been grabbing the fence a ton in this fight. Usman lets go and starts swinging with heavy shots to close out the last ten seconds. Leon places his arms over the cage and is clearly not confident at this point in the fight.
Kamaru is in the driver seat at this point. Takedowns are coming easier, those sequences where he’ll ease off the grappling for a moment to throw a combo and then duck into a takedown are easier too. It’s all coming up to Usman as we approach the fifth and final round.
Round Four: 10-9 Usman
Usman operated with the jab more in this round and continued feinting the level change, as expected. Din Thomas chirps in and says, “Leon Edwards is broken”. Usman with some more shots to the body and a takedown, but Edwards defends well and keeps his feet. Crowd is booing – which I think is stupid. Usman and Edwards staying for a prolonged period of time in the clinch, Edwards just doesn’t seem to have the strength to pummel and circle out.
Dean separates at the midway point, and both fighters engage at the center. Good front kick by Edwards, he then lands a 1-2. Edwards’ kick goes low and Usman asks Herb for a cup check but upon replay seems like a legal blow… Something Usman has done before. Edwards still looks fast in this round with his kicks. 90 seconds remain in the fight. Usman and Edwards engage in a feint fest, and right as Anik claims Edwards is not cut from the losing cloth, a head kick from hell upsets the apple cart at 170lbs.
Usman, who was not remotely hurt or stumbled by any shots up until that, gets floored with a mighty headkick hidden behind a cross. Left high kick. Left high kick removes Usman from consciousness. Out cold doesn’t begin to describe where Kamaru found himself. And New. Leon “Rocky” Edwards is your UFC Welterweight Champion…
I had it 39-37 Usman coming into the 5th, and it seemed like all indicators were pointing to another Usman defense as he extended his HOF resume. But the unthinkable occurred, and he lost the belt in one of the biggest upsets of the year.
Coming into the trilogy, Edwards should emphasize the front kicks to the body a lot more. Would stall the takedowns if carefully placed to avoid getting the kick caught and would whittle away at the gas tank of Kamaru. It seemed when Usman had the stamina advantage, he was able to do whatever he wanted to Edwards, and more. If Leon can focus on not allowing that gap to grow as much as it did in the rematch, he’ll have a better chance of setting up a KO blow earlier and would preserve his strength to fend off the offensive grappling.
For Kamaru, working more ground and pound earlier into the fight wouldn’t be a bad idea. While I can understand the prioritization of position over damage, and striking Leon would allow for an opening that he could create a scramble… If Usman is able to just pound away at the body as often as he can, it could create an argument for a 10-8 in rounds where he had positional dominance and further diminish the confidence of Leon.
The reality that Leon Edwards was dejected in rounds 3 and 4 is an omen: it means Kamaru Usman can place the champion in that headspace again.
Tons of factors at play, and with Usman’s physical state a big question mark, it does make it hard to make a prediction for this Saturday’s main event. But upon re-watching UFC 278 round-by-round, I am leaning towards this: Kamaru Usman to re-capture the welterweight throne.