- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
LONDON — Leon Edwards was the first to admit he gave a terrible performance in his welterweight title fight against Kamaru Usman eight months ago. He turned in a much better one against Usman at UFC 286.
Edwards (21-3) recorded his first defense of the UFC’s 170-pound championship on Saturday in front of a home crowd at O2 Arena in London, earning a majority decision on the scorecards. Two judges scored the five-round title bout 48-46 in favor of Edwards while a third scored it a 47-47 draw.
It was a much different fight and different Edwards from eight months ago. Edwards was clearly losing to Usman (20-3) at UFC 278 when he landed a stunning head kick that knocked the then-champion and No. 1 pound-for-pound candidate out cold.
On Saturday, Edwards was composed and energetic, visibly leading the dance for the most part.
“I knew I could go out there and take his shots,” Edwards said. “Even when he was pressuring, not much happened.”
According to UFC Stats, Edwards outlanded Usman 123-113 in total strikes and defended 11 of his 15 takedown attempts. Even when Usman did manage to drag Edwards to the floor, he failed to keep him down or generate a significant amount of offense. Usman was credited with five minutes of control time in the fight, half of what he accumulated in August.
Still, Usman said afterward that he felt he’d won. He did not argue over the result, however, and gave praise toward Edwards, whom he beat in a three-round nontitle fight in 2015.
“I knew it was a close fight,” Usman said. “Great game plan. I’ve always said it from the start, I knew I’d see Leon again and I’m not done. I’ll see him again. I’ve always given him props for everything he’s been able to accomplish. He’s just like me. It’s in his blood. Much respect, London. You’ve got yourself a great champion and a hell of a 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 in all 15 takedown attempts, and his ability to work back to his feet had to discourage Usman as the fight played out.
Edwards committed a massive mistake in the third round when he grabbed the fence during a takedown attempt. Referee Herb Dean deemed the foul blatant enough to deduct a point, which threatened to erase Edwards’ early lead on the scorecards.
Edwards refused to let the point deduction get into his head, however, as he continued peppering Usman with efficient striking. He used kicks to Usman’s body and legs to slow his aggression, while occasionally elevating left kicks to his head. The English crowd chanted, “Head shot, dead,” a phrase Edwards coined after his knockout victory.
“Clearly, his coaches worked his defense on that,” Edwards said. “I couldn’t get it around anymore. I set it up with body kicks and leg kicks, but fair play to him.”
Edwards’ next title defense will come against former interim champion Colby Covington, UFC president Dana White said in his postfight news conference.
Covington was in London for Saturday’s contest and immediately started calling Edwards out. Edwards accused Covington of ducking him for years on his way up the UFC’s ranks.
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