Of all of the qualities that make Leon Edwards one of the harmful fighters within the UFC, persistence has maybe been an important.
It was Edwards’ persistence that stored him within the sport of blended martial arts all through a interval by which he was repeatedly denied rightful alternatives to earn a shot at welterweight gold; and on 20 August, it was persistence that helped the Jamaican-born Briton retain focus and hope in his title battle with Kamaru Usman – all the way in which as much as the ultimate minute of the 25, when he took his previous foe’s title and probably a bit of his soul.
It was the kick that was heard across the MMA world however most deafeningly by Usman within the microseconds between Edwards’ shin cracking in opposition to his cranium and consciousness flooding free from the Nigerian-American in Salt Lake Metropolis.
“It’s sunk in now,” Edwards says of his title win. “The primary two or three weeks, although, I stored waking up and seeing the belt on my desk and pondering: ‘Oh s***, the belt… the belt is in my home.’ However now I’ve obtained used to it, I’ve took it all over the place, proven it to everyone.
“It’s a mad path to get there, my life’s been loopy. When you instructed me after I was born in Jamaica, in a struggle zone, that I’d be UFC champion… who might have mentioned that might occur? It’s wild, even now I smile about it. I’m happy with myself for sticking by means of it – by means of all of the ups and downs.”
Edwards’ gorgeous welterweight title win noticed the 31-year-old safe an unprecedented early takedown of Usman earlier than himself struggling on the incorrect finish of the champion’s famend wrestling expertise for almost all of the battle. Edwards later admitted that the altitude in Utah appeared to have drained him of his power, however with a loss seemingly imminent, Edwards slung a head kick Usman’s method and ended the bout in essentially the most charming vogue. The win additionally noticed Edwards turn out to be Britain’s second ever UFC champion and avenge a 2015 resolution loss to Usman.
“I’m a winner at coronary heart, I hate to lose,” Edwards says. “To know that he was the final man to beat me, that was defo further motivation; I used that as gas after I was drained and fatigued in coaching camp. All of it simply tied into the proper motivation that I wanted.”
The “Nigerian Nightmare” was the favorite over Edwards of their rematch this summer season, not solely due to his prior victory over “Rocky” – whose nickname has by no means been extra becoming – but in addition due to a 19-fight win streak that included 5 straight profitable title defences. A trilogy battle between Edwards and Usman appears to be like a certainty, and UFC president Dana White has teased a primary UK stadium present for the UFC to host the bout, for which Usman continues to be thought of a favorite by many.
“Their opinions haven’t made a distinction this far,” Edwards says. “I’ve been doubted my entire profession. First they mentioned I couldn’t get within the UFC, then they mentioned I couldn’t crack high 15, high 10. ‘You ain’t gonna be champion.’ I’m at that stage now the place there’s nothing I believe I can’t do; every little thing they mentioned I can’t do, I’ve achieved it. I don’t care that I’ve proved folks incorrect, however I’m completely satisfied that I’ve proved myself proper.”
Edwards’ sole aim in MMA was to turn out to be UFC welterweight champion, that means a decade-long journey got here to its conclusion in August, leaving Rocky with a motivational cavity within the aftermatch of his rematch with Usman. It’s a cavity he already is aware of learn how to fill, nonetheless.
“My aim is to be the very best welterweight of all time. You do it by being a child once more, the child I used to be the primary day I walked into an MMA fitness center after I was 17 years previous – the nerves, the joy, wanting to coach, getting there early. That’s what I want. I can’t get up to now now and assume: ‘OK, that is it.’ That’s not it. I set a aim to safe my household’s future and be the very best of all time. That’s how I could be nice once more.
“I want to change my mind-frame to eager to be the very best. I want one other aim to drive me, and that’s mine now: To be the very best of all time. I actually imagine I can do it. I’m gonna do it.”
Edwards might improve his legacy with a conflict in opposition to former dual-weight champion Conor McGregor, who’s beneath the identical administration as Edwards. The Briton has mentioned a super-fight with the Irishman can be “straightforward” to rearrange, however the 31-year-old insists that McGregor is just not “on my radar”.
“I’m specializing in the welterweights which might be energetic now, the highest 5,” says Edwards, who can also be “100 per cent” positive he can be the fan favorite in opposition to McGregor. “Do I believe I’d win? 100 per cent. I believe I’d be the youthful, higher technical fighter, all-round fighter. However my focus is just not on Conor in any respect, as a result of I’ve obtained killers simply there, energetic now – the [Khamzat] Chimaevs, the Usmans. They’re far more difficult, I believe, than Conor McGregor – so far as technically-[speaking]. They provide extra danger to me.”
Edwards is prone to return to the Octagon within the first quarter of subsequent yr, probably for a 3rd battle with Usman and doubtlessly at Wembley Stadium in London. He would possibly but declare one other title earlier than then.
When requested whether or not he needs to be nominated for the BBC’s Sports activities Persona of the 12 months award, Edwards laughs: “100 per cent. Who’s achieved what I’ve achieved within the UK this yr? It’s one in 1,000,000 – from Birmingham, doing it within the UK, in one of many biggest-growing sports activities on this planet, inspiring generations and youth in different gyms.
“I believe I 100 per cent ought to win it, or no less than be nominated anyway!”