By Alistair Hendrie
Speaking on the Fight Disciples podcast, former Fighters Only editor Nick Peet once said he wished Leon Edwards would market himself more. He wished the Brummie would build his profile to match his skills. He wished he’d grab the mic and challenge another of the leading welterweight pack. I’ve interviewed Edwards twice and can confirm he is a man of few words, but finally, Peet might have got his wish.
After shutting out Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday at UFC on ESPN 4 in Texas, Edwards came out of his shell and threw the gauntlet down to Jorge Masvidal. “I want to silence Masvidal, that fight has to happen, either in the streets or in the cage,” said the 27-year-old, speaking with Karyn Bryant and Tyron Woodley on ESPN. “I believe I’m better than Masvidal everywhere and I’ll get a chance to prove it,” he added during his post-fight scrum.
No prizes for guessing Masvidal’s thoughts after Edwards humbled dos Anjos. The 34-year-old tweeted: “Big difference between putting top ranked opponents to sleep and putting fans to sleep. Don’t call me out no more until I get that belt.” While Masvidal and Edwards are both angling for a shot at welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, this Anglo-American rivalry has been brewing since March, when Masvidal landed a sucker punch on Edwards backstage at UFC London.
As such, the normally poker-faced Edwards can shoot to stardom by clashing with Masvidal. The fight makes sense for so many reasons. It’s a genuine grudge match. Both men are in need of a fight. Both men are streaking, Edwards with eight triumphs in a row and Masvidal riding a wave of two electrifying finishes over Ben Askren and Darren Till. And with Usman recovering from multiple hernias, plus Colby Covington going against Robbie Lawler in August, the path is clear for Edwards and Masvidal to trade punishment in the Octagon.
First, though, let’s make it clear that Masvidal would provide the Englishman with problems. “Gamebred” exhibited his vaunted power in recent outings and with his high guard, snapping jab and dazzling range of kicks, he rarely makes mistakes. He’s a trailblazer with a 34-13 record and despite his sixteen years in the sport, he’s only been knocked out once, by Rodrigo Damm in 2008 – a testament to his smarts and durability.
Edwards is a rookie in comparison, making his debut in 2011, eight years after Jorge. But the way he dispatched dos Anjos should stand him in good stead for his next bout, whoever it’s against. He dominated round one from half guard, applying heavy upper-body pressure and stifling his man with wrist control. He continued his form with wicked elbows on the break and was outstanding value for the scores of 50-45 and 49-46 (twice) in his favour.
Could the Jamaican-born Brit trouble Masvidal with leg kicks? Perhaps. Might he be able to win a duel of jabs with Masvidal? He could have a chance. He mirrors his foe in that he’s a textbook striker, maintaining a shrewd guard and throwing kicks to high effect. Sure, he would start as the underdog but that won’t bother the ice-cool Edwards.
With Michael Bisping retired and Till suffering a drip in fortunes, British fans – Peet included – will be happy to see Edwards coming out of the woodwork and making himself heard for once. The shy and retiring 170lbs standout enjoyed the most significant victory of his career this weekend and would be wise in to cash in on his growing fame and popularity.
Check out more of Alistair Hendrie’s work with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, which features insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more.