Leon Edwards is British and proud. He’s Jamaican, too, as Jamaica was his country of birth, but he’s really proud of hailing from the United Kingdom. He’s not like the others. He’s not like those mixed martial artists who started off there, won some fights, lost some fights, and then fled overseas in order to improve their all-round game and, in turn, their fortunes. No, Leon Edwards is different. Leon Edwards wants to become the first UFC champion from Britain to have actually won the title while still training and residing in the country that made him the man – and fighter – he is today.
“My goal is to get that belt,” he told Fighters Only on Wednesday (August 30). “But I want to be the first UK guy to stay in the UK and get the belt. I don’t want to be a guy from the UK who goes to America to get the belt. I want to get the belt for the UK and to stay in the UK.
“I have time. I’m only 26 years old. I won’t hit my peak for another two or three years. I’m just getting started really. I improve every fight; every fight I feel better; every fight my skills get better. I’m happy just to keep growing.”
Edwards was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved to England – first to London, then to Birmingham – when he was “around five or six”. The transition had its inevitable ups and downs. Edwards and his family had to get used to the demands of Britain. They struggled financially. Yet, for the most part, the boy from Erdington has only fond memories of his childhood.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “There were a lot of gangs and stuff, but it was all right. I felt like I had a good childhood.
“I was very good at football; I played for a team and everything. But somehow I just grew out of it and got into fighting.”
As the football deflated, fighting entered Edwards’ life around the age of 17. There was, for Edwards and his family, no forewarning, no heads-up. It just happened. One day Edwards was a teenager, the next he was a fighter.
“It was so random,” he recalled. “In Erdington, where I lived, a gym was opening and I happened to be walking past it one day and noticed it being built. I told my mum I wanted to go and try it out. It was just like that. My mum was a bit anxious, but she saw it as a better option than being on the streets and getting into trouble.”
The timely diversion worked. Edwards was kept away from all that can poison a youngster’s character and instead directed his energy and aggression towards bags, pads and sparring partners. First, though, it was Edwards who had to reluctantly play the part of punch bag for any number of older, more experienced martial artists.
“My first spar was with Eugene Fadiora and he kicked the shit out of me,” Edwards remembered, laughing. “I was like, what the fuck is this? But I kept going back and wanted to get better. I wanted to face him again. Now I’d ‘kill’ him.”
Edwards, a welterweight, is concerned only with improving. The aim of every training session is to get better, be better than last time, and three consecutive UFC wins – against Dominic Waters, Albert Tumenov and Vicente Luque – speak to the merits of this hard-nosed mentality.
“It was all right, a solid performance,” Edwards said of his most recent outing, a decision win over Luque. “Vicente was a tough guy. They were building him up as this knockout artist and blah, blah, blah, but I went in there and got the win. It was comfortable. They build these guys up and I find a way to beat them. It was the same with Albert Tumenov. They built him up as this knockout artist and I found a way to beat him.”
Certainly, there’s a sense Edwards, 13-3, is developing the knack – the knack of winning, the knack of upsetting, the knack of capitalising on momentum. It’s what is currently driving him forward. It’s what is making people sit up and take note of his progress.
This Saturday (September 2) in Rotterdam, Holland, ‘Rocky’ looks to go four from four with a victory over American Bryan Barberena.
“I’ve watched a couple of his fights,” said Edwards, “and Bryan’s main attribute is his toughness. Skill-wise, I’ve fought better guys. He’s tough, yeah, but everyone’s tough at this level. That alone does not win fights.
“I’m going in there to go forward. Wherever the fight goes, I’ll be happy to go. I’ll take the fight wherever I want to take it. I’ll beat him going the distance or by taking him out. All I’m focusing on is going forward and putting him away.”
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