Leon Edwards took the rubber match to claim victory on the night at UFC 286, victory in their fighting trilogy, and cement his position as the undisputed UFC welterweight champion.
Edwards outpointed Usman after a tense title fight went all the way to the judges’ scorecards and, despite suffering a point deduction for a fence grab during the bout, Edwards claimed the majority decision victory to retain his title in front of a passionate UK crowd inside The O2 Arena in London.
After his victory, Edwards chatted with reporters, including Fighters Only, backstage at the post-fight press conference, where he opened up on how much retaining his title on home soil meant to him.
“It’s amazing,” he said.
“This is like every kid’s dream to be able to live this moment out. I said it all week, I truly believe this is my era. It’s been a long time. I haven’t lost a fight in seven, eight years, you know?
“So be able to come back to my home town, defend my world title, have the crowd going as crazy as they’ve been going all week, from the press conference to the weigh-ins, screaming out, “Head shot! Dead!” It was madness. And it was a dream come true.”
The manner of Edwards’ victory was very different to that of his previous win over Usman. That victory came via a spectacular last-gasp head-kick knockout in Salt Lake City at UFC 278 in a bout Edwards looked set to lose on the scorecards. But things were markedly different in London, where a rejuvenated Edwards held sway in the majority of the rounds, with only referee Herb Dean’s point deduction preventing the Brit from earning a unanimous decision result.
For Edwards, taking the win over the full 25-minute duration was proof of his ability to outbattle the former pound-for-pound number one, and gave him another layer of satisfaction following his second consecutive win over “The Nigerian Nightmare.”
“I think it just proved how much I’ve improved over the years,” Edwards explained.
“I wasn’t able to show my performance in Utah because of the altitude. I think that showed now that the altitude played a big part in my performance. But, like I said Kamaru is a tough opponent and he’s got a great team behind him. It’s true, but, like I said. I believe it’s my time.”
The event played out in front of a 17,500-capacity crowd at The O2, which raised the roof for Edwards’ walkout, then exploded with joy when Bruce Buffer announced “Rocky” as the winner of the fight.
It was a stark contrast from Edwards’ appearance at the same London venue in 2019, when the UK fans in the arena at UFC Fight Night 147 appeared to back his opponent, Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson, over him. It was during a time when Edwards was battling to earn respect, both in the UFC welterweight division as well as among the UFC’s fanbase in the UK and beyond.
With a 12-fight unbeaten streak and a world title around his waist, Edwards has well and truly shed that “under the radar” tag he carried earlier in his career, and to walk out with a packed arena fully behind him was a special moment for the 31-year-old.
“It meant the world you know?” he said.
“It meant the world to me, and to be able to overcome so much in my career and after the hardest road to get here – and I feel like you all know that I took the longest road to get here.
“So to be able to have now finally earned that respect the hard way – no one gave me nothing – it’s even more satisfying. For me, for my team, to believe in my team, believe in UK mixed martial arts and what we’re doing. So it’s definitely more satisfying, for sure.”
Unusually, UFC president Dana White took the step of confirming Edwards’ next opponent during the post-fight presser, stating that former interim champion Colby Covington, who weighed in as a backup fighter for the event, would get the next shot at the Jamaican-born Brit.
That decision didn’t sit well with the champion, however, who admitted he was puzzled at how Covington, who has not fought since a March 2022 win over Jorge Masvidal, was the rightful next contender to challenge for the belt.
“I don’t know how that makes sense,” he said.
“He hasn’t fought for over a year and a half. Sat out, not injured. I just don’t get how he just slides in for the world title shot when there’s other guys in the division that have been active, been fighting, didn’t sit out.
“So yeah, like I said, I’m the king now. I’ve earned my way. I feel I should decide who’s next.”
With some discussions clearly set to be had over Edwards’ next assignment, the champion took time out to pay tribute to Usman, as he made clear that he never had any issue with his championship rival, and that he closes out the trilogy with “The Nigerian Nightmare” with nothing but respect for the 35-year-old former champion.
When asked about his rivalry with Usman, Edwards replied, “Just competitive, you know? Like I said, I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do next.
“There was never any beef between me and Kamaru. We both thought we were the better man, and that was it. You heard his words after the fight, and I feel the same way. Like I said, I wish him well. This sport is hard. So yeah, respect to him.”