In the prelims of UFC on FOX 17: dos Anjos vs Cowboy 2, two relatively unknown fighters in Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards faced off against one another in the octagon. On that night it was Usman who emerged victorious, scooping a three round win by unanimous decision.

Seven years later, at UFC 278 the two went toe-to-toe once again, this time as the main event, fighting it out for the Welterweight title. 

Pundits, fans and even the UFC fight night odds gave Leon Edwards the slimmest chance of victory, but the Jamaican born fighter proved them all wrong by knocking Usman out with a head kick in the final minute of the bout.

(Leon Edwards first fight against Kamaru Usman back in 2015.)

Leon Edwards: The Forming of a Champion

Beating the odds is nothing new to Edwards, it’s something he’s been doing his entire life, from dodging bullets in Kingston as a 9-year-old to moving to a new country at the age of 13 and coping with the agonising loss of his Father.

It could have all been very different for Leon Edwards though. The death of his Dad – murdered in a gang-related incident in Jamaica – initially sent him spiralling off the rails. Infused with a new found anger and hatred for the world, Edwards veered toward the gangland life that had been the undoing of his Father.

Between the ages of 13 and 17, Edwards was involved in gangland life in Birmingham that saw him witness and play part in drug deals, robberies, shootings and stabbings. His descent into the underworld was a real source of pain for his Mother, who feared that her son was going the same way as her late husband.

One day, when the pair were walking to a bus stop, Edwards’ Mother spotted a sign for an MMA gym above a DVD rental store. She suggested her son joined up, to channel some of his anger and put his penchant for fighting to good use.

Agreeing to join was the best decision that Leon Edwards ever made. Within a year he had made his amateur debut with a professional one following 12 months later. Realising that his performances in the ring could bring him the same respect that gangland activities could, Edwards threw himself into the UFC.

Now, over a decade on, he is the undisputed Welterweight champion after his stunning victory over Kamaru Usman in August 2022. Can he retain his crown and go on to dominate the division? Let’s see.

(Watch the stunning kick that sealed the fight for Leon Edwards and sent Kamaru Usman to sleep.)

Leon Edwards: The Next Step

Beating Kamaru Usman is guaranteed to earn you recognition, and since doing just that, Leon Edwards has had heaps of it. With all that recognition though comes an element of scrutiny and unsurprisingly, there are some saying that his win was nothing more than a fluke.

Critics say that he was dominated for the majority of the bout before striking out and hitting Usman with a one in a hundred kick seconds before the end of the fight. 

If you were to take a less cynical look at the fight, you’d perhaps come to the conclusion that Edwards showed enormous resilience to stay in the bout before summoning superhuman strength to finish off his opponent.

Let’s not forget that Usman is a formidable foe; this defeat was his first in 15 and, according to most, was superior to Edwards in every regard. The fact that Edwards managed to overcome those odds is impressive and points toward him being more than capable of kicking on and dominating the division. 

An often overlooked aspect of this fight is that before knocking Usman out, Edwards had done an excellent job of avoiding a grappling contest with his Nigerian counterpart. This willingness to accept his weaknesses is another impressive aspect of Edwards’ character.

What Next for Leon Edwards?

With the record split between Usman and Edwards, the two will face each other once again in March of this year to decide who the better fighter is. If Edwards can emerge victorious once again, he has already said he would like to fight Irishman Conor McGregor.

That potential bout, between two fighters who both came from nothing, could well be the highlight of the sporting calendar.