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Leon Edwards on the changing of the guard at 170: ‘The older guys are fading out now’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Leon Edwards wants to establish himself on the growing list of fresh-faced contenders in the UFC’s welterweight division, and he’s confident a win over Donald Cerrone at UFC Singapore will help him achieve his goal.

Ever since his loss to Kamaru Usman in late 2015, the Jamaican-born Birmingham resident has diligently gone about his business to clock up a five-fight win streak. He’s most at home fighting in the Octagon, but he showed a new string to his bow when he called out Darren Till following his latest win over Peter Sobotta at UFC London.

The invitation might have fallen on deaf ears for the most part, but “Rocky” is well aware of how important it is to have your voice heard in the sport’s current environment.

“It’s not just about fighting now; it’s about talking,” Edwards told MMA Fighting a couple of weeks out from his clash with Cerrone. “That’s not really my thing, but it’s what you need to do. I have to go in there and make a impression in the fight and then I’ve got to make an impression when I speak after the fight.”

A big-name opponent and a spot at the top of the bill have been Edwards’ port of call following his last two wins. Now that it’s finally come to fruition, he doesn’t hesitate to describe the Singapore showdown as the most important fight of his life.

“It’s gotta be the biggest fight of my career to date,” said Edwards.

“Cowboy is a legend of the sport and this is my first headline fight with the UFC, so it’s a very big deal. I see a win here opening the door for fights further up the rankings, that’s the plan anyway. We saw Till getting a fight in Liverpool after he beat Cerrone. I hope a win here will give the UFC a reason to get over to Birmingham again — it would be dream for me to fight in my hometown.

“This is the win that will hopefully see me get the credit I deserve. I’m on a five-fight win streak now so I think it’s about time that I get my chance against guys at the top of the division.”

As far as Edwards is concerned, the hunters have now become the hunted at 170.

The MMA world has recently watched Till outpoint Stephen Thompson and Rafael dos Anjos best Robbie Lawler. Colby Covington and Usman have earned unanimous decision nods over Demian Maia. All of the defeated parties in those cases were once considered perennial contenders in the division.

“Rocky” thinks established names like Cerrone, are “ripe for the picking” now for the division’s new wave as they look for a significant boost in trajectory.

“The older guys are fading out now. I’m young, I’m just 26-years-old. I think everyone else in rankings is over 30. It’s the changing of the guard for sure, and I’ve got to show that I’m a part of that new movement. That’s what I’m focused in on ahead of this fight. I’ve got to show everyone that I’m a threat in this division,” Edwards explained.

“These older heads are there for the picking now,” he continued. “They’ve still got the name, they’ve still got the clout, but they are maybe more beatable than they once were. They’ve had their turn at the top of the division and now it’s our turn. Everybody knows Cerrone, and by putting him away it puts me straight into that top 10.”

Edwards feels like he already knows the blueprint for beating “Cowboy.”

“He’s fine when he’s having his own way, but every time he’s put under pressure he crumbles every time. That’s not a secret, everybody knows that about him,” Edwards said.

Edwards’ former opponent, Usman, has been making a big splash in the rankings of late and although Edwards definitely wants to rectify his decision loss to “The Nigerian Nightmare,” he has learned a lot from his last defeat.

“I need to get that Usman fight back at some stage,” he said. “That loss really helped me focus in on my training a lot more. Before that fight, I was looking everywhere for answers and I felt like I needed to travel around to get the wrestling, the grappling, or whatever it was. Now I’m with Team Renegade and I really believe in all of these guys and my training. I know I don’t need to travel now, I’ve got everything I need right here. I think my results from then have proven that the new way is working for me.”

Should he have his hand raised in Kallang, don’t expect Edwards to look to book another date with Till.

“UFC want to keep building the sport in the U.K., so making us fight right now probably isn’t the best idea because it would see one of the younger guys cancelled out. If I had it my way, I’d fight a top-10 opponent in Birmingham for my next fight, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”