Leon Edwards had been calling for a fight against just about every top-ranked welterweight in the UFC for the better part of the past year, but he was constantly finding himself without an opponent.
Following an unfortunate ending to his most recent appearance with an accidental eye poke stopped his fight with Belal Muhammad in March, Edwards was anxious to make a quick turnaround with hopes that the UFC would secure him somebody that would seal the deal on a welterweight title shot.
When he got the call that Nate Diaz was going to be name on his bout agreement, Edwards was admittedly surprised and not totally convinced the fight would actually happen.
“I knew he was getting mentioned around media cause he’s talking about he wants to fight top guys and winners and I was the guy winning.” Edwards said about Diaz when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I know he was going back and forth for a little bit but we got a phone call from my manager saying it’s Nate Diaz and I was like cool, let’s go.
“But we weren’t like sure until it’s signed because it’s Nate. He might be like ‘no, I ain’t fighting’ and f*ck off again for like another two years. It’s going to be a good fight.”
While Edwards has been calling for a top-ranked welterweight as his next opponent, getting a fight against somebody like Diaz could provide an even better result for his longterm goals in the sport.
Despite Diaz’s spotty history when fighting at 170 pounds — he currently holds a 4-4 record in the UFC in the division — he remains one of the biggest and most well-known names in the sport. As much as rankings seem to matter, name value and attention seem to go a long way towards title contention in the UFC these days.
“To have a guy like Nate, like you said, he’s a huge name in this sport,” Edwards said. “He’s done amazing things in the sport already so to have a guy like that to lead into a title fight, I think it’s the perfect opportunity now for me to capture.
“To go out there and beat this veteran of the game to lead me into fighting for the title. It’s a great opportunity and I’m grabbing it with both arms.”
The fight with Diaz will also serve as the first non-main event, non-title fight to be contested for five rounds, which Edwards believes plays right into his hands both stylistically and when it comes to his aspirations to compete for a UFC title later this year.
Diaz is well-known for his durability not to mention his ability to push the pace for 25 consecutive minutes and Edwards is excited to test himself against those particular traits.
“I’m better with five rounds than three. That’s what my coaches say anyway,” Edwards said. “I’ve been preparing for five rounds now for a long time. I fought [Rafael dos Anjos] with five rounds, ‘Cowboy’ [Cerrone] for five rounds, I was preparing for [Kamaru] Usman in March, I was preparing for Khamzat [Chimaev] for five rounds, I prepared for Belal [Muhammad] for five rounds.
“As far as preparation goes, five rounds, I’ve been preparing for a long time and I’m confident in my cardio, confident in my skillset and [it’s] going to be even worse for him going in there.”
Expecting the unexpected is part of Edwards’ job going into any fight but he can’t imagine that Diaz will suddenly become a much different mixed martial artist than the person who’s been competing in the UFC since 2007.
Diaz possesses some of the best boxing in the sport with good range, slick jabs and relentless in-your-face pressure that has melted many of his past opponents but Edwards actually welcomes that kind of strategy.
“I think Nate is Nate. What you see is what you get,” Edwards explained. “I can’t see Nate now at his age and how he competed over his career to come in and be like a totally different fighter. I think he is who he is. What you see in his last fight, his last five fights, is probably what you’re going to see in this fight. He’s going to come forward, try to push the pace or rely on you getting tired and climb on top of you. I’m in preparation for everything he’s going to bring to the table and I’m looking forward to it.
“I don’t have to go looking for him. He’s going to be right in front of you. He’s going to come forward. He’s going to give you his one [punch] to take your four and it’s going to be a great fight. Every time I go against guys like that, that like to stay on the feet and come forward, I pick them to pieces and slice them and dice them. It’s going to be a great fight.”
Throughout his entire career, Diaz has only really been finished by strikes on one occasion — a 2013 head kick knockout courtesy of Josh Thomson — and that only adds to the legend that he’s nearly unstoppable even if he loses a fight.
His last loss to Masvidal reads as a TKO on his record but Diaz was none too happy with that result because doctors wouldn’t allow him to continue due to a pair of cuts on his face, not because he couldn’t fight any longer.
That kind of toughness might almost seem intimidating, especially over a five-round fight, but Edwards has a different outlook when approaching his own showdown with Diaz and he promises a much different result.
“I’m going in here to stop him,” Edwards said. “I don’t think he can take as much as they think he could over five rounds. I know he’s probably relying on me getting tired and like I said with [Jorge] Masvidal, he’s going to climb on top of him for [rounds] four and five.
“Let’s say I go out there and batter you from pillar to post for [rounds] one to three — I’ve never been stopped in my career. Every time I’ve fought all five rounds, I’ve got the decision. I’ve never been submitted. Never been knocked out. Nothing. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going in there just where I left off in March and I will carry on like that to get the victory. I will test him and push him in every single way I can to get the victory. To claim my world title shot after this fight.”