UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards got in a first sparring session for their upcoming rematch at UFC 278, with Usman playfully promising a wrestling match and mocking his U.K. counterpart’s history with common foe Jorge Masvidal.
Amid largely respectful pre-fight talk, Usman brought up Edwards’ past as they debated the relative merit of their resumes in advance of the ESPN+ pay-per-view headliner on Aug. 20 in Salt Lake City.
“Listen, I like you,” Usman said. “You my man. I’ve done a lot for you. That man went back there in London, he put his hands on you, and you guys didn’t do nothing, so I had to handle it for you – that’s why I had to knock his head to the moon. I got him for you, so I like you. Thank me.”
“They hid him from me,” interrupted Edwards, explaining his side of an infamous backstage run-in with Masvidal where “Gamebred” punched him at UFC London in 2019. “They called the police and hid him. That’s what happened.”
“I got him for you, though,” Usman said. “I like you, so I got him for you.”
Edwards smiled at the gamesmanship in what was a largely fun-loving, if a little testy, meeting between two professionals. Usman, the No. 1 ranked fighter in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings pound-for-pound and welterweight list, gloated about his 2015 decision win over Edwards – and his superior record of octagon knockouts.
“Of course I fell in love with my striking – that’s why I have more knockouts in championship fights than he has in the UFC his entire career,” said Usman, who’s stopped four UFC opponents with his fists to Edwards’ two. “And yes, I fell in love with my striking, but guess what, you fell in love with your grappling. So, Aug. 20, we going to wrestle.
“I remember my first knockout,” Edwards replied. “It’s all good.”
Edwards couldn’t say much about Usman’s results other than the champ had taken out a “wounded gazelle” in Tyron Woodley to capture the title.
Both fighters acknowledged a more evolved, competitive threat in their counterpart. Edwards cited his relative inexperience in the octagon in their first meeting and said he wanted the pound-for-pound best to prove his arrival at the top.
Usman said he was “nervous” about the first fight and the rematch, but that didn’t stop him from questioning how Edwards would get it done the second time out.
“You’re not finishing me, bro,” Edwards replied. “You cannot finish me, champ. Trust me. You haven’t got it in you, bro.”
“Give me 30 more seconds in the first fight and I would have finished you,” Usman countered.
“Ah, shut up,” Edwards cried. “No, you wouldn’t. ... You held me for two-and-a-half rounds.”
“Of course,” Usman said. “You said your striking is much better. Of course I’m going to hold you. I don’t want to strike with you. Your striking is much better. I held you down, and I beat your face in.”
In merging the past with the present tense, Usman may be acknowledging how the fundamentals of the matchup haven’t changed since the first meeting – or just having some fun at his opponent’s expense. Usman has indeed turned into a knockout artist, stopping top contenders Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal with his fists as champ. But his wrestling is forever a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“You’re going to try and wrestle, bro,” Edwards said. “It ain’t gonna work this time.”
“We’re going to wrestle,” Usman agreed. “Listen, the people all want to know. Help me help you – how are you going to get it done?”
Edwards said it “doesn’t matter one bit” that he lost seven years ago to Usman and will bring a well-rounded skill set to the rematch. Usman brushed off a question about moving up in weight division – despite musing aloud about a move up to light heavyweight – and said he would focus on Edwards before thinking about a new conquest.
Usman has a chance to tie former middleweight champ Anderson Silva’s record-setting winning streak of 16 UFC fights.
“I’m just having fun,” he said. “As long as I keep having fun, the records will write itself. I’ll just keep having fun, and when I decide it’s time for me to walk away, I’ll make that decision. But it’s not now.”
Now, there’s more fun to have, and all of it at Edwards’ expense.