Leon Edwards is ready to have his “Rocky” moment.
Edwards will finally get his long-awaited shot at gold this Saturday when he rematches welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 278. And after nearly three years of waiting, Edwards is thrilled that his name was finally called.
“It’s five days before my birthday, so it’s going to be a fantastic birthday present,” Edwards recently said on The MMA Hour.
“It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s been, what, two or three years? It’s been nine, 10 fights in a row. I earned this shot a long, long time ago. So I am looking forward to grabbing it with both hands and representing for my country and my family.”
The opportunity almost didn’t come for Edwards. The Birmingham native has been on the cusp of a title shot for several years now, but hasn’t been able to punch his ticket due to injuries, bad luck, a few uninspiring performances, and a number of more marketable opponents for Usman.
Even so, Edwards kept the faith that his time would come — and now it has.
“I always knew I was going to fight for the world title,” he said. “I was worried as far as time, when, but I always knew that I would fight for the title when the opportunity comes. It’s just the wins. That was the only annoying thing. I did everything right. I should have it. You’ve got Colby having two shots at a title shot, Masvidal twice had a shot, and they didn’t earn nothing.
“Now I’m here, racking up wins. I’ve got the second-most wins in the division [next] to the champion.”
Edwards is currently on a 10-fight unbeaten streak, with his previous loss coming against Usman back in 2015 when Edwards was only 23 years old. In that fight, Usman won a convincing decision on the back of his superior wrestling. But that was seven years ago, and Edwards believes it will be a completely different contest this time around.
“He’s improved his boxing,” he said. “I think now he’s understanding — he’s still basic in what he does, but he understands what he’s doing as far as the striking goes. When we first fought, it was a striker vs. wrestler match. Now, it’s going to be a totally different fight. It’s a mixed martial artist vs. a wrestler-boxer. It’s a totally different fight than it was back then.
“This won’t be a wrestling match, it’ll be an MMA match. When I first fought him, I didn’t understand. I did wrestling just to do wrestling. I didn’t enjoy wrestling. Over the last seven-eight years, I’ve put myself in positions where I’m actually enjoying wrestling now. I even do wrestling more than my striking sometimes.
“I’ve always said I don’t need to be the best wrestler in the world to beat Usman,” he continued. “I’ve just got to be the best wrestler for what he does.”
Edwards will finally get the chance to prove that theory true at UFC 278. Usman is currently one of the top-ranked pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and has not lost in nearly a decade. But when Edwards finally steps into the cage with him for the second time, “Rocky” plans to deliver Usman the first defeat of his UFC career.
“I’m 100-percent confident I will be a world champion come August,” Edwards said.
UFC 278 takes place on Aug. 20 at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.