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Leon Edwards says body ‘just shut down’ at UFC 278, credits coaches for comeback: ‘They knew how to press my buttons’

Leon Edwards admits that doubt started to creep in at UFC 278 against Kamaru Usman, but added his coaches helped keep him in the fight to score his comeback knockout.

This past Saturday, Edwards won the welterweight championship with a stunning fifth-round knockout of Usman in the main event of UFC 278. Behind on the scorecards with less than one minute left in the fight, Edwards unleashed a left head kick that put Usman out cold. But for as good as the comeback was, “Rocky” believes the elevation in Salt Lake City may have prevented an even better performance.

“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Why is everyone getting tired?’ I was watching it thinking I won’t get tired because I’ve been here for two weeks, I slept in altitude at home – I probably won’t feel it,” Edwards said on The MMA Hour when asked how he felt warming up beforehand. “So I was watching it backstage, and I was thinking in the back of my head as I was warming up, ‘S***, why is everyone getting tired?’ When we went out there, after the first round, I can’t explain it, my body just shut down. It was just a weird feeling. It wasn’t cardio, it was like my body just wasn’t reacting. In my head I could think what I wanted to do, but my body just wasn’t doing it. ...

“My 10 fights I had to get to this point to fight for the championship, I never looked like that in a fight, ever. Even when I was fighting, I was looking ahead like, ‘Man, what the hell is going on? Just keep pushing. I know he’s crafty and the body is feeling it, but just keep working and stay focused. It’s never over until it’s over.’ I stayed in there and got the clean head kick KO. ...

“If my body was reacting the way it was in the first round, the fight would have gone a totally different way. The first round I felt normal. Then after that, my body just kind of shut down on me. If I would have felt the way I did in the first round, it would have been a totally different fight.”

Edwards was far from the only person who felt the effects of the elevation at UFC 278. Many of the fighters competing at the event looked visibly exhausted early in their fights, most notably in the middleweight co-main event bout between Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold in which Rockhold put his hands on his knees repeatedly during the fight. While Edwards’ issues did not manifest themselves that clearly, the commentary team did opine during the fight that “Rocky” looked mentally defeated before authoring the comeback. Even Edwards admits he was starting to think this might be just the latest in a career full of setbacks.

“I was getting worried, for sure – 100 percent,” Edwards said. “The moment was so big for me, and it’s just my luck for that to happen. I thought, ‘Man, there’s no way this can happen, that it can play out like this.’ I said it all week, I feel like this is my moment. God brought me to this point to make this happen. That’s what kept playing in my head, there’s no way God brought me here for this just to go to decision and finish like this. I had to just stay focused and listen to my team. Great motivation. They knew how to press my buttons, and they kept me in there and got the finish.”

The cornering from Edwards’ coaches has already become legendary, spurring their fighter toward his incredible comeback, telling Edwards to “stop feeling f****** sorry for himself” and “pull this s*** out of the fire.” And that turned out to be just what Edwards needed in that moment.

“It’s been like that before but not that intense,” Edwards said. “It’s been like that before in training and other stuff. ... I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling — it’s hard to explain it. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, I was thinking, ‘There’s no way this is playing out like this.’ I think he could tell by my face, based on what he said. ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Keep trying, mate. You more than deserve to be here. You can beat this guy. You can do it, so just go out there and do it.’ So that’s what I did. ...

“That’s one of my worst performances ever in my career. To have my worst performance in the biggest moment of my life, it’s hard to explain how you feel mentally. It’s like what the f***. Come on. How is this playing out like this. It was difficult to go through, but it is what it is. That was Usman’s best performance, that was my worst performance, and he still couldn’t finish me. I finished him on my worst day.”

However it happened, Edwards is now the undisputed welterweight champion, and for someone who faced so much adversity and so many setbacks before achieving his dream, “Rocky” says it’s still setting in for him.

“Everyone keeps asking me, ‘How does it feel?’ but it’s hard to put into words,” Rocky said. “I think that’s why in my post-fight interview I was just crying, because it’s hard to — not just the moment of winning the UFC world championship, but getting to that point or achieving my dream, going through all the ups and downs throughout life and throughout my career. It’s still difficult to put into words. It still feels so surreal. It doesn’t feel real sometimes. ...

“When you watch movies and you see people cry from happiness, I’ve never cried from happiness before in my life. So when I’m crying from happiness, that’s when you know it was real. It was such a surreal moment, and one that I will treasure forever. To think I didn’t know where Utah was, and now it’s stuck in my life forever. It’s an amazing story.”

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