For UFC heavyweight Tom Aspinall, the biggest X-factor going into the UFC 286 trilogy between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman is Usman’s brain.
When Usman steps into the cage Saturday, it will have been about seven months since Edwards “knocked him clean out, iced on the floor,” as Aspinall puts it, with a head kick in the fifth round of their rematch at UFC 278. Usman was afterward taken to an area hospital for examination. Though medical suspensions from the event weren’t made public, he likely faced a term of between 30 and 90 days.
Edwards has said knockouts such as the one Usman suffered forever change fighters. Aspinall, his English countryman, wonders whether the ex-champ is fully healthy.
“That’s not a lot of time your brain to recover from, seven months from a show,” Aspinall said on The MMA Hour. “Is the brain going to recover physically from something like that? And now, is the brain going to recover mentally from something like that? Psychologically? Can you recover from that, something like that, in such a short time period?
“We don’t know, but we are talking about one of the best welterweights of all-time in Kamaru Usman. We don’t know. We’re going to find out.”
Edwards and Usman face off Saturday at The O2 in London. The pair have split a pair of bouts, with Usman earning a unanimous decision in 2015 and Edwards rebounding from a two-round deficit at UFC 278 to knock out Usman.
Following hand surgery, Usman has characterized his knockout loss as a simple misstep and plans to prove Edwards’ win was but a fluke. So far, betting lines back the ex-champ, who’s a comfortable favorite to take the trilogy.
Aspinall may be a biased source toward his fellow Brit, but he can understand Edwards’ explanation of his sluggish rounds as a consequence of the altitude in Salt Lake City, UFC 278’s host.
“From what Leon said last time, he did win the first round pretty comfortably,” Aspinall said. “He got the takedown, stayed on top, controlled the first round, and then he looked to like waver off a little bit, and he blamed that on the altitude. ... If that is the case, then I think that Leon can win the fight pretty comfortably.”
But while he can’t be sure of how the fight will play out, he is sure that Usman won’t look at Edwards the same again.
“I’m sure Kamaru Usman respects him after last time,” Aspinall said. “I’m sure of that.”