Leon Edwards put on a show in his first title defense.
In the main event of UFC 286, Edwards scored a second win over Kamaru Usman to successfully defend the UFC welterweight championship and cement himself as the man to beat at 170 pounds. Edwards entered with gold around his waist and had the benefit of competing in his home country of England this time around, and he clearly brought a different level of swagger with him to the cage on fight night.
Before the bout even begun, Edwards mimicked pointing a gun at Usman’s head, a taunt he discussed during his Monday appearance on The MMA Hour.
“That was like a spur of the moment thing,” Edwards said. “I was thinking about doing that headshot thing I did last fight, but as he was walking over, I thought, ‘F*** it,’ I just started pointing it to his head and just kept squeezing it.
“I was thinking, ‘You’re not beating me tonight,’ and that was my mentality going into the fight — that I cannot come this far, work this hard, to lose to you. And yeah, went out there and got the job done.”
That taunt set the tone for a strong performance from Edwards, who went on to win a majority decision with a pair of 48-46 scores. The other score was a 47-47 tie, though Edwards would have won on all three cards if not for a point deduction in the third round which was the result of Edwards blatantly grabbing the fence to stop an Usman takedown attempt.
Edwards was also admonished by referee Herb Dean for a pair of low blows and for grabbing Usman’s glove, but no other points were taken.
“I don’t know,” Edwards said when asked about the fouls. “I was throwing body kicks because I’m southpaw, he’s orthodox. As I’m throwing the kicks, he’s kind of stepping forward. He says some caught him in his balls, some caught him here and there.
“The first grab, I watched it back, I’ve seen that part. That was a fence grab. I didn’t feel it was enough to take a point away straightaway without him saying, like, ‘Final warning, don’t do it again,’ or a stern warning and then take the point away. I think that made me a little bit more aggressive to finish the round off and just thinking, ‘OK, I need to do more because now I’m down a point.’”
The end result was the same for Edwards as when he last fought Usman, even if he had to sweat out the verdict this time. When they first fought at UFC 278 this past August, Edwards looked to be on the way to a decision loss before landing a miraculous head kick with less than a minute remaining in the final round.
Edwards is proud of his first title defense, but admitted that the emotion doesn’t quite compare to winning the belt.
“Obviously, it was a more emotional time, because leading into that fight it was a must-win. This was a must-win as well, but I feel like August was a must-win,” Edwards said. “It had been a long road, ‘They didn’t want you to be here anyway, they didn’t want you to fight for the title,’ so all of that was just the emotion that came out in August.
“With this one, I knew I was going to win. I knew the moment was going to be mine. That was my mentality all week. And when they announced the winner, obviously I was excited, my team was excited, the fans were excited for it. But I think August, as far as emotion-wise, was way better, for sure.”