UFC 286: Kamaru Usman prepares to redeem himself against Leon Edwards
It was a crosshead kick that ended Kamaru Usman’s long reign as champion and made Leon Edwards a UFC star.
Edwards certainly will never forget it.
And he believes Usman might never get over it.
“He’s what now, 35, 36 years old?” Edwards said of his welterweight rival. “Coming off a knockout and fighting the same guy who’s just knocked him out. Let’s see how he comes back.”
We’re about to find out.
The two are meeting again Saturday — for the third time, and more than seven years after their first fight — as the headliners at UFC 286 at the O2 Arena in London.
It’s a homecoming for Edwards, the champion.
It’s a shot at redemption for Usman, in the rare position as the challenger.
Dropped by a kick to the head and neck in the fifth round in Salt Lake City in August, Usman — otherwise known as the “Nigerian Nightmare” — saw his run of 15 straight victories come to an end. One more win would have tied an all-time UFC record for a guy seen at the time as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
The big question now, seven months later, is what has he got? It’s one that Edwards is asking out loud.
“What does he change?” the Jamaican-born Brit said in an interview with BT Sport, which is broadcasting the fight in Britain. “The way he fought me last is the way he fights.
“I can’t see him in the space of five, six months now being a totally different fighter. I just can’t see it happening.”
Underestimating Usman is a dangerous game. Especially since he beat Edwards in the first fight of this trilogy in 2015 and was controlling the second — in UFC 278 — before the unexpected knockout blow from his rival, who become Britain’s second UFC champion.
It was Usman’s first loss in nine years and extended Edwards’ own winning run that stretches back to May 2016.
That’s some strong pedigree on show Saturday, wrapping up a card that includes a fight between Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev in the lightweight category.
It promises to be an emotional night for Edwards, who will be fighting almost three years to the day since a contest against Tyron Woodley in the same venue had to be called off amid the onset on the coronavirus pandemic.
Now he returns as a champion, hungry for only his second bout in nearly two years and believing Usman won’t be able to deal with a first fight in someone else’s back yard.
“This is my hometown show,” Edwards said. “I’ve never lost in the U.K. I use the crowd as energy. I just can’t see how he goes out there and defeats me.”
Unsurprisingly, Usman feels differently.
“Yes of course I could have waited and said let’s do it in Vegas or something like that but it was the perfect opportunity to come here,” he said. “It just adds to the story.”