“How times change,” Leon Edwards remarks. When the UFC welterweight champion ventures into the guts of the O2 Arena on Saturday, he shall be doing so nearly three years to the day after the venue’s veins suffered an premature blockage.
In 2020, Edwards was due for a main-event showdown with former champion Tyron Woodley, just for the onset of the Covid pandemic to consign the combat to an ether of misplaced contests. “I was heartbroken, devastated,” Edwards says.
But how occasions change. And this, a defiant Edwards insists, is his time.
As the UFC returns to the O2 Arena for the third time in 12 months, but for its first pay-per-view on this island in six years, Edwards’ title will prime the invoice because it did in 2020. The circumstances are altogether totally different, nevertheless. “Now I’m going back as a world champion,” the Jamaican-born Briton says, talking in partnership with Wow Hydrate. “I can’t wait to go out there and prove to the world, to myself, to my team, that I am the best. This is my time – and I’ll reign for a long time.”
Kamaru Usman, who is aware of a factor or two a few lengthy title reign, shall be intent on guaranteeing Edwards’ is something however that. When the Nigerian-born American and Edwards clashed in August, Usman was searching for a sixth straight profitable title defence and a twentieth consecutive win. Among the quite a few proficient fighters to have fallen to Usman was, the truth is, Edwards, who was outgrappled for the most effective a part of quarter-hour in a 2015 assembly. And when the outdated foes met once more final summer season, Edwards was outgrappled by Usman for the most effective a part of 20 minutes.
With only one minute left on the clock, nevertheless, Edwards modified the course of his profession with a single, cosmic kick. Usman, so dominant for therefore lengthy, was abruptly dormant. As his vacant eyes pointed up on the lights in Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena, Edwards’ eyes crammed with tears.
“I think it’ll be hard to top that moment, I think that moment was kind of perfect,” says Edwards, 31, reflecting on the victory that topped him as Britain’s second ever UFC champion. “The thing for me now is just settling the score, cementing what happened in Salt Lake City and carrying on my career.”
In a charming post-fight interview, Edwards declared that “the belt belongs to no one”. So, how does that assertion sit alongside his standing because the 170lbs champion?
“I do feel like the champion, but I’m not gonna fool myself into saying: ‘This is my belt forever,’” Edwards explains. “I know that I have to work to keep it. It doesn’t belong to me; I have to earn it every single time. I’ll go out there and earn it again this week.”
Clearly, Edwards is out to keep away from complacency, the type that he believes contributed to Usman’s downfall.
“Guys who are that confident, they build this false sense of security, where they think they can’t be hurt,” Edwards says. “So, to finally be knocked out cold, it does affect a guy. But I’m not training as if it’s affected him, or, ‘He might come out different.’ I just think he’ll come out and be Kamaru Usman, which is heavy wrestling, pressure, hold you against the cage, try to take you down. He’s [nearly] 36 years old, I can’t see how he goes back and becomes a totally different [fighter].”
Usman’s age is just not the one factor that will rely in opposition to him in London, as Edwards sees it.
“This is his first time actually fighting in someone’s backyard. Now he’s coming into enemy territory. I have never lost in the UK as an amateur or pro; I thrive on the energy of the fans, having my friends and family there.”
Furthermore, Edwards enters UFC 286 with a cleaner invoice of well being than he had forward of his final combat with Usman, by which the Briton additionally struggled to cope with the altitude in Utah.
“I feel way, way, way, way better,” he says. “The last fight camp, two weeks from this point, I was injured. I hurt my ankle, so I couldn’t run, I couldn’t do much. I was kind of working around the injury just to get me to the fight. Then I was leaving my camp to go to America, to try to adjust to the time, the air, everything. Now I’ve got no injuries, I can train all the way to fight week properly – and in my own gym. It’s a totally different ending to the camp physically and mentally.
“If he’s judging this fight off my last performance, it’ll be a total shock to him. I think this time, I’ll be able to make the right decisions at the right times, have my body react how it should react. And he makes a lot of mistakes; everyone has [habits] they do, and I wasn’t able to [exploit] them in the last fight, but I’ll be looking forward to doing that this time.”
And how occasions change.