The trilogy is set for welterweight gold at the O2 arena in London — Leon “Rocky” Edwards will defend his belt against Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman at UFC 286. These two warriors are split even in their two-fight series at one win apiece.
Edwards has a 20-3 record and is the only man to defeat Usman in the UFC. Usman, the former champ, was on a historic 15-fight win streak and now owns a 20-2 record.
This main event featuring Edwards and Uman is an intriguing matchup, considering the contrasting styles each fighter possesses. Edwards is a world-class kickboxing striker with improved wrestling and grappling skills. Usman, on the other hand, is a wrestling guru with elite cardio to match his constant pressure.
There’s a lot to take away from their second fight at UFC 278: Usman’s pressure and relentless grappling was likely going to give Usman the decision win. Now. I say “was” because Edwards shocked the world in the fifth round after knocking out Usman with a beautiful leg kick to the head with just under a minute left in the bout.
That head-kick knockout was one of the finest knockouts in the history of the sport, without even considering the championship fight at stake. The timing, the precision, the power — what else would you want in a last-second knockout?
Edwards has surely lived up to his nickname, “Rocky,” with a legendary cinema-like knockout at UFC 278. He also added one of the best post-fight speeches in UFC history: “pound-for-pound, headshot, dead.”
In order for “Rocky” to win the trilogy, he’ll need to utilize the hometown advantage, as the event takes place in his backyard — the United Kingdom. The game plan for Edwards is similar to the last fight: Use feints and lure Usman into various striking combinations.
Outside of that vicious knockout that resulted in a Cinderella story with an underdog victory, there was shock on Usman’s end because he was winning that fight up until the stunning KO. Usman’s legacy and all-time status is cemented regardless of his loss to Edwards, but one can’t help but wonder how he’s recovered after such a violent knockout loss.
Usman is likely the favorite for the trilogy fight merely because of the constant grappling and control that favored “The Nigerian Nightmare” in their previous two fights. Yet, I’m still curious to see if the ‘competitor ego’ in Usman will lead him into a striking battle with Edwards to prove to doubters that he’s the better of the two.
It wasn’t long ago when Usman slept another potent striker in Jorge Masvidal with a vicious right hand that shocked the world. He’s one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time; Usman will be sure to remind critics that he’s a problem for the 170-pound division.
Nevertheless, this is the fight game, and I’m not sure who’ll leave the O2 arena with the championship strap. Who could bet against Edwards after he stunned everyone in their last fight? Similarly, who could bet against Usman, one of the most dominant fighters in the welterweight division?
Ultimately, MMA fans are in for a treat as UFC 286 will close another chapter between two rivals and competitors between Usman and the champ, Edwards.