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Look At Me Now: The Amazing Story of Leon Edwards

leon edwards knocks out Usman
Reading Time: 8 minutes

As Leon Edwards sat dejected on the stool between the fourth and fifth rounds, the only people who believed in him were his parents, his coach Dove Lovell, and the forcibly-neutral Jon Anik. 

But after the camera zoomed in on that rousing speech from Dove Lovell, all savvy MMA fans knew Leon was going to come out swinging in the fifth. 

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself…don’t let him bully you, son!”

What happened in the next few minutes would be etched into the scrolls of MMA history for all time. If made into a movie, it would be the reenactment of Rocky vs. Ivan Drago.

This is the tumultuous rise of Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards.

Early Life: Who is Leon Edwards?

Born August 25, 1991, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards overcame a troubled childhood in Jamaica and faced many hardships in his early years in Birmingham, England. 

Leon and fabian edwards
Source: ESPN

His father, an actual Robin Hood figure, did what he could to provide for the family through what Leon would label ‘questionable activities’. But a turn of fate saw Leon’s family move to Aston in Birmingham, where the young man fell in with a local gang.

At just 14 years old, Leon’s world was rocked by tragedy when his father was murdered at a London nightclub, forcing Leon to take on a more significant role in his family. 

On and off the streets, he was known as “Rocky” for his fighting prowess, using his fists to protect his friends and intimidate opponents.

Leon and fabian edwards in the gym

But as he grew older, Leon became remorseful of his past actions and yearned for a new path. Despite playing football like most teenagers in his neighborhood, his love of fighting drew him farther from the pitch toward the dojo. 

Leon’s journey to the Octagon began at age 17 when his mother stumbled upon the Ultimate Training Center in Erdington, Birmingham. Despite knowing little about MMA, she saw an opportunity to keep Leon and his brother Fabian off the dangerous streets. 

The Edwards brother traded in their football boots for MMA gloves—and thus started the rise of arguably the most skilled fighters in the UFC today.

Leon Edwards Explores Professional MMA

With a natural talent for the sport, Leon worked relentlessly, pushing himself to train two to three times per day. He rose through the regional scene after winning his first amateur fight eight months into training. 

Leon’s success continued as he went on to win four fights in one day at a local tournament. This victory was a pivotal moment for Leon, cementing his decision to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.

In 2010, Leon made his professional debut at Bushido Challenge 2: A New Dawn, where he secured a victory over Carl Booth via an impressive armbar submission in round two. This caught the attention of Fight UK MMA, who offered him a contract.

Leon edwards at Fight UK MMA
Source: Alchetron

Leon had a strong start in the promotion, securing a technical knockout win in the first round against Damian Zlotnicki. He went on to win against Pawel Zwiefka and unfortunately lost to Delroy McDowell due to a disqualification.

By 2014, he appeared on the UFC’s radar after a successful 5-0 stint with BAMMA. He became the welterweight champion by defeating Wayne Murrie and successfully defended his title against Shaun Taylor in his last fight with the promotion.

Leon Edwards’ Fighting Style

A master of the southpaw fighting stance, Leon also has a Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as well as a striking style that combines powerful kicks and devastating knees. He also fluently combines striking, grappling, and wrestling techniques. 

But do not think he’s a stand-up fighter because he has excellent grappling skills. Leon Edwards can take the fight to the mat and dominate his opponents with his takedowns and ground-and-pound.

Leon Edwards in the UFC

After Leon signed with the UFC and made his promotional debut in 2014, he has been a staple of the welterweight division ever since. 

But this took some time. Despite losing his UFC debut against Claudio Silva, Leon Edwards remained focused and continued to work hard. He won the next two fights before losing a decision to Kamaru Usman, his Ivan Drago.

Leon Edwards debuts in the UFC
Source: UFC

Leon Edwards holds the 6th-fastest victory in UFC history against Seth Baczynski, knocking him out in just 8 seconds. He has also won an incredible 13 of 16 fights, a testament to his menacing command of the Octagon.

The super striker went on an impressive 8-match win streak, demonstrating his position as one of the top fighters in his division, some of these victories were over some tough opponents like Nate Diaz and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

A no-contest decision against Belal Muhammad would interrupt our serial winner’s streak—and then came a series of incidents that almost ended Leon’s career in the UFC.

Leon the Disrespected

The star’s path hasn’t been all Ws and KOs — he is known for grinding out “boring” decisions — since he joined the UFC. His lack of trash talk also made him a hard watch in the era of Connor McGregor and Colby Covington.

And this led to multiple instances of chronic disrespect from the fans, pundits, and the UFC.

“3-piece and a soda”

On March 16, 2019, following Jorge Masvidal’s victory over Darren Till at UFC Fight Night 147 in London, Masvidal and Edwards crossed paths backstage. Edwards interrupts Masvidal’s post-fight interview and walks towards the exit. 

Jorge Masvidal, Leon Edwards involved in backstage fight | ESPN MMA

The altercation escalated when Masvidal walked up to Leon and threw a few sucker punches that landed on Edwards’ face. UFC staff and security jumped between both fighters before tensions could escalate further.

In the infamous interview that followed, Masvidal described the combo as “3-piece and a soda”. Despite being the aggressor, Masvidal’s star rose; he even sold merch. The fans even sided with the popular Masvidal because of his charismatic persona. 

To this day, this beef remains unresolved, more so after Jorge Masvidal pulled the curtain on his career in March 2023.

The No-Contest Title Eliminator

The matchup between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad happened at UFC Fight Night 187 on 13th March 2021. Since both fighters were ranked in the top 10, this should have been a title eliminator.

Leon edwards eye poke Belal Muhammad
Source: The Athletic

The five-round fight ended abruptly in the second round when Edwards accidentally poked Belal in the eye with his thumb. The ref immediately halted the fight, bringing in a ringside physician to assess Muhammad’s condition. He could not continue due to the injury, so the fight was declared a no-contest. 

The Delayed Title Shot

Edwards had been on an impressive eight-fight win streak in the UFC’s welterweight division and was ranked as the #3 contender when he was booked to fight Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title at UFC 263 in June 2021.

However, the fight was canceled due to Edwards testing positive for COVID-19, and Usman went on to defend his title against Leon’s arch-enemy Jorge Masvidal.

Some fans and pundits believed that Edwards was being overlooked and disrespected by the UFC, as he had been unable to secure a top-ranked opponent. Casuals fuelled the disrespect because Leon was far from a crowd favorite, unlike his compatriot Darren Till.

Leon, the Professional

Despite the disrespect, Leon maintained his professionalism and work ethic. He was never in the news or tabloids. He avoided trash talk because of his accent and seemingly slurred speech pattern.

You would think this would endear him to fans, but it did the opposite. Videos of his press conference attracted comments like “Get this mumbling grappler off the screen.” So when he got a chance at the title again, people quickly wrote him off as a stepping stone for Kamaru Usman.

The Road to the Title

Edwards bounced back with a big win over Nate Diaz at UFC 263, a match that could have swung the other way in the twilight phase.

Diaz stunned Edwards in the last few seconds of the match but, for some reason, hesitated to seal his victory, settling to taunt Edwards instead. The match would end well for the Jamaican-born star, who would secure his bout with Usman for the welterweight title. 

Nate Diaz vs Leon Edwards
Source: The US Sun

Edwards finally got his shot, but people doubted Rocky, because Nate Diaz wobbled him in the final minutes of his fight before the title bout. And seeing how dominant Usman had been, the bookies highly favored the champion over the challenger.

The Title Fight Against Kamaru Usman

Leading up to his first title fight, he was not just considered the underdog. Fast forward to UFC 278 in 2022, experts and fans were asking if Leon would be able to shake off his earlier defeat to Usman. The MMA polls favored Usman — who was on course to break Anderson Silva’s 16-fight streak — and even looked forward to his next challenger.

In the first round, Leon Edwards took the former collegiate wrestler down and took his back. The entire arena erupted in shock. This wasn’t part of the script — no one ever takes down Kamaru Usman. 

As expected, the champion bounced back with three dominant rounds, crushing the challenger with his otherworldly cardio. 

Most spectators wrote Leon’s obituary. Some were already handing him the moral victory of surviving Kamaru’s onslaught. Even Leon looked mentally drained as he returned to his corner after the fourth round.

And then came Dove Lovell’s speech urging Leon to stand up to the champion and pull himself out of the fire. 

Leon “Rocky” Edwards lands the headshot for all ages

During the fifth round, Kamaru ramped up the pressure, but Leon stood with him without taking any backward steps. 

Commentators Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier were already eulogizing Leon and saying he had no answer for the champion. And right on cue, Jon Anik interrupted them with the words, “..but that’s not the cloth from which Leon is cut….Ohhhh!”

Leon KOs Kamaru Usman

Source: Bleacher Report

In a moment that seemed to defy the MMA gods, Jon Anik reversed the commentator’s curse as Leon Edwards landed a picturesque left kick to knock the Nigerian Nightmare into dreamland. 

This was not meant to be happening. This was not part of the script. But it did happen. 

The crowd was stunned in disbelief, the commentators were screaming, and Leon’s corner was ecstatic. As the referee waved off the fight, Leon did the “McGregor strut” as he walked away from the motionless Kamaru Usman. 

via GIPHY

As soon as his brother rushed into the Octagon to hug him, I could see it dawn on him. Rocky, you are now a champ.

All the years of disrespect and being overlooked culminated in this sweet moment of indescribable ecstasy. The young man from Birmingham, England, via Kingston, Jamaica, is now a champion—the first UFC champion born in Jamaica.

via GIPHY

During the post-fight interview, the tearful Leon Edwards clutching his new belt, let out a visceral reaction to deliver one of the most iconic interviews ever: 

“Y’all doubted me…Y’all said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now! Pound for pound. Headshot, dead…Look at me now! Look at me now…”

Leon Edwards Octagon Interview | UFC 278

Defending his title

On 18th March 2023, at UFC 286, Usman and Edwards battled at the O2 Arena in London, England, with the title on the line again. Rocky won a majority decision over former champion Usman. And with that, he closed the chapter on this epic trilogy (Edwards 2-1 Usman). 

Leon wins UFC championship
Source: Bleacher Report

Leon Edwards’ Legacy

Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards is the first Jamaican-born fighter to win a UFC title and the second England-based mixed martial artist to do so. He has also opened a soul-food restaurant for his mom. 

Regardless of how Leon’s career pans out, his iconic win and speech will remain a source of motivation for immigrants and hardworking people battling through life with their backs against the wall.

Who wrote this?

Ebuka is a tech enthusiast, writer, and eSports guru currently working with a team of daring Africans to revolutionize the writing scene. He enjoys answering questions, brainstorming new ideas, and discussing the future of sports and esports.

Sports Writer | [email protected] | Website

Ugo is a sports enthusiast with an undying love for underdog stories.

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