LONDON – Britain’s Leon Edwards emerged victorious after a gruelling five-round battle with Kamaru Usman to retain his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title, scoring a majority decision win on the judges’ scorecards at UFC 286 on Saturday.
“I knew I could go out there and take his shots,” the 31-year-old said. “Even when he was pressuring, not much happened.”
He beat Usman in sensational fashion when the two met in Salt Lake City last August, knocking the Nigerian out with a spectacular fifth-round head kick to claim the title, but Usman was quickly granted a re-match.
This time, the fight was to be on home soil for Edwards, and London’s O2 Arena gave him a hero’s welcome as he entered the octagon.
The crowd chanted his “Rocky” nickname as he circled his opponent in the first round, picking his shots and landing heavy body kicks towards the end of the frame.
Famed for his superb wrestling skills, Usman got Edwards to the mat twice midway through the second round, but each time the Jamaican-born Briton managed to scramble back to his feet.
Usman, 35, had his opponent on the ground again early in the third round, and referee Herb Dean deducted a point from Edwards for grabbing the fence as he tried to get back up.
With the two fighters tiring, the fourth round turned into a cagey affair, as Usman pressured and Edwards continued to attack the body with kicks, hoping to set up the same head-kick finish that settled their previous encounter.
Edwards uncorked that exact move twice early in the final round but this time Usman emerged unscathed.
Undeterred, Edwards continued mixing his body shots with some vicious uppercuts and brilliant defensive wrestling to ultimately thwart his opponent.
“I knew it was a close fight,” Usman said. “Great game plan. I’ve always said it from the start, I knew I’d see Leon again and I’m not done. I’ll see him again.
“I’ve always given him props for everything he’s been able to accomplish. He’s just like me. It’s in his blood.
“Much respect, London. You’ve got yourself a great champion and a hell of a guy.”
In the co-main event, veteran Justin Gaethje scored a majority decision victory over fellow lightweight Rafael Fiziev of Azerbaijan after a thrilling three-round display of high-level striking from both men.
“I knew there was no way this fight was not going to be exciting,” the 34-year-old American said.
“I want to take one more run at the title. I ain’t going to be around much longer, so I’m so glad you guys got to enjoy this.” REUTERS