UFC 278: Usman on the Cusp of History in Critical Rematch for Edwards

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - AUGUST 18: (L-R) Kamaru Usman of Nigeria and Leon Edwards of Jamaica face off during the UFC 278 press conference at Vivint Arena on August 18, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is on the cusp of tying the consecutive wins record in the promotion, but standing in his way is a dangerous contender eager for redemption in Leon Edwards at UFC 278.

For years, the gold and seemingly unreachable standard of excellence in the UFC has been the 16 fight win-streak of former middleweight champion Anderson Silva.  Across two weight-classes, and against the most formidable competition to be found at the time, “The Spider” blazed a path seemingly so untouchable because of it’s longevity and in the form in which he did it.

On Saturday night, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will look to tie the mark with what would be his sixth consecutive title defense.  Since joining the UFC in 2015 through The Ultimate Fighter, “The Nigerian Nightmare” has compiled a Hall of Fame resume that includes victories over the likes of Colby Covington, Tyron Woodley, Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Burns, Sean Strickland, and his upcoming opponent Leon Edwards.  To defeat Edwards for a second time, especially this iteration who is undefeated in his last ten fights, would be as impressive a victory as any he has had during his run.

By most accounts, even his own following his most recent victory last November, he is contemplating the end of his career by retiring on top of the sport.  He has taken aim recently at combat sports superstar Canelo Alvarez for a fight in boxing that would pay him millions more than any he’s had in the UFC.  Should his status as the most dominant MMA fighter in the game today be enough to entice Alvarez to take the bout, it would be the fitting way to end a legendary run for Usman.  In terms of mixed martial arts, most expect Usman, should he defeat Edwards, to go out on top in a fight against the man promoted as the superstar of tomorrow in Khamzat Chimaev with a chance to set a new consecutive wins record.

Leon Edwards has never been one for bravado.  He is not here to light social media ablaze with sound bytes or moments of putting his finger in the chest of opponents.  He is soft-spoken, fundamentally sound, and with one more victory could unseat arguably the most dominant fighter ever seen in mixed martial arts.  “Rocky” also enters the bout with a different element compared to the recent rematches that Usman has encountered.  While Covington and Masvidal re-entered bouts with the champion rather quickly after their first fights with him, Edwards enters the bout roughly seven years and ten fights removed from their last encounter.  That is all time that any observer can tell he has used to not only grow from his last fight with Usman, but also from his subsequent ones.

Compared to the more recent challengers for the title, the relative inactivity of Edwards has quelled the enthusiasm for his arrival to the title picture.  Certainly, Masvidal’s emergence as the UFC’s BMF and Covington’s public onslaught on the mic are more easily digestible.  But to overlook Edwards would be to ignore a body of work that has seen victories over former champion Rafael dos Anjos, Vicente Luque, Donald Cerrone, and Nate Diaz.  Even when he struggled to return to action, Edwards’s gamesmanship. remained on display in accepting bookings with the still rising Chimaev back in 2021.

The match-up provides an intriguing clash of styles as their capabilities are a stark contrast from one another despite both being very complete fighters.  The wrestling of Usman is expected to be the most dangerous weapon on either side as his ability to get the fight to the mat and potentially burn chunks of time off the clock could stifle Edwards.  It is expected to also force Edwards to be more cautious as he may hesitate to use his kicks for fear of being taken down.  While Usman has grown more confident and proficient on the feet, Edwards remains the best striker out of the two and it is expected that the challenger will need to use all his weapons in any scenario that sees him victorious.  For Usman, a patient approach that sees him pick his spots and use his grappling to open up his striking will be paramount to unraveling the complete challenger.

An upset victory for Edwards in all likelihood sets up a rubber match with Usman, with a date in the United Kingdom being a serious possibility.  A victory for Usman is expected to see him push for a boxing super fight (and super payday) against Canelo Alvarez in 2023, but not before a likely date with either Khamzat Chimaev or the winner of the upcoming bout between Belal Muhammad and Sean Brady in 2023.