UFC 278: Leon Edwards Topples Kamaru Usman with Fifth Round Head Kick

Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards, UFC 278
Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards, UFC 278 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Eddie Law/Cageside Press

Seven years on from the pair’s first meeting, Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards ran things back at UFC 278.

While neither man had lost a fight since their 2015 encounter, which saw Usman win a decision, the similarities ended there. Usman had gone on to capture welterweight gold, being thrust into the spotlight. He was chasing Anderson Silva’s consecutive wins record, and was the bonafide number two best welterweight of all time, behind only Georges St-Pierre.

Edwards, meanwhile, had taken the long road to the rematch, winning fight after fight, but frequently being overlooked in favor of flashier, more popular options. That slight was not helped by the coronavirus pandemic, which saw a key fight for Edwards fall through.

None of that mattered once the cage door closed on Saturday in Salt Lake City, however. Instead, skipping the glove touch, the main event welterweights got right to work. Usman walked down the challenger early, and briefly caught a kick. More kicks from Edwards would follow, as he chopped at Usman’s lead leg. In turn, the champ then put Edwards against the fence, hunting a takedown, but Edwards stuffed it. He couldn’t stay off his back moments later, however, falling to his back in an awkward exchange.

Leon Edwards, however, was quickly back to his feet, fighting hands as Usman tried to maintain a body lock. Usman fired knees to the thigh, but it was Edwards turning his back to the fence, then landing a trip takedown. Edwards landed right in mount, and created enough space to land at least one solid punch. The British challenger then took the back and locked on a body triangle. Edwards went hunting for the rear-naked choke, looking to get under Usman’s chin. While the choke wasn’t there, Edwards would finish the frame landing punches — and clearly won the opening round.

Round two saw both men firing and connecting early. Usman began teeing off about a minute in, as Edwards covered up. It appeared Edwards might have stumbled, and a few punches got through, but he stayed calm under fire. An eye poke then landed on Usman, who was given time to recover. Back underway, Edwards hit home with a left hand. The pair traded body shots. Usman appeared to want to make up for the first round, and was constantly walking forward, though Edwards landed a counter left. The champ next put Edwards on the fence, but couldn’t land a takedown. At distance, Edwards shot for a takedown that was stuffed.

In the final minute of round two, Usman unloaded on Edwards as the challenger covered up. An elbow landed, but Edwards fired one back. Usman would finish the frame changing levels and landing a takedown, securing the round.

Round three saw Usman change levels and land a takedown about a minute in. Edwards was quickly back to his feet, but he still had Kamaru Usman on him. Edwards would land a combo back in the open, but as in the second, Usman backed Edwards up, fired a combo, and landed an elbow as Edwards covered up. A takedown followed, and Usman worked to take the back.

By the time the championship rounds arrived, Edwards’ dominant first round felt like a distant memory. Edwards fired a kick to the body, and he later attempted to take the champ’s back while standing. Usman used a couple of fence grabs to maintain position, then broke free. The champ then landed a takedown with apparent ease. Edwards shrimped back to the fence with Usman all over him. The challenger powered back up, fighting hands to break a body lock. But as soon as Edwards was out, Usman took him back down. This time it was Edwards using the fence to escape, and this time, the ref caught it, taking the fighters back to the original position. Off the restart, Usman landed a number of big shots, going to the head and body.

Edwards entered round five in need of a finish. Instead, just over a minute in, Usman went after a takedown, though Edwards was able to stay up. The pair tied up along the fence, much to the annoyance of the Salt Lake City crowd, who were looking for a little more action. A kick then landed that the champ treated as low; a replay showed it was along the belt line. After a brief reprieve, Usman fired a kick to the body.

Leon Edwards was less than two minutes from losing his championship opportunity — and in a heartbeat, he flipped the script. Out of nowhere, Edwards fired a head kick that crashed into the right side of Kamaru Usman’s skull. Usman dropped instantly, out cold. Ref Herb Dean moved in, but Edwards was already raising his hands in celebration of the walk-off KO. And in celebration of becoming the second British champion in UFC history.

Official Result: Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman by knockout (head kick), Round 5, 4:04 – for the UFC welterweight championship