Salt Lake City, UT — There’s no question that Leon Edwards took the long road to the UFC’s welterweight title.
Nine straight wins. Multiple fight cancellations, including dates with Khamzat Chimaev and Tyron Woodley. The coronavirus pandemic getting in the way. But after flooring Kamaru Usman with a head kick to claim gold in the fifth round at UFC 278, in a spectacular come-from-behind win, it seems Edwards wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I believe that was the way it was meant to go, to build me into the man I am today,” Edwards (20-3, 1NC) told media outlets including Cageside Press following the main event at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. The journey helped build his mental toughness, Edwards added. “Even though it was one of my worst performances — I did not feel good in there tonight — I went out there and knocked out the pound-for-pound [best]. It is what it is.”
What it was, quite frankly, was a spectacular comeback victory, and one of the most stunning title changes in UFC history. Immediately after the win, everyone from Jorge Masvidal to Khamzat Chimaev called out Edwards, but the front-runner is a rematch and trilogy fight with Usman.
The pair are currently tied in their career series, with Usman winning the first fight back in 2015. The rematch is something Edwards was well aware of coming into UFC 278.
“I knew going into it that more than likely, we’re going to have a rematch down the line,” he acknowledged. “Whether it’s next, or down the line, we’re going to have a rematch. He’s been a long champion, they’ve said he’s the pound-for-pound best all week. He’s been saying he’s the pound-for-pound best, he believed it.”
“As I said in the octagon, the belt belongs to nobody. It don’t belong to me or nobody. No man is meant to hold the belt for that long,” Edwards continued. “I said it all week, I felt like this was my moment. This was how it was meant to play out. All the layoff, all the COVID, all that, that’s how it was meant to play out.”
As for that rematch, “I heard Wembley,” Edwards stated regarding a locale. UFC President Dana White had suggested as much, before walking the idea back earlier in the night. Edwards, however, is all for it. “Wembley for sure, 100%. Make it Wembley, it’s never been done before.”
Something else that has never been done before: A U.K. fighter winning a title while living and training in the U.K.
“This has never been done before, to have a guy from Birmingham, in the U.K. Did it in the U.K. I know [Michael] Bisping did it first, but he did it from living in America, so it was hard for people like me to relate, to say ‘look, we can do it as well,'” observed Edwards. “I made a point to stay in the U.K. to achieve this, to show all the guys coming under me that ‘look, if you believe in your country, believe in your team, you can achieve it.’ That’s what I did, I went out there and I achieved it, from a little small gym in Birmingham. It’s a crazy story. Everyone knows my story, from being born in Jamaica to now winning the UFC world title, it’s a mad story.”
Edwards also took the high road ahead of the fight, with no need to trash talk to land or promote the match-up. Which makes the win just a little bit sweeter.
“Yeah a little bit. But at the same time, I said it, I’ve got no beef with Kamaru. Outside of fighting, there’s nothing that I don’t like about him. He’s doing well for himself, he’s providing for his family, and that’s it. I’ve got no issues with the guy. I thought the hype was getting to his head, he was starting to believe that the belt was his and no one else can have it. As I said in the octagon, the belt belongs to nobody, no man is meant to hold the belt for that long. That’s what I believed in my heart, and I went out there and I proved it.”
Watch the full UFC 278 post-fight press conference with Leon Edwards above.