Brett OkamotoESPN staff writerRead for 4 minutes
LONDON – Leon Edwards was the first to admit to a terrible performance eight months ago in his welterweight title fight against Kamaru Usman. He delivered a much better one against Usman at UFC 286.
Edwards (21-3) recorded his first defense of the £170 UFC championship in front of a home crowd at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday, earning a majority decision on the scorecards. Two judges scored the five-round title fight 48-46 in favor of Edwards, while a third scored a tie of 47-47.
It was a very different fight and a different Edwards than eight months ago. Edwards clearly lost to Usman (20-3) at UFC 278 as he landed a stunning head kick that knocked out the then-champion and No. 1 pound-for-pound contender.
On Saturday, Edwards was composed and energetic, visibly leading the dance for the most part.
“I knew I could go out and take his pictures,” said Edwards. “Even when he was under pressure, not much happened.”
According to UFC Stats, Edwards defeated Usman 123-113 in total bouts and defended 11 of his 15 takedown attempts. Even when Usman managed to drag Edwards to the ground, he failed to stop him or provide any significant amount of offense. Usman was credited with five minutes of control time in the fight, half of what he had accumulated in August.
Still, Usman said afterwards that he felt he had won. He didn’t argue about the result, however, and praised Edwards, whom he defeated in a three-round non-title fight in 2015.
“I knew it was an exciting fight,” said Usman. “Great game plan. I’ve always said it from the start, I knew I’d see Leon again and I’m not done yet. I’ll see him again. I’ve always given him props for everything he’s been able to achieve. “He’s just like me. It’s in his blood. Much respect, London. You have a great champion and a great guy.”
Born in Jamaica and now fighting from Birmingham, England, Edwards has really changed the complexity of the fight with his anti-wrestling. He forced Usman to use a lot of energy in all 15 takedown attempts, and his ability to get back on his feet was supposed to discourage Usman as the fight progressed.
Edwards made a huge mistake in the third round when he grabbed the gate on a takedown attempt. Referee Herb Dean deemed the foul obvious enough to deduct a point, threatening to erase Edwards’ early lead on the scorecards.
However, Edwards refused to let the point deduction get into his head as he continued to pepper Usman with efficient strikes. He used kicks to Usman’s body and legs to slow down his aggression, occasionally elevating left kicks to his head. The English crowd chanted ‘Head shot, dead’, a phrase Edwards coined after his knockout victory.
“Obviously his coaches have been working on his defense there,” said Edwards. “I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I set it up with body kicks and leg kicks, but fair game to him.”
Edwards’ next title defense will come against former interim champion Colby Covington, UFC president Dana White said in his post-fight press conference.
Covington was in London for Saturday’s game and immediately began calling out Edwards. Edwards accused Covington of avoiding him for years on his way to the top of the UFC.