LEON EDWARDS is still the UFC’s welterweight champion following a dominant display in his trilogy fight with Kamaru Usman.
The pride of Birmingham renewed his rivalry with the Nigerian Nightmare on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 286 at London’s O2 Arena.
Edwards ripped the belt from Usman’s clutches with a stunning head kick KO in their rematch last August to become Britain’s second UFC champion.
And his reign continued thanks to a dominant display against the UFC’s former pound-for-pound king, which earned him a majority decision victory.
An elated Edwards said in his post-fight interview: “He didn’t get any takedowns and I was defending multiple of his shots.
“I want to say thank you to him, he’s been a great competitor. I was trying to get the head kick, but fair play to him because he had perfect defence.”
Usman, Africa’s first UFC champion, walked out to a chorus of boos from the raucous O2 crowd but he looked the picture of confidence.
Edwards, however, was stoic as his music hit the speakers and he strode to the cage with the cheers of an entire nation behind him.
Usman immediately took the centre of the octagon and had to deal with feint after feint from the champion, who opened up with a low kick.
Chants of, ‘Headshot dead’ rang throughout the arena early in the round to remind Usman of the fate he suffered a mere seven months ago.
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They were followed up by renditions of, ‘Rocky, Rocky, Rocky’ as both men continued to feel one another out.
But as soon as they ended, Usman found a home for his right hand, which Edwards responded to with a left seconds later.
Usman looked to use heavy pressure and press Edwards against the cage to force a takedown.
But the champ did well to stay off the fence. A nice knee up the middle following a clinch reminded Usman of the nasty weapons in Edwards’ arsenal.
A thudding body kick nearly felled Usman and forced him to close the distance. Usman ended the round in the face of the champion and made sure to eyeball him after the horn went.
Usman received a chorus of boos at the start of the second for trying to close the distance before ref Herb Dean gave the okay.
And he was barraged by a fresh set after complaining of a low blow, although his gripe was valid.
Edwards’ kicks to the legs and body continued to be on point and staggered the lead leg of the challenger.
Usman found himself rocked by a knee soon after and a blistering follow-up left hand.
But he survived and landed a big right hand which he used to transition into a takedown.
Edwards briefly took a beating against the fence but managed to rise to his feet.
But he foolishly put himself back in a bad spot with a takedown, attempt although he managed to get back up and land a piston straight left.
Usman changed tact soon after, opting to throw leg and teep kicks as well as jabs to the body of the Brummie.
Both men landed hard right and left hands respectively as the horn went to signal the end of the stanza, after which they jawed one another down.
Usman’s lead leg took a battering again early in the third as Edwards found the perfect spot on the inside of this thigh.
A high crotch takedown from Usman grounded the fight and seemingly deflated Edwards.
But he managed to get back to his feet, although he soon found himself having point deducted for a fence grab.
They re-engaged in the middle, despite the pause in the action being for a foul by Edwards.
A stiff jab from Usman reminded Edwards of the power of the former dominant champion.
Hungry challenger Usman continued to keep the pressure up but found himself nursing his nether regions after an accidental low blow.
Edwards responded with a beautiful knee and left hook combo that rattled the dome of Usman.
Usman looked to punctuate the round with a takedown but was unable to ground the fight.
The boisterous Brits in attendance tried to raise up the spirits of Edwards at the start of the fourth with more chants of, ‘Rocky, Rocky, Rocky’.
A stinging low kick echoed throughout the arena and clearly irked Usman, who began to open up with his hands.
There were audible gasps when the Nigerian-American landed a good two-punch combo, which was met with chants of, ‘headshot dead.’
And the arena burst into life when Edwards absorbed a body kick but kicked out Usman’s standing leg.
That prompted another takedown attempt from the former champ but Edwards was savvy enough to defend it.
Usman tried his best to get the fight down with a minute of the round remaining but was unable to. And he ate a knee and a big left hook in the ensuing break.
The desperate challenger shot in again with 40 seconds of the round remaining but found his effort to ground Edwards denied again.
The crowd were on their feet and going crazy at the start of the fifth, in which the heated rivals touched gloves.
Usman, once again, looked to close the distance and feint his way in for a takedown.
But he found himself eating a clean head kick to the cranium, although he ate it a million times better than he did last August.
Edwards grew in confidence after stuffing another takedown and landed two stuff straight lefts before landing another snapping head kick.
But it wasn’t long before Usman had him up against the fence trying to work for a takedown. Edwards defended beautifully and managed to circle out and go back to work with striking from the outside.
Usman ate a big knee following another takedown but that didn’t stop him from shooting again.
Edwards, however, stuffed it and proceeded to snap back the head of Usman with a stiff straight left.
The champion had to dig deep to get back to his feet with just over a minute to go and was greeted by the biggest cheer of the night.
A desperate Usman managed to initiate another clinch as more pro-Edwards chants rang out.
Usman went in full pursuit of the finish in the dying embers of the round, unleashing a wild flurry. But Edwards was able to survive and make it to the judges’ scorecards.
Usman cut a dejected figure after Edwards’ first title defence was in the books but vowed to carry on fighting.
He said: “I think I did enough to win but it was close, I’m not done and I’ll see him again.
“He put on a hell of a gameplan. I’m going to get back to my coaches because I can’t sit out for too long, I start getting antsy.”