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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 132’s Leon Edwards

One of the United Kingdom’s best mixed martial arts (MMA) prospects, Leon Edwards, will receive a big jump in competition opposite long-time veteran and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title challenger, Donald Cerrone, this Saturday (June 23, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 132 inside Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore.

Edwards joined UFC in 2014 as a 23-year-old kickboxer, losing his first bout in the form of a split-decision to a grappler. For his next camp, “Rocky” relocated to San Jose, Calif., and worked with American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), a camp known for producing dominating wrestlers more than anywhere else. Since that move, Edwards is 7-1 inside the Octagon and has grown tremendously. Nowadays, it’s just as common to see Edwards drive for double legs and trips as it is for the Englishman to pursue the knockout.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


A lanky but strong Southpaw, Edwards has a great build for kickboxing. He’s not a brutal knockout artist with true one-shot power, but Edwards has finished six of his opponents via stoppage and has enough pop to force opponents to respect his game.

The first thing to note about Edwards’ game is that he jabs more often than most Southpaws (GIF). When faced with an opposite stance opponent, Edwards definitely still hand-fights and parries with his lead hand — Southpaws almost have to — but he’s far more willing to slap down his foe’s lead hand and step into a jab. He’ll commonly follow up with the left afterward, and it lands with better accuracy since he’s already found his way into range with both the hand-fighting and previous jab.

Edwards also makes use of the Southpaw double threat: forcing his opponents to quickly determine whether a left cross or left kick is coming their way. This strategy is a staple of Edwards’ offense. Again, it tends to come after the jab, as Edwards snaps his foe’s head back and uses that moment to gain a bit of an outside angle before firing a hard cross or kick.

On the whole, much of Edwards’ offense comes on the counter. He’s willing to lead and will often do so in a close fight to push the pace, but he does a lot of damage answering his opponent’s strikes (GIF).

For example, Edwards did a great job of countering Peter Sobotta — a fellow Southpaw — in his last fight. Since the two men were in the same stance, the jab’s importance grew. That favored Edwards since he already throws a lot of jabs usually, but he built upon that advantage by looking to counter Sobotta’s jab frequently. Early on, a looping cross counter over the jab found its home on Sobotta’s jaw a few times. Once the German athlete adjusted, Edwards switched his counter punch of choice to the uppercut (GIF).

In addition, Edwards is quite good at kicking from his back foot, a risky technique that a lot of fighters do poorly. As his opponent advances, Edwards will feint with his lead hand, set his feet and stop moving away, and blast a left kick into the mid-section. It’s simple enough on paper, but the timing has to be precise to avoid a counter or stuffed kick.

The last note on Edwards’ kickboxing habits is that he likes to following the left high kick with a lunging left hand. It’s both sudden and effective, and it again takes advantage of the Southpaw double threat by forcibly moving his opponent’s hands out of position to block the kick.


While watching tape on Edwards, my first thought on his recent wrestling was that it reminded me of Khabib Nurmagomedov — admittedly nowhere near as great as the Lightweight champion. It’s clear that Edwards’ time at AKA, where he very probably trained with “The Eagle,” has paid off, as Edwards is a very effective offensive and defensive wrestler.

Even the best converted non-wrestlers tend to have average at best shots, but that isn’t the case for Edwards. Not only does he duck down into the double leg with good speed, but he takes an angle immediately upon hitting his foe’s hips. From there, Edwards stands a better chance at driving through the shot or hitting the fence and finishing from there.

In addition, Edwards shows good transitional wrestling by switching from a double leg to body lock. For example, check out this takedown opposite Bryan Barberena (GIF). The sequence begins when Edwards gets in deep on a double leg but is stopped by Barberena’s hips, so he attempts to finish the shot with an outside trip. Barberena’s balance holds, but the trip attempt allows Edwards to lock his hands in a body lock. The Englishman stands up and tries to circle to the back, a transition which is stopped by Barberna’s overhook. However, Edwards still has the hold and a decent angle, allowing him to finish with an inside trip.

Edwards goes from trips quite a bit from the clinch, and they generally serve him quite well. He has a great frame from that style of takedown. However, Edwards does occasionally get a bit overzealous looking for the trip, which can open up reversals.

Once on top, Edwards has shown a lot of great development in taking and controlling the back. It’s very AKA-influenced, and it’s the topic of this week’s technique highlight.

Defensively, Edwards does a lot of things right. First and foremost, his immediate defense to just about any shot is to get his back to the fence and widen his stance. With his legs too far apart to be double-legged, Edwards mostly just has to focus on fighting hands. If his opponent switches to a single leg, Edwards will look to stuff the head to the outside or down to the mat, opening up opportunities to reverse.

One thing Edwards does very well is maintain head position. When opponents drive forward into the clinch, Edwards will get his hips back, helping prevent the shot and allowing him to lower his own head. The head is often looked at as the first line of defense in wrestling, and Edwards often proves that notion true, pressing his forehead into his opponents jaw and negating forward pressure. After getting good head position, Edwards is usually able to angle off soon after.

In recent years, the only man to find consistent success in taking and holding Edwards down was Kamaru Usman. Even then, Edwards’ defensive technique held up for most of the first round, it was just Usman’s pace that drained him over time. Seeing as how Usman has managed to wrestle just about everyone at will, Edwards did a better job of defending shots than most.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Edwards’ control game from top position revolves around taking the back, so it should not be a surprise that two of his three career submission victories are rear naked choke wins. He’s attempted the hold multiple times inside the Octagon and did manage to secure it against Albert Tumenov.

In that bout, Edwards won the first two rounds via top control. In the third, both men were a bit fatigued, leading to a more desperate scramble from both. Edwards managed to drag Tumenov to the mat with a seat belt grip from the back, but he was perilously close to falling off the back. Tumenov worked to loosen the hooks as Edwards tried to move back and pull him deeper into the back mount, but “Rocky” flipped the script by going submission over position and simply attacking the neck. His arm found its way under the chin, forcing Tumenov to focus on the choke rather than the escape. By that point, though, it was too late, and Edwards was able to secure his first submission victory inside the Octagon.


At 26 years old and riding a five-fight win streak, Edwards is in great position to break through as a true contender and become a more well-known name. “Cowboy” is the perfect opponent as well: Recognizable and dangerous, but also beatable. This is a big moment for the talented Englishman, one that could serve as a major stepping stone for his future.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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