For the first time in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history, a non-title, non-main event will be five rounds as No. 3-ranked Welterweight contender, Leon Edwards, looked to finally “get over” at the expense of Conor McGregor slayer, Nate Diaz, on UFC 263’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card from inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. Edwards and Diaz were originally scheduled to co-headline UFC 262; however, an injury to Diaz pushed the 170-pound bout until this evening (details).
Edwards owned the second-longest active unbeaten streak in the stacked Welterweight division heading into tonight, while Diaz was making his first Octagon appearance in almost two years. And even though Diaz is a career Lightweight and has zero recent meaningful Welterweight wins (he’s unranked), company president, Dana White, stated that the winner of the bout would earn a future title shot (behind Coby Covington).
The pop for Diaz as he walked to the cage to the raspy rap tones of DMX was incredible — had a main event and/or championship feel to it. Edwards, meanwhile, was booed heavily as he made his way to the Octagon. It was clear who the fans came to see; however, unfortunately for them, the well-rounded and polished game of Edwards was just too much for Diaz to overcome. In the end, the precision striking of Edwards was just too much for Diaz’s unorthodox Stockton stand up, ending in a unanimous decision win for “Rocky.”
Edwards was first to the center of the cage. Diaz, in his traditional southpaw stance, circled and looked for an opening as Edwards stared at him stone-faced. Diaz jumped in with a flying punch, but Edwards essentially tossed him aside and went to work, landing a low kick and looking to trap Diaz along the fence. Diaz waded in with another wild shot, which Edwards dusted off and countered with one of his own. Inside leg kick from Diaz scored, but Edwards walked right through it. Edwards landed a hard left hook, then a low kick, which appeared to get Diaz chirping. Moments later, Diaz landed a nice combination, but Edwards was smart and circled away. The two locked up and landed on the ground, with Edwards on Diaz back with one hook in. Diaz punched him over his shoulder repeatedly as Edwards got to his feet and tried to choke him from behind while standing over him. Diaz turtled and rolled, with Edwards landing a hard right before letting Diaz back to his feet. Fun first round ...
Diaz’s face looked a bit ruddy, but no major damage or cuts as he waited for the action to resume. Edwards got the action started with more low kicks, while Diaz charged forward with both fists, missing with each one. Front kick from Edwards turned Diaz sideways, so he paused, did a little showboat and exploded with a looping right hand. The pair exchanged hooks in the center of the cage, with Diaz goading him to keep on comin’ .... Edwards didn’t take the bait, wrapping up Diaz along the cage and taking him down to the ground. He looked to gain side control, but Diaz rolled for a heel hook. Edwards quickly escaped and drilled Diaz with another hard low kick that appeared to do some damage. Diaz dove in with a left hand that connected, using it to close the distance and mush Edwards up against the fence. The two grappled along the cage with Edwards landing a spinning elbow at the bell.
Edwards came out slinging standing elbows to start round three before resuming his lower leg attack. Diaz missed with an overhand left, but used it to press Edwards up against the fence and work him over from the clinch. Diaz started to stalk Edwards, who once again was able to get him down to the canvas. Edwards landed some nice ground-and-pound from guard, opening up a cut on Diaz. The cut appeared to be bad, with a significant amount of blood leaking from the side of his head and over his left eye. Referee Herb Dean stopped the action for a minute so Diaz could fix his cup, which he did, then flexed for the crowd to let them know his was doing just fine. On the restart, Edwards wanted to touch gloves, but Diaz was having none of it. Edwards managed to get him down again moments later and took his back, but Diaz spun out and got back to his feet. Unfortunately for him, Edwards drilled him with a spinning elbow as the round came to a close.
With Diaz cut, it seemed like it would behoove him to pick up the pace to avoid another doctor stoppage. Edwards, meanwhile, looked like he just walked out of the locker room — not a mark on him. Diaz scored with a one-two combination upstairs, with Edwards content to continue his assault on the lower half. Edwards landed a huge left, which sent Diaz reeling, big enough to earn a thumbs up from the Stockton slugger. Edwards followed it up with a slick trip, which once again Diaz appreciated. Big overhand left from Edwards sent Diaz walking around the perimeter of the cage, talking to himself or Edwards ... or both. Edwards went back after the lower leg, but Diaz responded with a crisp combination upstairs. With one minute remaining, both fighters started to open up a bit, with Edwards getting the better of the exchanges.
It was clear that Edwards was pitching a shutout (or close to it) heading into the fifth and final round and that Diaz needed to do something significant to turn the tide. He had bursts or success, and almost had a thrilling come-from-behind stoppage, but Edwards — clearly hurt and wobbled from a Stockton slap / overhand left combination — was somehow able to hang on until the final bell. If Diaz had another 60 seconds, he very well just may have pulled it off.
What a great fight. Edwards clearly deserves his title shot next, while Diaz proved once again that he is must-watch MMA.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 263 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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