Elite Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight talents Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman will settle their trilogy TONIGHT (Sat., March 18, 2023) at UFC 286 inside The O2 in London, England.
It’s hard to draft a better trilogy match than this. Early on in their respective careers, Usman was able to out-wrestle Edwards, who put up a good defense, but was ultimately overwhelmed like so many others by the rising “Nigerian Nightmare.” Seven years later, the duo meet again for the title, both unbeaten since their first collision. Usman again started strong, but the younger man found a perfect high kick to steal the title in an all-time great knockout win (watch highlights). There are genuine reasons to believe in either fighter’s victory tonight. Usman won more minutes than not in their previous two fights, so why not the third? Conversely, Edwards sent Usman into a deep sleep, so can we really expect the 35-year-old with bad knees (and possible hand injury?) to come back better from a brutal loss?
It’s all up in the air, and the title is on the line. Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 20-3 (1)
Key Victories: Kamaru Usman (UFC 278), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC on ESPN 4), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 132), Vicente Luque (UFC Fight Night 107), Gunnar Nelson (UFC Fight Night 147), Albert Tumenov (UFC 204), Bryan Barberena (UFC Fight Night 115), Nate Diaz (UFC 263)
Key Losses: Kamaru Usman (UFC on FOX 17)
Keys to Victory: The best word to describe Edwards is tactical. He’s received plenty of criticism over the years for failing to really push his advantages and playing it conservatively, but the bottom line is that every style comes with risks. Far more often than not, Edwards has converted his deep technical game to victories — something must be working for the undisputed champion.
There are, however, some adjustments that must be made from his second fight with Usman, and perhaps the biggest is mental. At no point in that fight did Usman seem wildly better than Edwards. He still won about 15 consecutive minutes, which is a big problem.
The conditioning and altitude has been attributed as a major factor in Edwards’ shortcomings in rounds two through four, and that very well could be true. Regardless, Edwards has to flip a mental switch here. He has to match Usman’s intensity, his willingness to fight for minute positions along the fence. He cannot relax against Usman, who’s wrestling and mauling style relies upon turning tiny advantages into massive periods of exhausting control.
That mental switch just might be the biggest key.
In terms of the fight itself, cage position is the other real key. Edwards allowed Usman to walk him down too much (see above), and his footwork failed to reset him in the center often enough. That should be a priority, and he should be looking to back Usman up more often instead. He can defend Usman’s shots in the center well, so there’s no reason not to try to put the wrestler on his back foot more and make him uncomfortable.
Key Wins: Colby Covington (UFC 268, UFC 245), Gilbert Burns (UFC 258), Jorge Masvidal (UFC 261, UFC 251), Tyron Woodley (UFC 235), Demian Maia (UFC Fight Night 129), Rafael dos Anjos (TUF 28 Finale), Leon Edwards (UFC on FOX 17), Sean Strickland (UFC 210)
Key Losses: Leon Edwards (UFC 278)
Keys to Victory: Usman is one of the most physically gifted fighters in Welterweight history. His combination of raw strength and an endless gas tank is pretty much unmatched, and it’s the reason why he’s able to manhandle and break so many opponents.
Usman’s strategy here is significantly less complicated than Edwards’ own changes that must be made, because he’s already spent a lot of time beating “Rocky.” Twice now, he’s proven that over time, his strength and pace allows him to win the wrestling battle, particularly if it’s taking place along the fence. It’s not easy necessarily, but Usman has never been a fighter afraid of diving into those deep waters.
Back Edwards to the fence and suffocate him — it was the plan in the first two fights, and it should remain the overall strategy. Primarily, the major lesson learned from the last fight is not to take his foot off the gas. He chose to strike with Edwards in the fifth round, and though he’s far from outmatched in that realm, that decision did allow the opening for the fight-ending head kick.
It’s time for the Welterweight division to get rolling again.
Usman was a very active champion, but his era will be remembered for numerous rematches that helped create the current logjam at the top of the 170-pound heap. Hopefully, whichever man wins this fight will be ready for the rising Welterweight contenders who have yet to take a shot at gold, ranks which include everyone from Belal Muhammad to Shavkat Rakhmonov.
Outside of the divisional consequences, it’s undeniable that this is a huge fight for the legacy of each man. Edwards scores major points for being the first man to defeat Usman inside the Octagon and bringing the belt home to the UK. His head kick will stand out as an all-time great MMA moment. None of that is up for debate, but equally true is the simple fact that nobody wants to be a one-off champion.
As for Usman, it feels like his career is coming to a close. He’s talked about the wear-and-tear on his body repeatedly, and getting knocked out cold for the first time can make anyone reconsider their profession. Capturing the title for a second time would be a remarkable display of resilience and greatness alike, and it also gives Usman the option to walk away on top if he so chooses.
If not, plenty of new challenges remain.
At UFC 286, Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman will complete their trilogy. Which man walks away with the title?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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