Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3 was a great fight, headlining UFC 286 last night (Sat., March 18, 2023) inside The O2 in London, England.
It didn’t quite have the drama of the second — how could it? — but two elite and well-prepared Welterweights dug deep for 25 minutes of continuous action. For a mostly kickboxing fight without any knockdowns, it was still tense and dramatic.
Truthfully, this is more along the lines of what I expected back at UFC 278, the evening Edwards first dethroned Usman. In that bout, Edwards started strong, grew sluggish and lost three straight rounds, then rallied with his now-famous high kick. The mile-high altitude in Salt Lake City, Utah, was pointed toward as a major factor, and based on how much more consistent Edwards was able to fight here, it seemed to be.
It’s more than just altitude, though.
As it turns out, UFC 278 had to happen for this match up to play out this way. On both sides of the main event bill, UFC 278 paved the way for the respect performances.
Firstly, “Rocky” has never fought with such confidence. Becoming a champion has clearly unlocked a new level to his game, as there was zero hesitation in his ripping kicks or accurate counter punches. Throughout a hectic five-round fight, Edwards managed to continuously land roughly 75 percent of his significant strikes, and he did so at a higher activity rate than is typical for him.
Equally incredible was Edwards’ takedown defense. Over and over again, he managed to split Usman’s grip, control one arm, and then cut his back off the fence. Initially, he was happy to merely escape, but in the latter half of the fight, he used the clinch more often to break away with his own elbows and knees. He never spent all that long controlled on the fence or on the canvas, always working back up in an efficient manner against one of the sport’s all-time great grinders.
As for Usman, it certainly feels as though the high kick and defeat he suffered affected him. That is not to say Usman is suddenly washed or mediocre, as he still pushed Edwards to the limit. However, it feels fair to say that Usman was far more respectful of the shots coming his way.
Frankly, he had to be.
The low kicks hurt him, the body kicks hurt him, knees and counter uppercuts hurt him. If Usman’s team may have wanted him to charge forward with reckless abandon, but that’s much easier to do before getting knocked cold. Usman looked a lot more human, and though he played it off with an excellent poker face, all the additional kicks he absorbed early in the fight really served to wear him down.
Edwards rode an all-time high wave of confidence into this fight and put on his best, most technical display yet. Usman, conversely, was a bit more hesitant and a touch slower following his first knockout loss. Even still, it was a close, competitive fight till the very end.
As such, UFC 286’s main event last night was both a full passing of the torch moment yet also a reminder of just how great Usman stood at his peak.
For complete UFC 286: “Edwards vs. Usman” results and play-by-play, click HERE.