Last month, it was confirmed that the UK’s highest-ranked fighter in the UFC will be fighting for gold next. That man is Edwards, a mainstay in the 170-pound weight class since 2014.
Following a 2015 defeat to reigning king Usman, the Englishman found his top form, and has been near-perfect inside the Octagon, with a no contest against Belal Muhammad marking the only slight blemish across a 10-fight unbeaten streak.
With victories over the likes of Vicente Luque, Gunnar Nelson, Rafael dos Anjos, and Nate Diaz, Edwards has cemented his place inside the divisional top five. The next step will be an ascension to the mountaintop, something “Rocky” will hope to achieve in the main event of UFC 278.
On August 20, Edwards won’t just be fighting for himself and his own ambitions, he’ll be carrying the weight of an entire region on his shoulders.
The United Kingdom hasn’t seen a homegrown fighter lift gold inside the Octagon since Michael Bisping’s memorable knockout of Luke Rockhold in 2016, a triumph that marks the UK’s one and only title crowning. But according to Edwards, the UK MMA scene has never been like it is now.
During an appearance on The MMA Hour, Edwards praised the talent emerging from the UK, and acknowledged his role in spearheading the growth.
“Never (has the UK scene been like this). Even talent-wise, what they’re doing. They’re beating great gyms from different places,” said Edwards. “UK MMA has grown so much. I’m proud to be the frontrunner of it.”
Edwards Looks To Be A Motivator
For Edwards, dethroning Usman this summer is about more than just personal achievements. By winning the title, “Rocky” aspires to motivate other fighters from his region by proving that UFC glory is possible from UK gyms.
“We’ve got some great, great, great fighters coming out of the UK,” said Edwards. “I cannot wait to come back, bring the belt back, add some more motivation, see that, ‘Look, we can do it from the UK.’ I’ve been saying for years that I’m gonna achieve the belt from the UK.
“When I first started off, it was like, ‘Nah, you need to go to America. You need to go there. You won’t be able to get to the top 10 in the UK.’ Now I’m fighting for the belt, what’re you talking about?” Edwards continued. “I’m gonna achieve it and hopefully that adds more motivation for the guys in the UK to see that they can achieve it from here.”
While the likes of lightweight Paddy Pimblett, flyweight Muhammad Mokaev, and featherweight Arnold Allen are all making waves inside the Octagon, one other UK-based fighter has impressed Edwards the most.
In just five UFC outings, heavyweight Tom Aspinall has defeated former champion Andrei Arlovski and the formerly-ranked Sergey Spivak, as well as recorded a victory over perennial headliner Alexander Volkov in March’s UFC London main event.
Having seen his compatriot rise to #6 in the rankings, Edwards is a big fan of the Manchester native and his fighting style.
“For me, Tom, I like the way Tom fights. For heavyweight, he moves like a featherweight. He’s on his toes, sharp with his boxing and jiu-jitsu,” said Edwards.
Aspinall is set to return this weekend for his second headliner in England’s capital of the year. This time, his opponent will be top-five contender Curtis Blaydes.
Should Aspinall emerge victorious on Saturday, perhaps he’ll follow in Edwards’ footsteps and compete for UFC gold sooner rather than later.
Do you think Leon Edwards will be the United Kingdom’s second UFC champion?