Ahead of the members vote for the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards, we asked members of the SJA Academy to make their case for contenders to win sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year. OLI GENT with the case for British UFC trailblazer Leon Edwards.
After his brutal knockout of Kamaru Usman, Leon Edwards became only the second British fighter to win a UFC championship.
The Jamaican-born Brummie’s victory in August brought him on-par with Michael Bisping’s 2016 upset over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199, but Edwards has something over the Lancashire lad.
His Rockhold knockout was indeed a record breaker, but Bisping had been living and training out of Orange County, California for several years.
Edwards, however, still trains out of Team Renegade in the Second City, thus making him the first Briton to win a UFC championship while living and training out of his home nation.
A record-equaller, the Briton’s revenge story makes his story that much stronger after Usman had put in a commanding performance in their first bout in Orlando in December 2015, with a unanimous decision victory.
Surviving a strong takedown in the first round, Edwards landed an excellent one of his own in the closing stages of the round, as he sought the early submission.
The Brit was calmness personified as the fight wore on, with Usman looking for his trademark big shots to get his opponent out prematurely.
But Edwards remained unfazed. He kept his guard up and tight, and countered expertly, demonstrating excellent footwork to evade the powerful swings of the American.
Edwards was down on all the judges’ scorecards going into the final round, needing a knockout to avoid another decision defeat.
And with 58 seconds left of the fifth round, Edwards stunned the reigning champion with a left-footed head kick, as the Briton ended his opponent’s unbeaten run in the UFC.
Edwards’ win over Usman came off the back of another impressive display against the experienced Nate Diaz, where he survived an onslaught in the final round.
Edwards has beaten two of the biggest names in the mixed martial arts game in his most recent fights, and the 31-year-old doesn’t look like he’s done yet.
His MMA record stands at 20 wins and three losses from 24 bouts, with a no contest declared in his 2021 fight with Belal Muhammad at UFC 187 after an accidental eye poke on the American.
A star in UFC president Dana White’s eyes, Edwards is in line to headline a UFC ‘super-card’ in the UK in 2023, where he will look to defend his title as his rivalry with Usman reaches its trilogy.
“England deserves this, Leon Edwards deserves this, and I’m excited. I can’t wait.” White told BT Sport.