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Leon Edwards on UFC 278 upset knockout of Kamaru Usman: 'I knew he was done'

'No one can take my left roundhouse kick clean wrapped around their head,' Edwards said after UFC 278.
leon-edwards

In a moment that will forever define his career, Leon Edwards saw an opening.

At that point, Edwards should have been dejected. Kamaru Usman controlled their main-event fight at UFC 278, imposing his will in the second, third, and fourth round. Usman was less than 60 seconds away from a unanimous decision that would have extended his title reign. And that is when fate, in the form of a left high kick, intervened.

"Kamaru is very boxing-oriented in the way he fights, so I knew I could come around the corner with kicks," Edwards said. "That's a kick we drilled in training camp. I thought it would work, and I heard my coach calling for it."

Edwards landed the kick in a precise, flawless form, knocking out Usman and taking his place as the new welterweight champion.

"As soon as I hit the kick, I knew right away that was it," Edwards said. "I felt a ricochet off my shin. No one can take my left roundhouse kick clean wrapped around their head. I knew he was done."

The fight unfolded in a unique manner. It was strikingly similar to Edwards' entire career, where he built some notoriety, yet was dismissed as an elite, industry-defining player. Despite producing a streak where he won nine fights in a row, Edwards (20-3-1) was constantly overlooked. That will no longer be the case after his 10th straight victory.

There were parallels in this bout. Edwards (20-3 MMA, 12-2 UFC) crafted a dominant first round, then struggled afterward as Usman (20-2 MMA, 15-1 UFC) – who had always been a step ahead of Edwards since their first fight seven years ago, which Usman won by unanimous decision – dominated all but a minute of the next four rounds. Just as it appeared all hope was removed from Edwards' title chances, he landed that life-altering kick.

"This fight was exactly like my life," said Edwards. "I started ahead in this fight, then it was all Kamaru. Kamaru's been the dominant guy for a while, but I didn't believe he was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I needed to prove that, and I never stopped working. I kept my faith in God and always believed in myself. That's how I achieved it."

UFC 278 post-show coverage featured backstage footage of an emotional Edwards on the phone with his mother. After losing his father at the age of 13, Edwards – who is the first Jamaican-born UFC champ but grew up in England – drifted toward a dangerous lifestyle in his teens. Desperate to save her son, his mother enrolled him in a gym at the age of 17, where he learned mixed martial arts.

"I wouldn't be here right now if it weren't my mom," Edwards said. "She got me involved in MMA to get me off the street. I didn't even know what MMA was at the time. And I know she didn't have the money to get me in the gym, but somehow, she found a way. Without her, none of this happens."

Edwards's stunning knockout victory reverberated all across the globe. His teammates were watching in Birmingham, England at Team Renegade BJJ & MMA, and his victory has seized the attention of the MMA universe. The 30-year-old Edwards has reached the pinnacle of his profession, an achievement he is still processing,

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Edwards said. "It's hard to put what it means into a sentence. It's been a long, hard road to get here. I'm still lost for words.

"I drew motivation from my mom. She gave a better life to her son. My teammates inspired me. If this was me alone, I would have given up a long time ago. But I wanted to provide a better life for my family. That's my mentality. I won't stop until I win."

The fight world now awaits a trilogy bout between Edwards and Usman in 2023, which will represent a chance for each man to prove that their last loss was a fluke.

"That knockout was my best moment, but not the fight," said Edwards. "I'm much better than that performance, and I'm going to prove that."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.