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Leon Edwards fueled by redemption in rematch vs. Kamaru Usman at UFC 278

'Rocky' believes he has the advantage in Saturday's main event for the welterweight belt, starting with his footwork and striking.

Leon "Rocky" Edwards believes this is the opportune time to fight Kamaru Usman.

There is certainly ample evidence to support that claim. Usman is coming off a torrid, three-fight year in 2021. While he was victorious against Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns, the load took its toll on the reigning welterweight champion.

"Now is the perfect time," Edwards says. "He's been in so many wars. He's been hurt by Colby, hurt by Gilbert. His body is showing that. I'm fresher, I'm bigger, and I'm excited to prove to the world that I'm No. 1."

Edwards (19-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC) challenges Usman (20-1 MMA, 15-0 UFC) for the welterweight title in the main event of UFC 278 this Saturday. It is a rematch from December of 2015, which was a unanimous decision victory for Usman. Edwards has not tasted defeat since, winning his last nine bouts. Yet that loss still drives him, and this finally marks the chance to redeem himself – as well as win his first-ever UFC championship.

"I hate the feeling of losing," said Edwards. "I still hate that loss. Kamaru getting that decision over me has driven me in each fight. It's a feeling I remember. I think about it every time I train.

"It's been a long, hard road of almost seven years to get here. It's an amazing feeling. I'm happy, I'm grateful, and I'm fully prepared. This is my time."

There are plenty of reasons to believe Edwards will win this title bout. He is younger, turning 31 later this month (Usman is 35), and fresher – his last fight was in June of 2021. His combination of takedown defense and elite footwork present significant concerns for Usman. It is extraordinarily difficult to remain champion for a prolonged period of time, and Usman – who just accepted his first movie role – has already cemented himself as a genuine MMA great. Edwards is driven by a different type of fire, one that only success can quench.

"I'm quicker than him," Edwards says. "Look at his last three or four fights. He's going to have to keep up with my footwork and my striking. I'm going in there for the finish."

Usman has proven, repeatedly, that he is a true fighting champion. He possesses a cerebral approach, and his intelligence makes him even more dangerous during a five-round fight. When needed, he is willing to lay and pray, as he can quickly finish an opponent with one perfectly placed punch. While Usman would trounce Nate Diaz if they were to step into the octagon, it was Diaz who nearly KO'd Edwards in their bout 14 months ago. Usman can find a suspect chin like a shark smells blood, making that knockout punch a significant factor Saturday.

If Usman wins, he will extend his UFC win streak to 16, tying the legendary Anderson Silva. But it is going to take another monumental task to pull it off. Edwards does not possess the flash of Masvidal or relish playing the villain in the same manner as Covington, nor does he share a personal history with Usman like Burns did. Still, this is a compelling fight, a genuine threat to Usman's reign as champ.

"Usman's improved since we last fought," Edwards says. "I've improved, too. This is a brand new fight.

"I've overcome so many obstacles to get here, from being born in Jamaica to now fighting for the UFC world title. I know who I am. I'm going out there Saturday to perform, and God willing, I'll get the victory."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.