It was Edwards’ patience that kept him in the sport of mixed martial arts throughout a period in which he was repeatedly denied legitimate opportunities to win heavyweight gold. welterweight, and on August 20, it was patience that helped the Jamaican-born Briton maintain focus and hope in his title fight with Kamaru Usman – until the last minute of the 25th, when he took his old enemy’s title and maybe a piece of his soul.
It’s the kick that’s been heard in the MMA world, but most deafening by Usman in the microseconds between Edwards’ shin cracking against his skull and the Nigerian-American’s flooding of consciousness in Salt Lake City.
“It’s well understood now,” Edwards said of his title win. “The first two or three weeks, though, I kept waking up and seeing the belt on my table and thinking, ‘Oh shit, the belt…the belt is in my house.’ But now I got used to it, took it everywhere, showed it to everyone.
“It’s a crazy way to get there, my life has been crazy. If you told me when I was born in Jamaica, in a war zone, that I would be UFC champion… who would have thought that would happen? It’s wild, even now I’m smiling. I’m proud of myself for persevering – through all the ups and downs.
Edwards’ stunning welterweight title win saw the 31-year-old earn an unprecedented early withdrawal from Usman before himself suffering from the bad side of the champion’s renowned wrestling skills for the majority of the fight. Edwards later admitted that Utah’s altitude seemed to have drained him of his energybut with a loss seemingly imminent, Edwards headbutted Usman and finished the fight in the most captivating way. The win also saw Edwards become Britain’s second UFC champion and avenge a 2015 decision loss to Usman.
“I’m a winner at heart, I hate to lose,” Edwards says. “Knowing that he was the last one to beat me was an extra motivation; I used it as fuel when I was tired and tired in training camp. It was all just tied to the perfect motivation I needed.
The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ was a favorite against Edwards in their rematch this summer, not only because of their previous victory over ‘Rocky’ – whose nickname has never been more appropriate — but also because of a 19-game winning streak that included five successful title defenses in a row. A trilogy fight between Edwards and Usman seems a certainty, and UFC president Dana White has teased a first show in a UK stadium for the UFC to host the fight, which Usman is still considered a favorite for. by many.
“Their opinions haven’t made a difference so far,” Edwards says. “I doubted my whole career. First they said I couldn’t get into the UFC, then they said I couldn’t make the top 15, top 10. “You’re not going to be champion.” I’m at that point now where there’s nothing I think I can’t do; everything they said I couldn’t do, I did. I don’t care if I proved people wrong, but I’m glad I proved them right.
Edwards’ only goal in MMA was to become UFC welterweight champion, meaning a decade-long journey ended in August, leaving ‘Rocky’ with a motivational cavity after his match. rematch with Usman. Yet it is a cavity that he already knows how to fill.
“My goal is to be the best welterweight ever. You do that by being a kid again, the kid I was the first day I walked into an MMA gym when I was 17 – the nerves, the excitement, wanting to train, getting there early. That’s what I need. I can’t get to this point right now and think, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ “That’s not it. I’ve made it my goal to secure the future of my family and be the best ever. That’s how I can be great again.”
“I have to change my mindset to want to be the best. I need another goal to drive me, and that’s mine now: to be the best ever. I truly believe I can do it. I will do it.”
Edwards could enhance his legacy with a matchup against former two-weight champion Conor McGregor, who is under the same management as Edwards. The Briton said a super fight with the Irishman would be ‘easy’ to arrange but the 31-year-old insists McGregor is not ‘on my radar’.
“I’m focusing on the welterweights that are active now, the top five,” says Edwards, who is also “100%” sure he would be the fan favorite against McGregor. “Do I think I would win? One hundred percent. I think I would be the youngest, the best technical fighter, the versatile fighter. But I’m not focusing on Conor at all, because I have killers right there, active now – the [Khamzat] Chimaevs, the Usmans. They’re way more difficult, I think, than Conor McGregor – technically -[speaking]. They offer me more risk.
Edwards is likely to return to the Octagon in the first quarter of next year, possibly for a third fight with Usman and potentially at Wembley Stadium in London. He could still claim another title by then.
When asked if he should be nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, Edwards laughs: “One hundred percent. Who did what I did in the UK this year? It’s one in a million – from Birmingham, making it in the UK, in one of the fastest growing sports in the world, inspiring generations and youngsters in other gyms.
“I think I should 100% win it, or at least be nominated anyway!”