I kept waiting for the UFC to show the promotion for UFC 286. After all, it’s a lot easier to promote the third contest between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman than their second fight. There is actually a reasonable debate as to who will win this time. Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time in the media that generate high volumes of the types of promotion I’m referring to. Regardless, I saw several ads for Jon Jones and Cyril Gane before UFC 285. I haven’t seen any for UFC 286. Maybe it has to do with the early start time of UFC 286 since the event is taking place in the UK . Maybe it has something to do with the event taking place only two weeks after UFC 285. Most likely, it’s a combination of both.
It’s a shame the UFC made this contest dirty. Usman had the ability to separate himself from the great welterweights of the UFC’s past. Many already had him over Matt Hughes. Some even had him on the same level as Georges St. Pierre. I won’t say it will be impossible for Usman to reach the standards of a GSP at this point, but he will need to secure a win here for that to happen. After all, the only fighters to hold the welterweight belt on two different occasions are Hughes and St-Pierre. As for Edwards, he needs a win to establish himself as more than a rough champ who pulled off a huge upset. Not that it’s a horrible fate. Matt Serra and Holly Holm have become more memorable than several other champions from the UFC’s past who managed at least one successful defense. But you can be sure both would have probably added a defense to their resume.
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Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman, Welterweight
It’s not too hard to come up with the competition slugger. We saw these two clash just seven months ago and Usman was winning the contest with his trademark punch until Edwards landed Hail Mary head kick who rewrote MMA history. It’s not an exaggeration. A title change is a big deal, but a historic comeback becomes a “Remember where you were when…” moment. Regardless, anyone who knows a little about either fighter would recognize that Usman is the superior wrestler by a significant margin, something he reminded us of in the last bout. Usman secured five takedowns and maintained positional control for almost half of the bout. In other words, he was winning until he wasn’t.
To give a more honest view, Usman is one of them the best fighters in UFC history. I don’t believe he was at a disadvantage wrestling in any of the MMA fights. However, it could be argued that Usman was winning the standup before he was knocked out cold. Take out the ground strikes and Usman still held the impressive advantage. It still retained the edge if you remove the clamp impressive. I understand Usman’s benefits from his wrestling threat. Put Edwards and Usman in a straight kickboxing contest and Edwards is the superior fighter. However, the name of the game is MMA. This threat of abolition is real and plays a role in how standup will evolve. We know what kind of power Usman can unleash too. Only two people have knocked out Jorge Masvidal with strikes. One was Usman. Only major MMA stat heads can name the other without looking it up. So, it is clear that Usman has a tactical advantage in almost all major areas.
The thing is, there are so many psychological issues at play in the third contest. Usman’s only other career loss came 10 years ago in his second career MMA fight, a submission. He could put it down to being new to the sport. This is Usman’s first major loss. He had been to hell and back in his first fight with Colby Covington, but he held on and didn’t break mentally or physically. We know that Edwards physically broke him in the first contest, Usman’s brain shut down his body after severe trauma. We don’t know if the loss has mentally broken Usman. It’s not just that Usman lost. It didn’t happen on a small show with hard-to-find grainy footage. He lost in the most devastating way on one of the biggest stages possible. In today’s virus world, it has been repeated time and time again. Usman can moderate how often he sees it, but I don’t think he can avoid it entirely. Will he maintain his confidence? Will he be shy? There’s no way to know for sure until they’re in the cage.
Another talking point has to be Usman’s body. While Usman is undoubtedly a fantastic athlete, it has been no secret that his body is falling apart. His knees limit his ability to train. Usman has linked up with some excellent coaches who have been able to find successful solutions, allowing him to maintain his dominant form. Usman’s loss may complicate that issue. Usman’s competitiveness was never in doubt. no one accused him of avoiding opponents. He welcomed the rematches with Masvidal and Covington because some were not satisfied with the way he won in his first fights with them. Will his motivation to regain his belt drive him to train? Beyond that, could he end up focusing too much on one area so much that he ignores other areas? I said that Usman has always been associated with good coaches, so I think this issue will be mitigated at least. But Usman is ultimately in charge of his camp. It’s not like he’s around 24/7.
Edwards’ confidence is also hard to gauge. Now having a win over Usman, he knows he can beat him now. Not saying he didn’t think so before, but knows this now. This confidence boost could be a boon for him. It could also be his downfall. Miesha Tate fell more in love with being champion than focusing on keeping her belt. In hindsight, it wasn’t hard to see what happened to Tate given all the promotions she did after winning the title. There is a strong case that happened with Usman. Edwards hasn’t been as visible as most new champions, so I doubt he’ll be good, but it’s hard to tell.
We know a lot about this competition. Edwards is more of a technical striker with underestimated power in his fists. Usman is the senior wrestler. That being said, Usman is no slouch on the feet and Edwards is a more than capable wrestler and grappler. After all, he was first fighter to score a knockdown on Usman, no small feat. Given how their last match ended, it has created a lot of uncertainty that we won’t have answers to until they step into the cage. Perhaps something can be gleaned from interviews with both, but this has traditionally been a lost avenue, especially when neither fighter is a provocateur along the lines of a McGregor. The weigh-ins may be indicative, but this article will be submitted before they happen. I’ve tried to exhaust all the intangibles I can here, but I recognize that this is all speculation. Going by what we know, Usman feels he is the right choice. While his body is breaking down, it hasn’t cost him. He coasted and gave Edwards an opening which he took advantage of. Granted, it’s been seven months since they fought, more than enough time for Usman to deal with a slump given how quickly he tends to start. No sign, though, so I’m not betting on it. As I said much earlier in the article, Usman was winning until he wasn’t. Given the mental toughness that Usman traditionally displays, I’m betting this contest will play out in a similar fashion without the shocking finish. Usman by decision
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