NEWS: Erdington UFC star Leon Edwards gets shot at world title in August fight

By Erdington Local

Erdington’s own UFC fighter Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards has finally been given a shot at world title glory.

The UFC announced Edwards will be the latest challenger for the welterweight crown, currently held by Kamaru Usman.

The world title fight will headline UFC 278 on Saturday, 20 August, in Salt Lake City, Utah, America.

Edwards has previously lost to Usman in 2015 and is the heavy outsider for the bout with bookmakers – but the mixed marshal artist is confident, having been unbeaten in ten consecutive fights.

Edwards, aged 30, believes he is ready for the biggest fight of his life. He said: “I’ve been preparing for this fight for seven years.

“I’ve been preparing for this fight since I last lost to him – I’ve been watching him, studying him and figuring out ways to beat him.”

He added: “So to have a title opportunity and go back and get revenge for your last loss six or seven years ago – to take the title off him as well is such a bonus. It’s perfect.”

During the last fight Usman out wrestled Edwards, but the Jamaican born Erdington trained fighter believes he is older and wiser now.

He said: “That’s how I lost last time so I’m not going to lose like that again. I’m a totally different fighter now, just with my understanding of MMA.”

“When I first fought, I was more of a striker than anything – my striking got me to the UFC, so I just relied on that to be champion. But I found that I couldn’t.”

He added: “I’m 30 now and have learned so much, improved so much, and understand so much more now.”

Edwards has not fought since June 2021 when he defeated Nate Diaz on points after weathering a late charge by the Californian brawler.

His fight with Belal Muhammad in March the same year, was halted after Edwards accidentally poked his opponent in the eye in the second round – with the injury causing the fight to be stopped and declared ‘no contest’.

The previous two years proved frustrating for Edwards with several bouts cancelled due to Covid-19.

If victorious, Edwards will automatically become one of the biggest stars in world combat sports as the UFC welterweight division is one of the most contested in world sports.

Edwards brother Fabian has also been making a name for himself in MMA by winning several high profile fights in Bellator, his latest fight being screened on the BBC.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Leon Edwards moved to Birmingham in his early teens and entered the world of professional MMA after training at the UTC gym on Erdington High Street.

Edwards has been a public challenger of gang and street violence, often using his profile you encourage young people to stay away from criminality.

For more on Leon Edwards visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

SPORT: Erdington UFC star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards back in the Octagon – looking at a win to clinch the title shot

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington MMA star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards is headlining the UFC Fight Night at the UFC Apex in Vegas on Saturday 13th March (GMT) night, after being promised a spectacular performance will give him a world title shot.

Edwards had four fights cancelled in the last 20 months due to COVID-19 so is raring to get into the Octagon against Belal Muhammad.

With a total of six fights on the card, the UFC Fight Night will be live streamed on BT Sport 1 from 10:30pm (GMT) on Saturday 13th March. Edwards is expected to enter the Octagon at around 4:30am (GMT) on Sunday 14th March.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on headlining UFC London against Tyron Woodley last March, and seeing three fights against Khamzat Chimaev cancelled, Edwards believes he is now stronger than ever.

He said: “It was disappointing when Woodley it got cancelled but I thought ‘you know what, let’s use this time to improve my skills and my mindset’.

“I’ve had a year and a half in the gym, out of training camps, and my overall game is so much better – my grappling, my wrestling, my striking.”

Edwards contracted coronavirus in December but insists he has had no long-lasting effects.

He said: “I lost a lot of weight, 6kg. I lost my appetite for food; my smell and my taste went.

“I had two weeks off and went back to training, but I struggled with my lungs, I didn’t feel myself. My coach said: ‘you’re operating at 50% of the fighter you can be’.

“I’m back to normal now, my strength is back and my weight is back up.”

‘Rocky’ is on an eight fight winning streak and is ranked third in the world in the highly competitive welterweight division.

UFC supremo Dana White this week said Edwards will be “100% next in line” to fight champion Kamaru Usman if he wins spectacularly.

Edwards said: “If I put in a great performance, I can’t see where else I can go other than a title shot, I’m looking forward to showing fans I’m the best in the world.

“It would be proof to all the kids out there in Britain that you can do it. I spent all my time in Birmingham so it would be nice to show the kids you can reach the top by staying in England.”

Leon Edwards faces off against Belal Muhammad

For more information about Leon Edwards visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

For more on UFC from BT Sport, visit www.bt.com/sport/ufc 

NEWS: Erdington Rugby Club wins ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ national award

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Erdington RFC (all team pics wrere taken before coronavirus and social distancing regulations)

Erdington Rugby Club (RFC)’s work combatting knife crime, through working with local youngsters, has gained national recognition – after winning the first ever ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ award.

Erdington RFC beat over 100 rival clubs to win the award, which was decided following a public vote and panel selection, after the success of its Changing Lives Through Rugby scheme – which saw volunteers offer free coaching to youngsters in danger of entering a life of crime and gang related violence.

The award, devised by Gallagher Insurance – which sponsors Premiership Rugby, is all the more impressive as the club had to start from scratch in 2016 after the club house was burned to the ground in 2003.

The England & British & Irish Lion, Harlequins legend, and Gallagher ambassador, Ugo Monye, paid a surprise visit to Erdington RFC this week to speak to club representatives about what winning means to them and the wider community.

The international rugby star said: “There was only one winner for me for this competition. Erdington RFC shone amongst the rest of the shortlisted finalists due to their profound commitment to their community, and most notably youth participants, both on and off the pitch.

To overcome such adversity in 2003 and get to the point they are at now is quite astounding and proves Erdington RFC is a fantastic winner of the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season award.”

For winning the inaugural ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ award, Erdington RFC – which plays at Spring Lane Playing Fields – were given £2,000 worth of Gilbert training kit.

Andy Trueman, community officer at Erdington RFC, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be crowned winner of the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season. Our club means everything to us and the surrounding community, and we are very grateful to have been recognised for our work in using rugby to make a positive impact in North Birmingham.

As well as having the honour of winning this award, we’re also delighted with our enhanced training kit prize, which will allow us to touch the lives of even more people within the community.” 

Changing Lives Through Rugby got volunteers to take part in coaching rugby in local schools, as well as providing outreach support in North Birmingham in partnership with the local police.

An after-school club, targeting pupils with known behavioural issues, the scheme helped youngsters build their teamwork skills, control aggression, respect authority, as well as providing them with a hot meal afterwards. All membership, kit, and match fees are waived for club participants as part of the sessions, and transport costs are covered for those who need it.

Sarah Griffiths, Director of Communications for Gallagher in the UK, commented: “Giving back to our local communities is incredibly important to everyone at Gallagher and so we created this award to recognise the often life-changing work that is being carried out by grassroots rugby clubs across the country.

We are thrilled to be presenting the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season award to Erdington RFC who were voted the unanimous winner by all our judges.

The club does so much in their local community, despite having such little resources, and it really is not just the lifeblood of their community but also offers a potential life-line for young people by providing them with support, coaching and opportunities to thrive. A truly deserving winner.”

Erdington RFC also offers free dinners, alongside international and national league tickets to at risk youngsters – and in partnership with Birmingham City Council, further provides rugby tackle demonstrations at after-school violence hotspots in the city. 

The club also is planning to engage more mothers and daughters to take part in rugby, through their development of a separate touch rugby coaching session.

The original Erdington Rugby Club was forced to close in 2003 after its clubhouse was burnt down; Erdington RFC was reformed in 2016 with no facilities or players.

Now the club has grown to include over 100 U18 players, a squad of over 50 senior males, and a mixed gender touch rugby team.

Ugo Monye visits Erdington RFC

For more information about Erdington RFC, visit www.erfc.uk   

For more on Gallagher Premiership Rugby, visit www.premiershiprugby.com/gallagher-premiership-rugby

LOCAL PROFILE: Dave Travers – Castle Vale Stadium

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Castle Vale Stadium boasts three football pitches, a function room, bar, a maximum total capacity of 1500, and an enviable amount of parking. It is now owned by The Pioneer Group, who recently hired Dave Travers as the new stadium manager – coming into post just before lockdown.

An engineer for 30 years, “designing press tools and making components for aerospace companies, 50 year old Dave Travers leapt into stadia management some five years ago – as a keen volunteer at Boldmere St Michael’s Football Club. His aptitude swiftly led him to become full time as the commercial director for that club.

When I first joined [Boldmere] they had one adult team, one junior team. It became my job, and then when I left Boldmere St Michael’s they had over 60 teams playing under the St Michael’s banner.”

Now firmly on the Vale, Dave has encouraged two prominent local teams – Castle Vale Town and Romulus F.C. – to run their football training on the same evening, helping the sport to help itself.

To me, if you’re a club – this is what we did at Boldmere – you can have peer coaching. There’s nothing better than under 10s joining an under 8s session, and them trying to be a leader as such. It’s great experience for them.”

At its centre, Castle Vale Stadium houses a four year old ‘3G Artificial Turf’ pitch – allowing matches to be played “52 weeks of the year – the only thing that stops us from playing football on this is snow. If it’s windy, rainy, sunny, you can still play on this. It is a fabulous football pitch.” There are two further grass pitches that require regular maintenance, which can also be used for other field sports and events.

Looking to further drive the site’s revenue, Dave is yearning for the bar to be more accessible and recognised on the Vale: “I wouldn’t say the bar had any regulars at the moment, it’d be nice to encourage them.”

He wants the function room to be utilised and has already accepted an “over 50s men’s group,” for regular bookings.

On top of this, the newly appointed manager aims “to open the little hatch as a café for match days, although that might take a month or two to get off the ground.”

But football is at the heart of Castle Vale Stadium, on the pitch and off. As the centre becomes more popular post-lockdown, diving full throttle diving into the F.A. Cup, Dave anticipates larger crowds and the need for more helping hands.

Now we’re getting busy, the stadium actually needs more staff. Bar staff we’re looking for, and someone young and dynamic who wants to work under me and see the inner workings of a football stadium.”

Football is a sport with a passionate spectatorship, so it has been a challenge for Dave to keep people abiding to the two meter rule necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stadium ensures that no more than six people sit next to each other in the same bubble.

But the stadium manager is pragmatic and he is resolute about safety: “you’ve just got to use your noggin,” says Dave, having to cope with ever changing guidelines, “we can only fit 25 people in the bar due to current regulations.”

Dave’s concentration is also set on preparation for the F.A. cup season. “The beginning of the season is very stressful. Now is the busy time as you have to get all schedules in,” he tells, sounding jubilant about the match between Romulus F.C. and Coventry Sphinx later that night.

Tonight’s the first round of the FA cup. To get to the final – most boys dream about playing in the F.A. cup sometimes – as daft as it seems, they’re only 13 games from being away from the F.A. cup final.”

Whilst the weekly fixtures and management at Castle Vale Stadium will take up a lot of Dave’s time, his soul is still with the community.

He wants to plan a fun day in “July next year… Fields sports, general sports, family facilities where you can play rounders.” He fondly reminisces about times he dressed up as a clown and as Santa Claus for various family fun days in his previous role at Boldmere St Michael’s.

Whilst Dave quips with a wry smile that he’d “rather just be watching football”, his passion for organisation for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ is palpable.

Asking him what it takes to do his role, he responds: “It’s everything, isn’t it? There’s the financial planning, pitch planning, customer liaison – it takes in a hell of a lot of spheres. You have to have a thick skin as well.”

To find out more about Castle Vale Stadium, visit www.castlevalestadium.co.uk 

For more from The Pioneer Group, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk