By Erdington Local editorial team
Erdington UFC star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards will defend his Welterweight title on Saturday 18 March, stepping back into the Octagon to face Kamaru Usman (Nigeria/USA) – the man whom Edwards took the belt from in August 2022.
Promoted as UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3, the event will also see Lightweight contenders Justin Gaethje (USA) and Rafael Fiziev (Azerbaijan) face each other as part of the evening’s main card contests.
Further main card bouts will see Flyweights Joanne Wood (Scotland) verses Luana Carolina (Brazil), and Welterweights Gunnar Nelson (Iceland) verses Bryan Barberena(USA), in the first UFC pay per view event to be held in the UK since 2016.
There will also be several prelim bouts at UFC 286, including Featherweights Nathaniel Wood (UK) verses Lerone Murphy (UK) and Jack Shore (UK) verses Makwan Amirkhani (Finland), alongside Lightweights Sam Patterson (UK) verses Yanal Ashmoz (Israel).
Since Edward’s knockout win in August 2022, the British representing UFC stars have hoped the champ’s success will bring more domestic attention to the worldwide sport. UFC head honcho, Dana White, was also quick to announce the title challenge would be held in the UK.
However, rumours were that Usman would not be able to commit the London based contest, after fellow Welterweight MMA star Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson told sport media: “Kamaru Usman is having hand surgery, I know they (Leon Edwards) want to fight somebody in March and they were looking at Jorge Masvidal.
“He’s a stand-up fighter, which kind of inspires me a little bit because our division is heavy wrestlers, and Leon Edwards is a striker and he’s champ.”
It was also briefly speculated the world title fight might be held at Villa Park, after the Birmingham raised Edwards told UK Talk Sport last October: “To have it back in Birmingham in Villa (Park)… that would be amazing.
“I don’t think there’s a roof though at Villa, so it would probably be a bit difficult to do in early next year around February/March/April.
“To have the guy from Birmingham be able to do it, to achieve it. To bring it back now, it would sell out straight away.”
But the clash of the UFC titans is now fully confirmed for the 20,000 capacity 02 Arena, with one man set to walk home once again as UFC Welterweight Champion of the World on Saturday 18 March.
Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman have met in the ring twice before, with Usman defeating the Jamaica born and Birmingham raised Edwards by unanimous judge’s decision in December 2015. However, when the pair met for a title fight last summer, Edwards came back to win via knockout – delivering a kick to the head that floored Usman in the final moments of the contest.
Held in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA), on 21 August 2022, Usman was leading confidently on points until the last couple of rounds – when Edwards eventually feinted to get his opponent off guard and landed the decisive knockout blow direct to the temple.
In a post-match interview, an emotional and victorious Edwards told the world: “I can’t put it into words. It’s been a long four years. They all doubted me, they all said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now.
“I’m from the trenches, I’m built like this. I do it for everyone coming behind me. I told you it was possible. We can win a belt, from the UK.”
Leon Edwards was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved with his brother Fabian to Birmingham when he was a teenager – training at the now closed MMA gym on Erdington High Street.
Getting his first title fight after beating Californian Nate Diaz in June 2021, Edwards went on to make history as the UK’s second only ever UFC Champion and Birmingham’s first world title holder in the sport.
Since winning the world crowing fight in August ‘22, Leon Edwards’ portrait has been painted front and centre on a community mural by the old Maplin site at Six Ways Island – which identifies all the aspects of Erdington people can be proud of.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience is listened to by nearly 13m subscribers worldwide, has long championed Leon Edwards.
After the knockout victory against Usman, he told Edwards: “You have accomplished one of the hardest things in combat sports you beat the best fighter in the world, you are champion of the world.”
Now, just over 6 months later, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards and Kamaru Usman will face each other once again to settle the one all score – with the coveted Welterweight Champion belt returning to its rightful owner.
Leon Edwards will fight Kamaru Usman on Saturday 18 March, at the O2 Arena in London – with pay per view streaming options online. For more on UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3, visit www.ufc.com/event/ufc-286
For more on Leon Edwards visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards