NEWS: Erdington’s Mo ‘Terminator’ Zubair wins MMA professional debut

Pics supplied by Mo Zubair

An Erdington MMA fighter has begun the long road to international UFC glory with the backing of world champion Leon Edwards.

Mo Zubair spent five years in the amateur MMA ranks and entered the professional arena by winning his bout in Wolverhampton on 2 March in spectacular fashion.

The 23-year-old has trained with fellow Erdingtonian Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards, who proved to every fighter in the UK it was possible to win world titles without being trained in America.

Mo told Erdington Local: “Leon is a big inspiration to me, he has been really supportive. He has let me join him in training camps and join him on the circuit.

“He proves what can be achieved. We are alike, we both came from the streets and just turned up to the gym and changed our lives.”

Mo first began contact sports with a visit to Tyburn Boxing Club as a child. He loved the smells, sounds, and sense of belonging that boxing could bring.

However, like many boxers, fighters, and fans alike, Mo had his head turned by MMA – Mixed Martial Arts. And in Erdington, the catalyst was the popular Ultimate Training Centre (UTC) gym at the old Blockbuster building on the High Street. UTC was the first in the region to have a full size octagon and quickly became a magnet for combat sports athletes from across Birmingham.

Eventually, after being forced to vacate the old premises and several false dawns, UTC left Erdington with its talented trainers scattering to the winds – until a group of trainers began Team Renegade, at a purpose built gym in Northfield.

The rising stars of the Erdington fight scene were Leon Edwards and his brother fighter Fabian, and they followed their trainers to Team Renegade in Northfield. American UFC experts and fighters mocked the facilities and quality of coaching in the UK, let alone Birmingham.

However, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards stuck with his training team and recorded one of the greatest knockout finishes in sporting history – clinching the welterweight championship by knocking out champion Kamaru Usman in the final seconds of the bout, whilst losing on every judge’s card.

The gym shot to global fame when Joe Rogan showed the new champion a clip of a live video of the gym celebrating back home. Mo said: “I was in the room that night, it was incredible, life changing. I know want to be fighting in the UFC just like Leon. Because of his success there are some UFC fighters training at Team Renegade and West Midlands has become a real hotbed of MMA.”

After winning the biggest amateur competitions possible, including Cage Warriors and Gladiator UK, Mo turned professional on the advice of Team Renegade.

He said: “You can’t just turn professional, you have to be ready and I think I am.

“I am coming up to six years as an amateur so it’s time. I started in small shows and ended up winning the biggest amateur events in the country.”

As an amateur, Mo fought as a flyweight but has begun his tilt at professional glory as a bantamweight.

Fighting on the Golden Ticket Promotions bill at KK’s Steel Hangar in Wolverhampton, Mo won his first professional victory in early March – facing off against Nestor Santana, who already had six professional MMA fights before finished in the first round.

Former John Wilmott School pupil Mo said: “I won with a first round corner stoppage which is a great way to start my professional career. My manager and trainer are just weighing offers and options.”

He added: “I train twice a day, I go home, and do the same the next day. I don’t go to any nightclubs, or any of that. I want to fight in the UFC. That is where the action is and I will not settle for anything less, it is the Premier League of MMA.

“And it would be great to have two fighters from Erdington as champions. It can be done.”

To follow Mo ‘Terminator’ Zubair on Instagram visit www.instagram.com/mozubairmma

NEWS: Erdington’s Leon Edwards retains UFC Welterweight title in confident five round fight at 02 Arena

Words by Ed King

Erdington UFC star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards (Jamaica/UK) has retained his Welterweight title, beating Kamura Usman (Nigeria/USA) in a confident five round fight– winning on points by a majority judges’ decision.

Fending off continuous attempts by Usman to grapple Edwards to the floor, the UK world champion stayed strong on his feet and out boxed his way to final victory.

The UK based UFC fight, held at the 02 Arena in London, was the third time the two UFC stars had met in the octagon – with each fighter having won one of the previous two fights.

When Edwards won the Welterweight title from Usman in August 2022, he was losing on points until a decisive head kick in the fifth round that sent Usman crashing to the mat and Edwards home wearing the belt.

This time, however, Edwards held a confident stance from the start, landing continuous leg kicks and slipping or blocking Usmans attempts at head shots.

Round one saw each man test their opponent, with Usman holding the centre of the ring and Edwards picking up points with some well placed leg kicks.

Round two saw the first of Usman’s take downs, and the first of Edwards’ resilient responses to his opponent’s attempts to pin him to the mat.

In round three Edwards lost a potentially crucial point during another attempt from Usman to grapple the Birmingham fighter onto the floor, alongside a low blow that paused the fight and saw Edwards issued with a warning.

However, out maneuvering Usman throughout the fight, Edwards went on to dominate rounds four and five – albeit a close call at every step – displaying supreme control and fortitude whilst Usman seemed to be grasping for a take down.

In a flurry of well landed punches during the tail end of round five, Edwards secured his title, with most of the audience already applauding his win before the judge’s final decision.

Through a display of controlled and professional power, Leon Edwards showed the world just why he is the deserved holder of the UFC Welterweight belt – giving the young people in Edrington a home ground role model they can both identify with and be proud of.

After the fight, Kamura Usman told BT Sports: “He (Edwards) had a great gameplan. I always said from the start we’d meet again and I’m not done. We will see each other again.

“I always gave him props for what he’s accomplished. He’s a brother like myself and great respect. London you’ve got yourself a great champion.”

Waiting in the wings, however, was cocky Colby Ray Covington – current No2 in the UFC Welterweight rankings and a likely contender to face off against Edwards in the next title fight.

For more on Leon Edwards visit

www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

NEWS: Erdington’s Leon Edwards to defend UFC Welterweight title in UK fight with Kamaru Usman on 18 March

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

NEWS: Campaign to give Leon Edwards ‘historic figure of Birmingham’ blue plaque in Erdington

Words by Erdington Local news team

A campaign is underway to give local MMA fighter Leon Edwards a ‘historic figure of Birmingham’ blue plaque and official key to the city – after the Erdington raised and trained athlete became UFC World Welterweight Champion earlier this year.

Since winning the world crowing fight in August ’22, a portrait of Edwards has been painted onto the old Maplin site mural by Six Ways Island – which identifies all the aspects of Erdington people can be proud of.

But now an online petition wants to further recognise the athlete’s local ties and global achievements and see the ‘real life Rocky’ and ‘inspiration to everyone’ honoured in his adopted hometown with a key to the city and a blue plaque installed in Erdington.

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.

In the early hours of Sunday 12 August, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards created sporting history by beating Kamaru Usman to win the coveted UFC world title in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

Previously Edwards had suffered set back on his was to become World Champion, with four key fights cancelled due to the athlete testing positive for Covid-19.

His last fight with Belal Muhammad in March 2021 was also 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’.

But after beating Californian Nate Diaz in June 2021, the UFC announced Edwards would be in line for a title fight with Kamaru Usman. The pair had met in the Octagon before, with Edwards eventually being outwrestled by Usman – but after the August fight the Brummie brawler left with the coveted champion’s belt.

The UFC Welterweight Championship is one of the most keenly contested belts in combat sports, with Leon Edwards the only UK champion and the second UK fighter ever to win a UFC belt.

A campaign page on the change.org website, started by Tye Forde, states: ‘Leon Edwards local Erdington, Birmingham lad is an inspiration to everyone. A real life Rocky who should be recognised as a Birmingham Hero & legend.

‘Leon is a role model for the younger generation to show dedication, being respectful and hard work determination pays off.

‘I propose that Birmingham City Council install a historic figure of Birmingham blue plaque for Leon Edwards only the 2nd ever British World UFC Champion. Also Leon should be given a key to the City of Birmingham.’

Commenting on the petition page feed, Rachel Walker states: “I’m Erdington born and bred, this Gentleman is an inspiration”. Whilst John Howard adds: “Hats off to the world champion from Erdington.”

There are over 100 blue plaques dedicated to people and places across Birmingham, awarded by The Birmingham Civic Society. Other blue plaques in Erdington have been presented in recognition of GP and physician George Boddington, and the world renowned Mothers rock and live music venue.

The blue plaque scheme, which runs nationally, has also come under recent criticism in Birmingham for its significant of lack of people with Black or Asian heritage being recognised.

To see more about the campaign visit www.change.org/p/honourary-historic-blue-plaque-installed-key-to-city-birmingham-leon-edwards     

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

NEWS: Erdington’s Leon Edwards becomes UFC Welterweight Championship of the World

By Erdington Local editorial team

Erdington UFC star Leon Edwards has entered the sporting stratosphere after one of the greatest wins in combat sports.

In the early hours of Sunday Leon “Rocky” Edwards created sporting history by beating Kamaru Usman to win the UFC Welterweight Championship of the World in Salt Lake City.

The last time the pair met in the octagon was in 2015 ended with Usman winning on points. This time entering the last round Edwards needed a knockout to win, with 30 seconds to go in the fight Edwards delivered a kick which shocked the world, connecting perfectly on the champions temple instantly knocking him out.

A lot has changed since the first fight in 2015 Usman went on to become world champion with a record breaking run of title defenses and mainstream recognition being offered a role in the forthcoming Marvel film Black Panther.

Edwards went back to basics determined to improve his grappling game which let him down in the first fight. He tried training in America but returned home after a few months determined to break the convention MMA champions needed to be in based in the USA to succeed.

In his post victory interview Edwards emotionally shouted: “Look at me now. Look at me now. I told you we could win from the UK, no-one believed me, but look at me now.”

Now the darling of the British media but just a couple years ago Erdington Local were writing pre and post fight reports about Edwards in the Midlands mainstream media, first approaching him for an interview in 2019. For the last a year Local have been trying to find a sponsor to paint a mural of Edwards in Erdington, we have a feeling it will be a lot easier now.

We knew we had our own star and are delighted everyone realises the man from Short Heath is Birmingham’s most successful.

The UFC welterweight championship is one of the most keenly contested belts in combat sports, its a global sport and Edwards is the only UK champion, only the second UK fighter to win a UFC belt, and the only to win the strap based in the UK. Other UFC champions are from Brazil, Nigeria and America as its a global star so even having a Brummie in the mix should have been huge news but it wasn’t, it took him to win the belt for everyone to notice.

Usman was the pound for pound best fighter in the entire UFC, he was on an unbeaten run which stretched back years. Edwards was such an underdog one Las Vegas casino reported 95% of money was on Usman to win.

The UFC’s official countdown documentary released last week surpassed a million views on YouTube within days.

Erdington featured heavily in the hour long video which has been seen across the world.

Describing Erdington as a “crime ridden area of Birmingham” cameras followed Edwards to the Jarvis Road estate where he lived after moving from Kingston, Jamaica as a child.

Speaking over lingering camera shots of lines of washing hanging on dirty balconies of Berkley House, Leon said: “Jarvis Road, this was where I grew up.

“Me, my younger brother and my mom, my older brother and my sister, five people in a two bed apartment, you can imagine the living space.

“If you do not find something to do you will end up getting stuck in this enviornoment, hanging around the streets and smoking weed and just messing around doing nothing.”

Edwards father was a prominent drug dealer in Jamaica but his nefarious activities cut short when he was murdered visiting London.

Leon said: “When I was 13 my dad got killed, he got shot in London, that is someone you look upto for all your life, and to know the way how he died you build a rebellious state of mind.

“I went through a stage in my teenage years when I was getting into gang fights and doing the activities my dad had been involved in, until age of 17 when I met martial arts.

“My mom introduced me to it so I’d keep off the streets. The more I delved into it the more I fell in love with it.”

In the documentary Edwards can be seen in tear when his post- Covid comeback fight ended in a no contest after he poked his opponent in the eye by mistake. Repeating the call to his mother after his title victory he told her: “I told you I would change your life”.

By his side was his brother Fabian who is also forging a successful MMA career in Belator.

With six fights being either cancelled or postponed since Covid, Edwards and UFC supremo Dana White frequently bickered on Twitter with the yoyo-ing of Birmingham fighter’s world ranking a frequent bone of contention.

After seeing Usman lying on the floor Edwards jumped over the Octogan and slapped White on the hand and then thanked him in the ring for giving him a chance in the UFC.

Edwards joked his way through Thursday’s press conference in front of thousands of fans showing he was no way being overawed by the big stage.

Dressed in a cream sweatshirt the Brummie was in sharp contrast to “Nigerian Nightmare” who was wearing an electric green suit with a gold chain resting on his bare chest.

Usman then tried to mock Edwards car, repeatedly asking: “What car do you drive back home?”

Bemused, Edwards replied: “You know what car I drive, a Mercedes, what’s wrong with that? See, I am in your head man.”

Edwards, whose nickname is Rocky, got the biggest laugh of the press conference when he was asked which Rocky opponent Usman was like – Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang and he replied : Adrianne” (Rocky Balboa’s wife).

At 35, five years older than his challenger, and with all the trappings of fame, the fleet of cars, film appearances and over-the-top flash clothes as well as three easy previous opponents, Usman was ripe for an upset.

With 30 seconds left in the five round fight in Salt Lake City Edwards was losing on the judges cards and could only win by knockout. With the words of his trainer ringing in his ears: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Your two (rounds) down, you need to pull it out the fire”

Edwards delivered the perfect head kick, he feinted one way so Usman moved his head the other leaving his temple wide open for a shin which connected knocking him out. He was taken to hospital afterwards.

However, showing the grace of a champion Usman tweeted the next day: “Champs f*ck up sometimes… but we bounce back and come with vengeance. Damn I love this sport! Things happen but Alhamdulillah we move!! Congratulations Leon Edwards.”

In an interview which will be watched for years to come after getting the belt Edwards said through the tears: “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.”

UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who has the biggest podcast in the world, has long championed Edwards, learning all about the fighters back story during an episode last year.

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 the world is Edwards oyster. The prospect of his first defence being held in Wembley Stadium, the first UFC event ever held at the national stadium.

Usman might be opponent. Or he might not.

But the boy from Jarvis Road will most definitely be in the Octogan making history.

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

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 UFC star cancels Vegas fight after testing positive for Covid

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington MMA star Leon Edwards has been fored to pull out from headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fight fans across the world were looking forward to the 19th December clash between welterweight Edwards and the UFC’s new “global star” – Russian born Swede Khamzat Chimaev. 

Catching Covid caps off a dreadful year for Edwards who has unable to fight due to a string of pandemic related cancellations, match-up disputes, and injuries.

Edwards not only tested positive but was laid low by the disease losing 12Ibs in four days and being unable to train, meaning the best-case scenario is the two reschedule a fight in January.

Edwards tweeted: “Another setback, but when you come from the mud you learn to put everything in perspective.

“This virus has affected many lives and families much worse than mine.”

He said: “Looking forward to getting this rebooked soon, thank you all for the well wishes.”

Headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas against the much hyped Chimaev would have cemented Edwards‘ place on the global sports stage.

Edwards and Chimaev could not have had more contrasting years, Edwards not stepping in the octogen once – whereas Chimaev burst on the UFC scene winning three fights in the first round since July.

Crucially Chimaev has impressed UFC supremo Dana White, who needs another global superstar after the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

White said: “The guy is special. I’ve been in this game my whole life; I’ve never seen anything like him. I’m telling you the guy is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Never seen anything like this in my life. Special.”

The UFC temporarily removed Edwards from the welterweight rankings last month due to “inactivity” but reinstated him as world number three when the 29-year-old accepted the fight with Chimaev.

Edwards has been calling out competitors on social media, after refusing a short notice world title shot against Kamaru Usman in July led to him consistently being overlooked for big bouts.

Edwards told MMA Fighting beating Chimaev will guarantee him a world title shot due to the interest in the fight.

He said: “Outside a title shot, I believe he’s the biggest fight. Obviously, [Jorge] Masvidal would have been good as well, but he turned the fight down. This is the biggest fight to guarantee me what’s next.

“That was my thinking going into this. The UFC loves him. Dana [White] loves him. They all think he can’t be beat. When I go out there and take him out, I can’t see what they can say next to give me my title shot. I’d be on a nine-fight win streak. I believe this was the fight to make and now here we are.”

He added: “I know the UFC’s probably banking, Dana anyway, I know he’s praying that this kid wins, but I’ll be way too much for him in there, I’m telling you,”

This time last year the former Aston Hall Academy pupil was one of the hottest properties in the UFC with his signature post clinch elbow move making him a fan favourite.

Represented by the same management company as Irish superstar Conor MacGregor, Paradigm Sports, Edwards secured his financial future by penning a five-fight deal with UFC.

On an eight-fight winning streak, one of the longest current unbeaten runs in the sport, Edwards was rewarded by headlining UFC London on March 21 at Wembley Arena. A win against legendary fighter Tyron Woodley would have given him a world title shot against champion Karamu Usman, however, the event was cancelled to the first UK lock down.

Though not a title eliminator, a rearranged Las Vegas fight will give Edwards the platform to increase his fanbase in America and stop one of the most hyped new fighters in UFC in his tracks.

The last UK fighter to top the bill in Las Vegas was boxer Tyson Fury in February, who won the heavyweight championship of the world when he dismantled Deontay Wilder in one of the greatest British sporting performances of all time.

Fury described why headlining a major event in Las Vegas is so special for any British fighter.

He said: “I always dreamed of seeing my name up in lights on the Las Vegas strip and being the main attraction.

“There is nothing like fight week in Las Vegas and for a British fighter to come over here and win is always going to be special, because of how rare it is for our fighters to come over here and be recognised as the main man and actually win.”

To find out more about Leon Edwards, visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

For more from UFC, visit www.ufc.com

NEWS: Leon Edwards – Erdington’s global UFC star stands up against knife crime

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s very own global UFC superstar Leon Edwards still believes he will be world champion this year but is now also determined to stop local youngsters falling into a life of crime.

The 28-year-old’s plans for global domination were put on hold by COVID-19 but during lockdown he decided to fight knife crime by trying to get free gym memberships for poverty-stricken youngsters.

Currently on an eight fight winning streak and awaiting a welterweight title shot Edwards has shown in recent months he is prepared to use his celebrity status to further causes he believes in.

Edwards, who trained at the Ultimate Training Centre on Erdington High Street, urged people to support NHS and care workers, helped raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and attended the Black Lives Matter march in Birmingham city centre last month.

A spate of knife crime deeply affected Edwards after the video of his friend’s cousin being stabbed to death in Oldbury was widely circulated online. He immediately told his management and the UFC he wanted to do something, and now he and fellow UK fighters Darren Till and Jimi Manuwa are working on launching a new anti-knife crime organisation.

Edwards told MMA Junkie: “For me, I grew up in that same environment. I understand what these kids are going through and what’s going through their heads.

I retweeted a video a few weeks ago on my Instagram about that kid getting stabbed in Birmingham – one of my friends’ cousins. It was heart breaking to actually see the video, because you hear about it all the time. On that same day, that video of that guy that got stabbed, there was another three stabbings in that same day.

So, I messaged my management straight away and said ‘what can I do to help?’ And set something up that can help and prevent this. Jimi Manuwa reached out to me literally the next day and he was saying the same thing as me and it would be good to get Till involved as well.

We all came from the same situation as these kids. We all understand the kids. I think martial arts changed our lives and it can hopefully change someone else’s life.”

He added: “At first the plan that came was like we are going to join someone else’s organisation. Our thing is though we want to do our own thing. We want to do it in our own way. We don’t want to join a pre-existing organisation. So at the moment it’s bouncing ideas, speaking to the UFC – they want to be involved as well. We think we are going to be doing our own thing with the UFC. It’s moving forward and we are getting more people involved which is good.”

Edwards, who was due to headline a global UFC event against Tyrone Woodley in March in London before the sports world came to a grinding halt, understands lack of money for local youngsters is a major problem.

He added: “It’s about getting them into martial arts. Some of these kids don’t have money to come to the gym and can’t afford the memberships. So somehow we are trying to get it so the government can help us get these kids in the gym for free basically by covering the costs and we teach them, we mentor them and use the UFC to help as well..”

The Jamaican born fighter, whose brother Fabian is also an MMA star, added: “It’s been going on for a very long time now. Youth violence in the UK, especially Birmingham and London knife crime, it’s been massive.

I’m trying to bring awareness to it and trying to see what I could do to help, because I remember being in environments like that growing up as a kid with my friends, so I would love to try and help and put awareness to it.”

The former Aston Manor Academy pupil admitted he could easily have fallen into a life of crime growing but his mother forced him to join a gym.

He added: “When I grew up as a kid, I was involved in gangs and stuff like that. My mum took me to the gym to keep me away from my friends, to try and make a better life for myself.

I stuck to it. It’s changed my life. It changed my family’s life, and I’ve been trying to push it, push it, push it in the UK, to say martial arts has changed my life and it could also change your life.”

In January, Edwards secured his financial future by penning a multi-fight deal with Las Vegas based UFC after becoming a fan favourite with his signature post-chinch elbow move.

In a statement released through his management company Paradigm Sports, he said:  “I am excited to re-sign with the world’s foremost MMA promotion.

I have had an incredible run in the UFC thus far, and this contract secures my financial position as I make my run towards the welterweight title.”

To find out more Leon Edwards, visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards