Leon Edwards hadn’t recorded a finish in four years and needed a stoppage to take the UFC welterweight title away from Kamaru Usman. That’s exactly what happened in an unbelievably dramatic end to UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Clearly down 3-1 on the scorecards and struggling to mount any consistent offense, Edwards knocked Usman out cold with a brilliant head kick with under a minute left in the final round. He’s ended Usman’s title reign at five successful defenses, handed Usman his first UFC loss after 15 consecutive wins, avenged his prior loss to Usman from 2015, and has become the new king of the 170 lbs division in one of the most astonishing comebacks we have ever seen in MMA.
Edwards threw a kick that was caught but Usman didn’t quite get hold long enough to dump him on the mat. The challenger was active with his kicks, targeting the knee area of the champion. Usman landed a jab, shot for a takedown but Edwards defended very well. Leon made a mistake trying to separate, fell to his back and this time Usman had top position. Edwards took a few shots, got back to his feet in the scramble, but had to fend off more takedown attempts while trying to unlock the hands. In a shock, Edwards tripped Usman and took him down into full mount. The first time that Usman has ever been taken down in his UFC career. Leon secured a body triangle and threatened a rear-naked choke. They were hand-fighting and Usman was warned for manipulating Leon’s gloves by putting his thumb in there. No choke happened but that sequence meant advantage Leon Edwards through Round 1.
Usman searched for power punches to the head to start Round 2, then looked for a trip. Edwards backed him up and threw a knee to the body. Edwards got his foot caught in between the cage and the mat and took a couple of body shots. An uppercut caught Edwards pretty well but he stayed composed. Usman landed a jab and then action was halted after Edwards poked him in the eye. Action resumed not too long after without incident. Edwards clocked Usman with a left but Usman responded with his own straight right. A left hook by Edwards had Usman taking a backwards step. A clinch battle ensued, then Edwards took a bad shot attempt on Usman and Kamaru wound up on top with the front headlock. They stood back up with undet a minute left in the round, and Usman cracked Edwards with an elbow. He kept the pressure on and ripped the body, and took Edwards down.
The pace slowed a bit to start Round 3, as they traded jabs and low kicks. Usman easily took Edwards down for the third time, but Edwards again was back to his feet. Kamaru stayed busy by kneeing the back of Leon’s thighs. Edwards eventually broke free, then threw a short combo and a knee. Usman responded with a head-body combo, a double leg and another takedown. This time there was extended top control as Usman tried to advance to full back mount. Edwards was warned for grabbing Usman’s gloves. As Edwards spun, he had his back against the fence and Usman remained on top, posturing up and throwing ground-and-pound to the body. By far the most dominant round of the fight up to this point.
Edwards looked for the takedown in Round 4 off an overswing from Usman. Kamaru got away with yet another fence grab but hey, if you’re not cheating you’re not trying. Edwards stayed draped all over him but not doing much else. He eventually gave up the ghost and let Usman go, and sure enough Usman had a simple double leg again. “Embrace the grind,” I guess you could say. It was wearing on the Brit by way of Jamaica, and the crowd grew restless as Usman asserted his dominance. He took him down again but Edwards grabbed the fence, and Herb Dean saw it so he gave Usman the position back since Leon’s fence grab helped him get up. When they stood back he wailed on Edwards with punches and elbows and had him stunned and discouraged.
Usman jabbed the body and stayed on the front foot, with Edwards really just unable to keep this phenomenal champion off of him. Just over two minutes to go and with Usman just leaning on Edwards and not doing much else, Herb Dean separated them. Edwards connected on a right hand but a KO was necessary. He dug Usman’s body with a kick that strayed on the belt line and was ruled low. The crowd was booing the lack of action from both fighters, well they weren’t booing a few seconds later because he knocked Usman out with a head kick for the ages! WHAT A TURN OF EVENTS! You have to love this sport.
Official result: Leon Edwards def. Kamaru Usman via KO (head kick) at 4:04 of Round 5 to become the new UFC welterweight champion