Saturday night will see the glitz and glamour of the UFC roll into London for a fight of epic proportions.
Leon Edwards – Britain’s second ever UFC champion – will defend his title against Kamaru Usman, the man he brutally knocked out last year to bring the gleaming gold of a belt back to Birmingham.
The O2 Arena in London will be packed to the rafters to roar on ‘Rocky’ as he bids to upset the odds and the man they call ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’.
Both men have an incredible back story and have overcome huge adversity to rise to the very top of the game.
MMA fans will be well versed in the narrative surrounding UFC 286 but for more those less familiar, here’s why the event this weekend is unmissable.
Leon Edwards, pictured here with his mum, is a UFC superstar having won the title last year
Edwards faces Kamaru Usman (left), pictured with his daughter Samira (right)
Edwards and Usman have fought twice and their trilogy bout takes place in London
Edwards the home hero gunning for glory
After winning the title last year in the thin air of Salt Lake City – Edwards reached a level of fame and fortune he could only have imagined as a child.
It said it all that his biggest indulgence after winning was to fund a Caribbean restaurant for his mother, something she’d often spoken about as a dream when he was growing up.
Edwards is now estimated to have a net worth of £1.25million and has spoken passionately about securing the financial security of his family.
In fact, it was Edwards’ mother who helped nudge him in the right direction when his life could have followed a far more dangerous path.
Edwards moved over to the UK at the age of nine with the rest of his immediate family. ‘As a kid growing up in Jamaica, all you see is crime, drugs, killing, shooting, poverty. Day in and day out. I’ve never seen someone get shot in front of my face, but I’ve seen people who were hit with bullets running to get away,’ he previously told ESPN.
In some respects it was a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire when he moved to the UK.
The crime-riddled neighbourhood of Aston in Birmingham was his new home and his father, who others reverentially called ‘The General’, was heavily involved in that side of life and his mother worked multiple jobs to help keep the family afloat.
When Edwards was 13, his father was murdered.
Edwards (right), pictured with his younger brother Fabian (left) while they lived in Jamaica
Edwards’ son, Jayon, has the UFC belt won by his father wrapped around his waist
He was shot and killed in a nightclub over what Edwards understood to be a dispute about money.
‘It was probably like 2am,’ he recalled. ‘I was in my room. Mum was in her room. We hear the phone ringing. I heard her crying, and I knew from then something bad, you know.
‘Eventually, she came into my room and just told me this, your dad’s just got killed in London. It was something to do with money. I don’t know what exactly. It was some mad s***, but I knew that it could happen.
‘It f****d me up. It pushed me more into gang life and crime, toward the negative. My mid-teens were my darkest years,’ he said.
When Edwards was 17, waiting for a bus with is mum, they spotted an MMA gym and he started to learn the ropes in there. Money was tight and scraped together to afford classes but it soon became clear that ‘Rocky’ had enormous talent.
He rose swiftly through the ranks before the UFC – the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion saw enough to sign him to the big league.
Edwards lost two of his first four fights as he found his feet among the most dangerous fighters in the world, including one defeat by Usman.
This is the brutal kick that saw Edwards beat Usman by knockout last August
But he then went on an incredible run of 10 victories in succession to tee up a rematch with the man who ruled over the rest of the weight class with such dominance.
Few gave him a chance in the rematch last year and for most of the fight, Usman was able to assert his wrestling dominance against Edwards, before the Brit dug deep to find what is now considered one of the most iconic knockouts in UFC history.
He is again the underdog ahead of Saturday’s headliner with his old foe, but will be looking to produce another moment of magic.
Usman is out for revenge on enemy territory
As deduced from his nickname, Usman was born in Nigeria and spent the first eight years of his life there before moving to the United States.
He’s since reflected on humble beginnings, recalling that the family house didn’t really have plumbing, they had to walk to a well for water and electricity was notoriously unreliable.
Usman was given a tough time at school to start with given the language barrier but worked hard and his athletic ability was obvious. He began wrestling as a 15-year-old in high school and his record by the time he graduated was formidable, 53 wins and just three defeats.
He earned an athletic scholarship to college but in 2010, Kamaru and the Usman family were dealt a devastating blow as his father Muhammad was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Usman and his wife have a daughter, Samira, pictured here after the Woodley fight in 2019
TALE OF THE TAPE: LEON EDWARDS
Age – 31
Born – Kingston, Jamaica
Fighting out of – Birmingham, England
Height – 6ft 2in
Weight – 77 kg
Odds to win – 2.88
Estimated net worth – £1.25m
Wins – 20
Losses – 3
TALE OF THE TAPE: KAMARU USMAN
Age – 35
Born – Auchi, Nigeria
Fighting out of – Florida, USA
Height – 6ft
Weight – 77kg
Odds to win – 1.36
Estimated net worth – £2.4m
Wins – 20
Losses – 2
Until that point, Muhammad’s move to the US had looked like the perfect story of the American dream. He founded two ambulance companies — Royal Ambulance (2003) and First Choice EMS (2005).
They proved so successful that he was awarded the Republican National Committee’s ‘Who’s Who Businessman of the Year.’
Usman Snr was accused by medical companies of producing fraudulent run sheets and went to trial. He had little business experience back in Nigeria and employed others to run his company while he focused on his family and made long trips back to his homeland, according to thebodylockmma.
Two men who Usman allowed to run the business with him plead guilty and were given less than five years in prison. Usman maintained his innocence and faced charged of healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, aiding and abetting and money laundering. He was found guilty by the jury on all counts and given a huge 15-year sentence in 2010.
Kamaru previously opened up on the incarceration at length on the Joe Rogan Experience and maintains that his father’s innocence.
‘My dad is so proud of me and I’m so proud of him I mean he raised us so well. When he knows “I didn’t do anything wrong because I chose to say no I didn’t do anything wrong I’m not going to take this sentence you give me” they said “OK fine then you’ll sit in there for 15 years and there’s nothing you can do about it”… it broke my heart man and then when I think about it I just hold it in because I don’t you know I try not to cry about it,’ he said.
Usman’s father is now out of prison and has seen his son defend the title, even going into the cage afterwards to have the belt wrapped around his own waist in hugely emotional scenes.
Usman wrapped the belt around his father’s waist in hugely emotional scenes
Usman, who is married with a nine-year-old daughter, has been fuelled throughout his career by the burning sense of injustice he carries with him.
‘Everything that I have been through, so much, I just internalised and I compete with all this energy,’ he added.
Usman was signed by the UFC back in 2015 and was astonishingly dominant. He had never lost, never been taken down or knocked out before running into Edwards for the second time last year.
The 36-year-old has a net worth estimated to be £2.4million including brand deals and his UFC salary along with bonuses.
In the immediate aftermath of losing, he was desperate for the chance to exact revenge and win back the belt he held for so long.
And so here we are, with London the stage for his shot at redemption in front of what will be a hostile but respectful crowd.
Outside the cage
Both men are brilliant ambassadors for MMA. Edwards has been a key part of the campaign to take knives off the streets. He’s part of Onside Legacy Youth Zone to launch a youth mentoring program for kids aged 12-16 in London, Birmingham and Liverpool.
He has launched his own foundation to help keep children away from lives of crime and instil discipline through MMA training, while Usman has also used his success to make positive change.
He distributed food items to 1000 vulnerable children as part of his community social responsibility initiative (CSR).
Family man Usman wants his daughter to use him as an example of resilience
Usman is married to a Brazilian woman Eleslie Dietzsch and they have a daughter named Samirah.
He spoke recently about wanting to show her the importance of resilience by bouncing back and fighting again after last year’s knockout.
He said: ‘Immediately after it happened, I didn’t necessarily see her; she went back to my house in Utah and passed out, because it was late.
‘I came over, she slept – she was in my bed. We woke up, and I just had a conversation with her. I told her, ‘Sometimes you lose, sometime you win. Most of the time we win, but sometimes you lose! You’ve got to train hard and get back up there again.’
Usman regularly shares videos of himself and his daughter, including heartwarming clips of them dancing.
Edwards himself has a young son, Jayon. He recently told a heartwarming story about one of Jayon’s friends refusing to believe his father was Leon, the UFC champion.
‘It was a funny story the other day,’ he told BT Sport. ‘I could hear in the background. “I told you it was my dad!” He was talking to a kid who didn’t believe that I was his dad. And he turned the camera around it was on FaceTime. It’s mad how life changes. To have him proud of something solid that I’m doing, it means a lot.’
Edwards, pictured here (L-R) with his sister, mother and grandmother – credits his mum as the most important influence on his life
The verbal sparring
So what have these rivals been saying about Saturday night?
There has not been any real bad blood between the pair, who remain respectful but supremely confidence in their own abilities.
Usman declared: ‘He will open the door for me to walk through because I’m the king. The funny thing is, he’s forgetting what happened for 24 minutes in the last fight. He landed a beautiful technique but you’re forgetting what happened.
‘Once we get in there I’m throwing everything from the kitchen and bathroom at him! I felt violent going into three fights. This fight I’m starting to get this feeling and I want to feel it all.
‘He has the belt, by definition he is the champ. Between him and I, we know… I can’t speak for everybody else. Saturday I will take it off him.
It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top this weekend at the O2 Arena
‘He landed a beautiful kick, the recoil, I’m a fan of it. I’ve just been trained that way. I’m wired that way. A great win from him but it is time for me to go in and get violent.’
Edwards thinks Usman is making excuses for last time and countered: ‘I think if you get knocked out like that, you have to find something.
‘He needs to build his confidence back up. He thought he could never be taken down, never be hurt and he has to find something to cling on to.
‘He was winning the fight but who cares? It goes down as you getting knocked out cold, head shot. That’s all that matters. When it’s all said and done, winners win. Even on my worst day, I still knocked you out.
‘He will have heavy, front-footed striking and heavy wrestling – the same as every fight. But even on my worst day, I was tired but he couldn’t hurt me, it was more of a fatigue issue and I was catching everything on my gloves.
‘I’m sure he’s improved but so have I. I will be attacking submissions, trying to knock him out and I can do all that.’
For all the latest Sports News Click Here
Comments are closed.