The Headshot Heard Around The World: Leon Edwards and His Road to Gold.

“You got to stop feeling sorry for your f**king self! What’s wrong with you now Leon?”

This was the line screamed to Leon Edwards from his corner after the 4th round in his bout against Kamaru Usman, the UFC Welterweight champion. At this point in the fight on most scorecards, Edwards was down 1-3. Edwards had a very strong first round in which he became the first-ever fighter in UFC history to perform a successful takedown on Usman. This seemed to be his only success this far in though, and it seemed like the champion had another retainment.

Even the commentary team on the side of the UFC was phrasing the match like it was a surefire victory for the reigning champion, with former UFC fighter turned commentator Din Thomas stating in the fifth round, “If it wasn’t obvious enough, Leon is broken now… And the biggest tell that you can always know this is because he doesn’t give his coach eye contact in the corner. When you don’t give him eye contact, you’re ashamed. And he’s embarrassed right now of his own performance.”

That’s what it seemed at least.

As the fifth round was closing out, Edwards faked a jab up top with a minute left and Usman did a traditional weave to the side. As quick as you could say “headshot”, Edwards’ leg rose to Usman’s face and knocked him unconscious. The crowd was stunned. Commentators Joe Rogan, Daniel Cormier and Jon Anik all displayed their surprise at the upset while on the broadcast.

There is now a new king of the Welterweight division, but many non-MMA fans may ask what differentiates this title win from that of many others. The simple fact is Edwards was never touted to be a champion. His name was never the main name on pay-per-view cards like fellow Welterweight stars Colby Covington, Khamzat Chimaev, Tyron Woodley, or Jorge Masvidal. Edwards was simply fighting because that’s what he has done his whole life. Even when he was not in the octagon, Edwards has always had to stay on his toes.

If there is one thing that is known in popular culture, it is that everyone likes an underdog. Although there are many underdog stories to cheer for, one of the most popular ones talked about in the fighting world is Rocky. The popular 1976 film is the ultimate underdog story, showing how no matter where you are from and what you are facing you can always defy the odds.

That is exactly what Edwards has been doing his whole life, all the way up to his championship title attempt. Even when it seemed Edwards would never get to a championship match, Leon “Rocky” Edwards kept his head down and paved his own path. He has shown that grit and heart can truly get you to any spectacle in life.

Ever since Leon could remember, his life has always been what most would consider quite the story. Despite his birth in Jamaica, his family eventually moved to England when he was nine, following his father’s move to the country. Leon’s father passed away when he was 13 and this caused him to get involved with the street gangs that plagued his neighborhood of Aston, Birmingham.

He credited this as getting him arrested for street fighting and possession of a knife, but Edwards stated his gang also was involved in the distribution of drugs. His nickname “Rocky” eventually came to him, his friends giving him the nickname due to his fighting nature. His mother decided at the age of 17 to get Leon involved in Martial Arts, and from there he continued to train up until 2010 when he made his amateur MMA debut in the Bushido Challenge 2 – A New Dawn.

Even once reaching the UFC, Edwards’ path was not made easy. After losing in his UFC debut, it would be only three fights into his UFC career that he would cross paths with Kamaru Usman. Usman got the best of Edwards due to an obvious advantage in his grappling in a unanimous decision, but this did not seem to bother the young Jamaican fighter. He came back within five months and after that, began his winning streak starting with Dominic Waters via unanimous decision.

During this streak of victories, many complained about his technical striking style that often led to these victories being boring and not leading into knockouts or submissions but mainly winning by the scorecards. Edwards, regardless of the criticism thrown his way, continued to use his style and win the fights that he received.

After a win against former champion Rafael Dos Anjos, many looked for a high contender bout for his next fight. Sadly for Edwards, luck would not be on his side. The next three years for matchmaking were a bumpy road, to say the least. The Covid-19 pandemic heavily affected his path to any sort of title.

Edwards had two opponents with scheduling conflicts via Tyron Woodley and Khamzat Chimaev. Woodley’s bout was canceled altogether due to the timing of the pandemic. Then, Chimaev suffered some conditions from Covid-19 that rendered him unable to fight. Edwards at one point was unable to compete due to contracting the virus.

After both bouts were unable to be scheduled, UFC president Dana White announced a fight for Edwards between him and top contender Belal Muhammad in February of 2021. After an eye poke in the second round, Muhammad was unable to continue and the fight was ruled a no contest. Edwards was then scheduled to face gritty veteran Nate Diaz in May of 2021 in a five-round non-title bout, the first of its kind. Although Edwards controlled a majority of the match and won by unanimous decision, he was infamously stunned by Diaz at the end of the 5th round.

This left many fans and MMA experts to wonder if Leon had the championship potential in him, as it seemed in the last rounds of the fight he grew weary and was left open to get walloped by Diaz. Edwards decided to pick up his third fight of the year with Jorge Masvidal, scheduled for UFC 269 in December, but Masvidal withdrew due to injury.

With the Diaz win and several weird circumstances under his belt, many argued that Edwards’ two wins since 2019 were not enough to warrant a title shot when it was announced in June of 2022 that Usmans next defense was going to be a title rematch against Leon Edwards. As the critics poured in and made their feelings known, Edwards had to continuously weather the storm of negative sentiment from the many who did not believe he belonged as a champion.