By Peter Akinbo.
The Kamaru Usman versus Leon Edwards trilogy at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday (today night) is one of the most anticipated fights of 2023, and arguably one of the biggest in welterweight history.
The winner will not only end their rivalry but also cement themselves as one of the pound-for-pound best.
‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman is coming off of his first loss in nearly a decade, surrendering his UFC welterweight title to Leon Edwards after ‘Rocky’ landed a knockout kick in the final round of their UFC 278 headliner.
On Saturday (tonight) night, Usman will get the opportunity to reclaim UFC gold as he once again squares off with Edwards at the O2 Arena in London.
Born in Auchi, Edo State, Usman made his UFC debut against Edwards on December 19, 2015 and won the fight by unanimous decision and since then dominated the welterweight division and had become an unstoppable force in the UFC holding pole position as pound-for-pound king.
Edwards is now the welterweight champion, but despite his victory, he will head out in London as the 19/10 underdog. The Englishman is currently on a 10-fight win streak having not been bettered in the octagon since his original bout with Usman in 2015.
Usman was on a 19-fight win streak prior to last August’s upset and although is still the number one in the welterweight rankings, he is now number five in the pound-for-pound rankings. He will head out as the strong 2/5 favourite despite being on hostile soil, and it should come as no shock given how he controlled and battered Edwards for the majority of their last fight.
The former champion is 6/5 to win by decision, which seems the most logical outcome given six of his last 10 victories have come by that method. Having said that, Usman has confirmed he is looking for vengeance and to settle his claim as champion, something he can do with a decisive knockout, which is priced at 11/4 to happen in any round.
“I’ve never been in this position, but I know that mentally, nothing has changed for me. This is the same guy that I beat up before. He’s still going to be the same guy. I have to remind him who he is right away. When I fight guys, I fight their heart because I want to break their heart. I want to break their spirit and break their soul,” the 35-year-old said.
President of Nigeria Mixed Martial Arts Federation Henry George has tipped Usman to win the trilogy against Edwards in London.
“Looking from the lens of a former champion in combat sports, when you talk about their rematch last year in August, there are things you must consider, what did Edwards actually do in the fight? If you look at it, you will see that he did not do much, he just had that opportunity to take him down in the fifth round. Usman actually dominated the fight in the first round till that kick, which can actually happen to anyone.
“Secondly, Kamaru has the right attitude and mental strength because it comes from the head first, looking at his workout and how he has been faring, you can see that the fight didn’t do much to his psychology,” George said.
The NMMAF boss also confirmed that the federation was fully behind Usman and will be cheering him on come Saturday saying.
“The federation is happy that he is very sharp and we are fully behind him as he is waving our flag over there, which he always does when he wins.”
Combat sports promoter, Saleh Fawaz, also backed Usman to win the fight as long as he remained focused.
“I think it will be a cagey fight but I’ve got Kamaru on the edge to win this and I feel he would make sure he is fully focused because he was leading in the last fight and then Edwards shocked him with a kick, which knocked him out. Let’s not forget how fit Kamaru is, he can fight five rounds at a very high pace. He lost focus the last time, he will want to keep his focus this time around.
“Edwards has got all those benefits of being at home, being on a 10-game winning streak. But he’s facing a guy who was on a 19-match streak before he lost, I don’t think he is going to land an unexpected knockout again, so, the question is that can Edwards deal with the power that Kamaru Usman has? A fully focused Usman will get the job done on the weekend. It would be very strange to see Kamaru lose focus and make such mistakes again. And my prediction might be a counter from Kamaru to end the fight. But there might not even be a knockout, but yeah, I’ve got Kamaru to win this,” Fawaz said.
Brila FM OAP, Chukwunonso Ike-Okoli, does not believe the home advantage will matter when Usman faces the Briton in his country and has even predicted a knockout win for the Nigerian-born fighter.
“I believe Usman is going to win because he dominated that fight minus the first round, when Edwards found a bit of grace, and even in the final round, it was going Usman’s way until the knockdown, it happens a lot in MMA. You can get knocked out and lose a match you have been dominating.
“Some people are saying that Edwards is fighting in London but adversity fuels Usman, being the underdog or going against the odds fuels him. I think Usman will win the trilogy and the title, whether it is in London, whether it is in Birmingham, whether it is even in Jamaica, Usman is winning that fight as I don’t see him taking anything for granted. I even see him finishing that fight and not letting it go to the judges’ scorecards but even if it does, Kamaru will beat him in his hometown,” Ike-Okoli said.
Uchenna Onubogu, a combat sports correspondent at ABS Anambra, expects ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ to finish the job in London this time and not fall for the same trick as last August.
Onubogu said, “I personally think Kamaru Usman will beat Leon Edwards, and not just because I’m a Nigerian but mostly because checking his MMA records, he has a higher probability to win.
“I’m not saying Edwards doesn’t have what it takes, he has also been in the forefront of the MMA and he’s a very good fighter. Nevertheless he has lost to Usman in 2015 and considering the way he won last August, he will lose this time.
“I think Usman celebrated too early, he thought he’d already won, he made that mistake but I don’t see him making the same error on Saturday. I feel he’s going to go through and finish what he started the last time and win it this time. He’s not called The Nigerian Nightmare for nothing.”
Passionate MMA fan, Adeolu Sangobowale, is disappointed there is even a conversation about this as Edwards didn’t really threaten Usman outside of the knockout in his opinion.
“Most definitely, Usman is going to beat Leon Edwards, the last fight was a fluke. Round one, the only highlight was that Leon took Usman down and likely won the round with the round with the takedown, but from round two to round four and three quarters of round five, Usman beat the f*ck out of Edwards but he slowed down towards the end of the last round, not because he was tired but because he thought he had won the fight.
“Even Leon did not think he would win the fight, you could see it in his body language when his coaches were talking to him in between rounds, it was very obvious that he felt broken, but he pulled off a good move and that was how he was able to win the fight with a few seconds to the end. Basically, the fight was already over and that just happened, which can happen to anybody,” Sangobowale said.
Speaking of their strengths, Sangobowale added, “If Kamaru just wanted to win, he would just wrestle him for all the five rounds and he would win and there is nothing Edwards can do, so, I don’t know why people think he (Edwards) is that guy.”
Blessing Anorh, another UFC fan, stated, “For the welterweight championship rematch between Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, I’d be on team ‘Nigerian nightmare’ for the win and it’s simply because I’m Nigerian. Despite my patriotism is in this, Usman’s consistency and excellence since he became champ cannot be ignored. Usman has somehow managed to beat guys I thought were above his league since he took the belt off Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 in 2019.
“Edwards rang the alarm for Usman and now that he’s tasted glory, I don’t see him giving it up easy, that’s if he does give it up at all. I expect Leon to come in hot and I believe he has the edge in this fight because Usman will be under immense pressure and Leon has proven to be unpredictable in some areas.”
Despite having lost his crown, Usman shares the confidence the experts and fans have in him as he insists that he remains the better of the two.
“He’s the champ, and I’ll give that to him,” Usman told Sky Sports. “But him and I know I will deal with him (on) March 18. I’m better and the world knows it.
“I’ve never been disrespectful with Leon. If anything, I’ve been the only guy that has given him respect all throughout his career. I’m not going to start (on him) now. He’s said a couple (of) things that have offended me, but I’ll talk to him about that on Saturday night.”
The fans have spoken, and the stage at the 02 Arena is set with both fighters expected to take to the octagon for the main event and the highly-anticipated matchup will be a technical master-class, with both athletes sure to put on an epic display.