With the second longest win-streak among all the current UFC welterweights – behind only champion Kamaru Usman – you would think Leon Edwards is next in line for a shot at the title. Well, that’s not the case.
Edwards, 18-3, is still trying for a crack at the belt after six years in the UFC. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, ‘Rocky’ had a difficult start to life. Surrounded by crime and growing up in poor conditions, Edwards’ family moved to Birmingham in the UK when he was nine.
Four years later, his father was shot and killed outside a nightclub, and Edwards soon fell into a life of drug dealing and street fighting. His mother took him to an MMA club when he was 17 in a bid to turn his life around, and from there he followed a path that would take him to the grandest of stages. Sometimes mother does know best.
Humble Beginnings turn into Promising Career Prospects
He had three amateur fights to begin his career, winning two and the last being ruled a no contest, due to an accidental injury. He turned professional in 2011, stopping Damian Zlotnicki on a Fight UK MMA card.
His first loss came in the following year, when he was disqualified against Delroy McDowell for an illegal knee. Leon then moved to the BAMMA promotion, where he fought for two years beating the likes of Shaun Taylor and Wendle Lewis. In 2014, he debuted for the UFC but lost in that first fight, dropping a contentious split decision to Claudio Silva over three rounds.
Edwards bounced back with wins over Seth Baczynski and Pawel Pawlak, before meeting Usman, who used superior grappling and wrestling to win on points over three stanzas. However, Leon has not lost since that 2015 bout.
A 2017 decision win over Vicente Luque proved how Edwards was one to watch, and the win looks even better after Luque’s recent victory over former champion Tyron Woodley. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that Leon truly launched himself into title contention. He strung together back-to-back points wins over Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and No. 4 ranked Rafael dos Anjos.
At that point, in July 2019, it seemed only a matter of time before the Jamaican-born Englishman earned himself a title shot. Instead, he spent two years on the sidelines as scheduled fights just kept falling through.
In January 2020, he was booked against Woodley – who had only recently lost his title to Usman at that point – on a card in London for March of that year. Of course, with many others, that card was scrapped. In June that same year, Edwards was offered a shot at Usman on short notice but had to turn the fight down due to an inability to properly prepare for it.
Edwards then accepted a fight with rising star Khamzat Chimaev, though two times the fight was postponed due to each fighter becoming ill, before the idea was scrapped altogether. When he did finally return to action in March of this year, Edwards’ bout with Belal Muhammad was aborted 18 seconds into the second round after an accidental eye poke. It’s no wonder many dub Leon the unluckiest fighter in the UFC.
The Task at Hand
Now, he is on the verge of properly establishing himself as the division’s top contender and potentially making himself a star in the process when he fights UFC veteran Nate Diaz at UFC 263 in June. The pair were supposed to clash in May but the bout was pushed back after Diaz picked up a minor injury.
Due to his impressive win streak, the MMA odds make Edwards a steady favourite over Stockton’s Diaz, coming in at 1.20/1. Though he is wildly popular, Diaz has also been inactive in recent years and his form suggests he’ll struggle against someone as well-rounded as Edwards. The fight is particularly notable as it is a five-round non-main event with no title on the line, an incredible rarity in the UFC.
Having never been stopped or submitted in his three career defeats, Edwards has proven himself a difficult fighter to beat at welterweight. A solid southpaw, ‘Rocky’ is an excellent all-rounder who is most comfortable on the feet, where he uses a textbook blend of strikes to pick opponents apart.
Though he’s not known as a huge puncher, Edwards can wear opponents down and take control of fights, particularly over the distance – he’s won two five-round decisions in his career.
Should he add Diaz to his list of victims, Edwards’ claim to a title fight would be undeniable. There are other top names in the division like Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal and Stephen Thompson, but they have all already had cracks at UFC gold. Leon would surely start as favourite over several of those fighters and would certainly give all of them a tough night at the office.
After years of hurdles and disappointment, Leon Edwards now has the chance to build some momentum and finally get a chance at the UFC title. Diaz would be the biggest name Edwards has beaten to date, which would add to his marketability and improve his chances of a title fight. At 29, he’s in his physical prime and could prove to be a significant threat to the welterweight division.