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A shot at the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title continues to elude Leon Edwards despite the fact that he has not been beaten in five-plus years.
Edwards will try to move one step closer to his goal when he meets “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz in a UFC 263 co-feature on Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion has compiled an 8-0 record with one no contest across his past nine outings. Edwards last appeared at UFC Fight Night 187, where an inadvertent eye poke resulted in a premature conclusion to his main event assignment opposite Belal Muhammad. The stoppage was called 18 seconds into the second round, their differences left unsettled.
As Edwards prepares for his five-round confrontation with Diaz, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Gold Rush
Edwards announced his arrival as a primetime player on the European regional scene when he laid claim to the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts welterweight championship by submitting Wayne Murrie with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their BAMMA 15 co-feature on April 5, 2014 at Copper Box Arena in London. Murrie raised the white flag 3:13 into Round 1. Edwards denied an early takedown attempt, turned the tables on “The Caveman” and advanced to the back, securing his position with both hooks. Moments later, she snaked his arms in place for the choke and forced Murrie to surrender. Edwards was just 22 years old at the time.
2. Rude Welcome
Claudio Silva leaned on timely takedowns, a sturdy chin and a brutish top game, as he eked out a split decision over Edwards in a competitive UFC Fight Night 56 welterweight showcase on Nov. 8, 2014 at Tancredo Neves Municipal Gymnasium in Uberlandia, Brazil. All three judges scored it 29-28: Derek Cleary and Roy Silbert for Silva, Guilherme Bravo for Edwards. A promising promotional newcomer, Edwards controlled extended parts of the match with his standup, as he fired away with clean, crisp counters and searing left hooks. However, Silva waded through dangerous waters to get the fight where he wanted. Edwards lost his foothold in the fight late in the second round and offered little in the third. There, Silva secured a takedown, achieved full mount and tore into the British prospect with ground-and-pound before threatening with an arm-triangle choke.
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3. Reality Check
Repeated takedowns, crushing topside control and a methodical pace carried “The Ultimate Fighter 21” winner Kamaru Usman to a unanimous decision over Edwards in a UFC on Fox 17 welterweight prelim on Dec. 19, 2015 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Scores were 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28, all for Usman. Edwards was effective at range but could not keep “The Nigerian Nightmare” at bay. Usman closed the distance without issue and either trapped the former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion in the clinch or dragged him to the mat. By the start of the third round, Edwards had little means with which to resist. There, Usman worked knees to the thighs and buttocks from the clinch, delivered another takedown and moved to the top ride position, battering the England-based Jamaican with punches. Edwards has not lost since.
4. Litmus Test
Superior standup and near-flawless takedown defense spurred Edwards to a unanimous decision over Donald Cerrone in the UFC Fight Night 132 headliner on June 23, 2018 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. “Rocky” swept the scorecards with 48-47 marks across the board. Cerrone rallied late in the fight but could not overcome the Englishman—a contender on the rise at 170 pounds. Edwards outstruck him by narrow margins in all five rounds and denied all but one of his nine takedown attempts. He outpaced “Cowboy” in total strikes (101-64) and significant strikes (84-60), all while doing visible damage: Edwards opened a cut on the World Extreme Cagefighting veteran early in the fight and continued to target the wound until his night’s work was done and Cerrone’s blood had painted the canvas red.
5. Upward Trajectory
Edwards recorded his eighth straight win and did so in resounding fashion, as he pitched a virtual shutout against Rafael dos Anjos in the UFC on ESPN 4 main event on July 20, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. Edwards carried all three scorecards: 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46. Dos Anjos was competitive throughout but struggled to deal with the offensive weaponry the Brit fired at him. It included three surprising takedowns, along with a standing elbow strike in the second round that tore open a gnarly gash above the former lightweight champion’s right eye. Dos Anjos was burdened by the wound for the rest of the fight despite the admirable work done by his cutman. Edwards continued to land punches in combination and mixed in a few more slashing elbows to keep him off-balance.
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