Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 286’s Leon Edwards
Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!
Welterweight king, Leon Edwards, seeks to defend his throne opposite long-time ruler, Kamaru Usman, this Saturday (March, 18, 2023) at UFC 286 inside The O2 Arena in London, England.
Edwards hasn’t lost a fight since Dec. 2015, his first showdown opposite Usman. That’s more than seven years unbeaten in one of the sport’s toughest divisions. However, up until Edwards separated Usman’s consciousness with a picture-perfect high kick to upset an elite champion (watch it). What’s missed is that Edwards has been excellent for years. His career suffered some unfortunate layoffs and strange moments, like the Nate Diaz one-two combination that overshadowed Edwards’ previous four rounds of effortless domination. He’s an incredibly technical fighter who lived up to the moment last time out, and now he’s tasked with doing so again in his home country.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Long and powerful, Edwards has a great frame for the 170-pound division and builds on those physical gifts with a great distance and clinch striking game.
The first thing to note about Edwards’ technical kickboxing is that he jabs more often than most Southpaws (GIF). When faced with an opposite stance opponent, Edwards definitely still hand-fights and parries with his lead hand — Southpaws almost have to — but he’s far more willing to slap down his foe’s lead hand and step into a jab. He’ll commonly follow up with the left afterward, and it lands with better accuracy since he’s already found his way into range with both the hand-fighting and previous jab.
Edwards consistently makes great use of the Southpaw double threat: forcing his opponents to quickly determine whether a left cross or left kick is coming their way. This strategy is a staple of Edwards’ offense. Again, it tends to come after the jab, as Edwards snaps his foe’s head back and uses that moment to gain a bit of an outside angle before firing a hard cross or kick. Edwards’ left body kick is notably snappy and well-placed, far better than the average UFC left kick (GIF).
This is, of course, how he dethroned Usman: a perfect left high kick hiding behind the 1-2 (GIF). Beyond the brilliant execution, Edwards was lining up that kick the whole fight. He repeatedly stabbed Usman’s mid-section with front kicks, as well as taking the left round kick to the lead leg and liver. For five rounds, he built up to the fight-finishing head kick.
On the whole, much of Edwards’ offense comes on the counter. He’s willing to lead and will often do so in a close fight to push the pace, but he does a lot of damage answering his opponent’s strikes (GIF).
For example, Edwards did a great job of countering Peter Sobotta, a fellow Southpaw. Since the two men were in the same stance, the jab’s importance grew. That favored Edwards since he already throws a lot of jabs usually, but he built upon that advantage by looking to counter Sobotta’s jab frequently. Early on, a looping cross counter over the jab found its home on Sobotta’s jaw a few times. Once the German athlete adjusted, Edwards switched his counter punch of choice to the uppercut (GIF). Edwards made similar adjustments against another leftie in Nate Diaz, chopping up his calf, sticking him with jabs, then walking him into heavy counter swings.
In addition, Edwards is quite good at kicking from his back foot, a risky technique that a lot of fighters do poorly. As his opponent advances, Edwards will feint with his lead hand, set his feet and stop moving away, and blast a left kick into the mid-section. It’s simple enough on paper, but the timing has to be precise to avoid a counter or stuffed kick.
The last note on Edwards’ kickboxing habits is that he likes to following the left high kick with a lunging left hand. It’s both sudden and effective, and it again takes advantage of the Southpaw double threat by forcibly moving his opponent’s hands out of position to block the kick.
In more recent years, Edwards has developed a reputation as an excellent clinch striker (GIF). Much of the time, winning the clinch battle is as simple as throwing something, anything when breaking away from the clinch, when fighters tend to drop their hands. However, Edwards also does a phenomenal job initiating the left elbow from the clinch.
It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes Edwards’ elbow so much more effective than his peers. After all, controlling a collar tie with one hand and elbowing with the other is hardly a new tactic in mixed martial arts (MMA). Yet, Edwards consistently lands left elbow on the break with devastating force.
Perhaps the most notable difference is that Edwards really tends to gain an angle before throwing the elbow, stepping across his opponent’s body and trying to convince him to turn into the strike. Against dos Anjos, Edwards did a really nice job of interrupting his foe’s combinations with clinches that turned into elbows. “RDA” is a monster if his foe lets him get going, but Edwards routinely stymied him with this tactic.
It also has to talked about how Edwards’ striking failed him in the Usman rematch. Specifically, his footwork failed him. Usman was far too easily able to walk Edwards to the fence, where his wrestling and general mauling tactics are far more effective. Edwards was too reactionary and unable to circle away consistently, in part because he continually engaged in the hand-fight rather than sticking a jab and getting on his bike.
After the first Usman fight, Edwards spent some time at American Kickboxing Academy and really developed his offensive and defensive wrestling. Nowadays, he’s one of the division’s better wrestlers.
Even the best converted non-wrestlers tend to have average shots, but that isn’t the case for Edwards. Not only does he duck down into the double leg with good speed, but he takes an angle immediately upon hitting his foe’s hips. From there, Edwards stands a better chance at driving through the shot or hitting the fence and finishing from there.
In addition, Edwards shows good transitional wrestling by switching from a double-leg to body lock. In an example against Bryan Barberena, Edwards first entered deep on a double-leg but was stopped by Barberena’s hips, so he attempted to finish the shot with an outside trip. Barberena’s balance held, but the trip attempt allowed Edwards to lock his hands in a body lock. The Englishman stood up and tried to circle to the back, a transition which was stopped by Barberna’s overhook. However, Edwards still had the hold and a decent angle, allowing him to finish with an inside trip.
Edwards goes for trips quite a bit from the clinch, and they generally serve him quite well. He has a great frame from that style of takedown. In addition, he frequently shucked towards the back of Nate Diaz, which allowed him to drag the grappler down or execute another trip from behind.
Edwards becoming the first man to official take down Usman has to be mentioned, and he did so starting the exchange with his back to the fence. However, when he pummeled into the over-under, Edwards was essentially able to cancel out Usman’s underhook by securing a body lock and clamping down tight. As a result of that pressure from Edwards, Usman’s underhook grew more shallow and less effective. Edwards pushed him back from the new position and caught him off-guard with an outside trip, nearly buckling the knee in the process (GIF).
Defensively, Edwards does a lot of things right. First and foremost, his immediate defense to just about any shot is to get his back to the fence and widen his stance. With his legs too far apart to be double-legged, Edwards mostly just has to focus on fighting hands. If his opponent switches to a single leg, Edwards will look to stuff the head to the outside or down to the mat, opening up opportunities to reverse.
One thing Edwards does very well is maintain head position. When opponents drive forward into the clinch, Edwards will get his hips back, helping prevent the shot and allowing him to lower his own head. The head is often looked at as the first line of defense in wrestling, and Edwards often proves that notion true, pressing his forehead into his opponents jaw and negating forward pressure. After getting good head position, Edwards is usually able to angle off soon after or return to those hard elbows.
Usman remains the only man to find consistent success in wrestling Edwards, and he’s one of the best ever at that style of fighting.
Edwards’ control game from top position revolves around taking the back, so it should not be a surprise that two of his three career submission victories are rear-naked choke wins. He’s attempted the hold multiple times inside the Octagon and did manage to secure it against Albert Tumenov.
In that bout, Edwards won the first two rounds via top control. In the third, both men were a bit fatigued, leading to a more desperate scramble from both. Edwards managed to drag Tumenov to the mat with a seat belt grip from the back, but he was perilously close to falling off the back. Tumenov worked to loosen the hooks as Edwards tried to move back and pull him deeper into the back mount, but “Rocky” flipped the script by going submission over position and simply attacking the neck.
His arm found its way under the chin, forcing Tumenov to focus on the choke rather than the escape. By that point, though, it was too late, and Edwards was able to secure his first submission victory inside the Octagon.
In general, Edwards is very willing to hang on the two-on-one wrist control and beat his opponents up. If they try to force a stand up, he’ll move to take the back, and it can be very difficult to break this chain of transitions.
Edwards is a really gifted physical talent with a complete set of skills. He’s tactical and composed in the cage, which is how he was able to win in Hail Mary fashion last time out. It remains to be seen if he can make the necessary adjustments to avoid a comeback scenario entirely, or if he’ll be forced to pull another rabbit from his hat.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 286 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN2/ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 286: “Edwards vs. Usman 3” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
Leave A Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.