UFC Countdown - 289Jun 7
Leon Edwards returns home for the first time since taking the welterweight throne when he headlines UFC 286 in an unmissable trilogy showdown against long-time rival Kamaru Usman this Saturday night.
The 31-year-old defeated Usman at UFC 278 last August in a moment that will be immortalised in UFC history as he found a dramatic head-kick knockout in the dying moments of the fifth round to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.
Now, the man from Birmingham is out to prove that was no fluke against a man once considered top of the pound-for-pound list.
UFC 286 - The homecoming
Leon Edwards defends his UFC welterweight crown on British soil against one of the all-time greats, Kamaru Usman! Book your seat now for UFC 286, exclusively live on Saturday 18 March from 6pm on BT Sport Box Office.
Plus with a handful of cracking fights coming your way over the course of an unbelievable evening including Justin Gaethje vs Rafael Fiziev and Marvin Vettori vs Roman Dolidze, you don’t want to miss a second of the action.
Click here for our comprehensive viewing guide detailing all the ways you can watch UFC 286: Usman vs Edwards 3 on BT Sport Box Office.
And if you still need any convincing of the perfect way to spend your Saturday night, read on for our five reasons to watch the fights this weekend.
The hero’s homecoming
Leon Edwards etched his name in the history books for all eternity at UFC 278 last August when he shocked the world to defeat Kamaru Usman in thrilling fashion.
Trailing substantially on the scorecards heading into the fifth and final round, Edwards summoned all his skill and resilience to produce a sensational head kick that rendered the long-time welterweight champion unconscious with seconds left on the clock.
Footage of that night, along with the unforgettable words of his coach Dave Lovell heading into the crucial final round, have since become the soundtrack to a modern Rocky moment, elevating Edwards’ legacy as one of the all-time greats to hail from these shores.
I feel good, I feel confident, I feel comfortable
- Leon Edwards
But the 31-year-old has his sights set on much bigger things than simply being the best to have come from Britain, telling BT Sport’s Adam Catterall that he hopes UFC 286 will underline his arrival as a true welterweight superstar.
“That was one of the worst performances of my career and to go out there and take out the pound-for-pound, so-called number one at the time, it’s confirmation,” Edwards explained.
“It’s confirmation that I’m on the right path. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep your belief and just keep working. I truly believe London is going to be my show out party. I believe it in my soul, in my body. I feel good, I feel confident, I feel comfortable.”
Now undefeated through 11 contests since losing to Usman on his first meeting against “The Nigerian Nightmare” back in 2015, Edwards is the proud owner of the division’s longest unbeaten streak and has continued to demonstrate evolutions in his game with every Octagon appearance.
The Jamaican-born fighter became the first man take down Usman down in the UFC last August when he surprised Usman with a trip and appeared to have the former champion in trouble with a subsequent threatening back take.
That will only serve to give Edwards, who is probably considered the more talented striker of the two men, further confidence that he can match Usman anywhere the fight goes.
However, Saturday night’s trilogy rematch will be anything but a gimme with a fired-up Usman relishing the prospect of revenge behind enemy lines.
Can Edwards defend his throne and bring their rivalry to a conclusive end?
‘Y’all must have forgot!’
Kamaru Usman arrives in London this week looking to produce his own Roy Jones Jr moment and remind the world why he was once considered the pound-for-pound ruler of the UFC.
The 35-year-old appears to have dealt with his shocking loss to Edwards relatively well considering the dramatic nature of what unfolded in Salt Lake City last summer, even professing himself to be a fan of Edwards’ technique to find the knockout that cost Usman his welterweight title reign.
But the veteran competitor issued a stark warning to Edwards not to rewrite history in forgetting where the momentum of the fight leading up to that iconic moment was heading.
Speaking to reporters at media day this week, Usman said: “I almost feel like he’s forgetting what happened for 24 minutes in that last fight, don’t you guys feel that?
I almost feel like he’s forgetting what happened for 24 minutes in that last fight
- Kamaru Usman
“Of course, it was a beautiful technique that he landed and I’m a fan of that. I’m like damn, that’s beautiful. I give him props for that.
“But you’re forgetting what happened. What did you display in those two fights that leads you to believe you’re a better mixed martial artist than me?”
Usman, whose five career welterweight title defences place him behind only Georges Saint-Pierre in the history of the division, has made no secret of his plan to hang up the gloves in the not-too-distant future.
A talented collegiate wrestler who has been immersed in combat sports for most of his life, Usman’s body carries more miles on the clock at 35 than most peers his own age – and the wear and tear of a lifestyle lived in battle have begun to show in recent years.
Injuries to his hands, knees and elsewhere have begun to slow the activity of a man once among the UFC’s most active champions.
However, the ONX Sports fighter was quick to stress that his first ever trip to London would be anything but a farewell tour.
“I am on my way out,” Usman added.
“I don’t want to get punched in the face forever. That is very, very true. I’m not trying to do this for another 10 years, absolutely not. In that sense, I am on my way out.
“But I’ll leave when I’m good, well, and ready. Until then, like in the Wolf of Wall Street… you know what he said! I’m not going nowhere!”
Will “The Nigerian Nightmare” spoil the party in London and snatch his belt back from the champ – or can Edwards move Usman one step closer to the exit door?
No hype needed
At this point, if you need any more convincing to tune in and watch Justin Gaethje, maybe this sport isn’t for you.
In his 10 fights since coming over to the UFC as the World Series of Fighting lightweight champion in 2017, the 34-year-old has put together a body of work unlike anything we’ve seen before in terms of pure thrill factor.
The man from Arizona has taken home 10 performance bonuses, two Fight of the Year awards and scooped the interim 155lb title along the way, becoming a beloved fan favourite and writing his name into UFC folklore as one of the most game competitors the sport has ever seen.
I’m the most exciting fighter that has ever stepped in that Octagon
- Justin Gaethje
It’s a label Gaethje wears with pride too, telling reporters this week: “I’m the most exciting fighter that has ever stepped in that octagon in the history of this sport.
“I don’t just believe it, you believe it. You all believe it. You know it to be true. It’s not on purpose, it’s just who I am. That’s how I compete. I’m cut from this cloth.
“It’s not on purpose. It’s just who I am. It’s who I’ve been in wrestling. Wrestling can be boring. My wrestling matches were never boring. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know why. I can’t turn it off.”
Gaethje’s commitment to violence at all costs has no doubt harmed his chances of victory in times gone by – and may even have contributed to some of his defeats, particularly against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier.
But his relentless aggression is also arguably his most potent weapon, breaking his opponents mentally as well as demolishing them physically, as was the case when Gaethje produced a career-best performance to defeat Tony Ferguson for the interim 155lb title back at UFC 249.
However, this Saturday night Gaethje will be walking into battle against a man who many believe could be the most talented and dynamic striker in the lightweight rankings right now, Rafael Fiziev.
But not only has Fiziev pieced together an impressive six-fight win streak to secure this opportunity on the biggest platform of his career, the Azerbaijani fighter has done so in an exhilarating fashion, winning five straight performance bonuses along the way.
Training out of Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand alongside the likes of Petr Yan and Khamzat Chimaev, Fiziev has enjoyed a steady ascent up the lightweight ladder which reached a crescendo with a coming-of-age victory against Rafael dos Anjos last time out.
Stopping the former champion in the fifth and final round, Fiziev announced himself as a bonafide contender in the division and comes into the bout as the bookies favourite to claim a victory that would see him leapfrog Gaethje into the upper echelons of the rankings.
Speaking at media day this week, Fiziev showed he’s not too bad on the mic either, promising another violent night inside the Octagon this Saturday.
“I’m waiting [for] the best Gaethje in front of me,” Fiziev said.
“I’m waiting for best in shape, I’m waiting for hard fight from him. I’m waiting for blood...
“It doesn’t matter what [happened] with Charles [Oliveira]. I go in and make my job. Touch him with first punch, with second, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to take his heart.”
This is bound to be one for the ages, make sure you don’t miss it!
It’s all about the Brits!
It’s going to be a celebration both of and for British MMA this Saturday night at UFC 286 as the promotion brings a pay-per-view numbered card back to these shores for the first time in more than six years.
Michael Bisping’s first and only middleweight title defence was the last time a world title was contested on British soil as The Count saw off Dan Henderson in Manchester at UFC 204, delighting a capacity crowd who’d stayed up until 5am for the main event inside the Manchester Arena.
Thankfully times have changed since then with the UK market now a booming territory for the UFC worthy of a more agreeable 9pm start for the main card at UFC 286.
But it’s not only the popularity of the sport that has exploded over that period; the depth of talent from the UK has grown exponentially too with British contenders populating almost every division across the promotion.
Some of those fighters will be in action at the O2 Arena this weekend with others on the cusp of securing a ranking also featuring on a bumper night for Britain.
Welshman Jack Shore makes his UFC featherweight debut in the featured bout of the prelims having made the move north from bantamweight after losing his undefeated record to Ricky Simon last July.
The 28-year-old had been tipped as a potential contender at 135lb so will be hoping the absence of such a gruelling weight cut can be the catalyst for the start of a similarly impressive journey at 145lb.
Two debutants will also be hoping to light up the prelims – which will be broadcast for free across BT Sport’s digital platforms – as lightweight duo Chris Duncan and Sam Patterson make their respective Octagon walks against Omar Morales and Yanal Ashmoz.
Plus flyweight title hopeful Muhammad Mokaev looks to go four wins from four in the UFC and land a top ranked opponent on his next assignment if he can defeat Jafel Filho in the dominant manner we have come to expect from the Dagestani-born Brit.
Talented unbeaten featherweight Lerone Murphy returns to action atop the early prelims, hoping to put behind him a miserable 18 months that have seen him plagued by injuries and rotten luck as he takes on undefeated UFC newcomer Gabriel Santos.
And with Christian Leroy Duncan, Jake Hadley, Joanne Wood and Jai Herbert rounding out the rest of the home contingent in action at the O2 Arena, it could be a truly special night for our athletes this coming weekend.
If you’ve not yet ordered UFC 286, click here for all the information you need to make sure you don’t miss this extraordinary night of fights.