At UFC 286, Leon Edwards will make his debut championship defence. It will be the responsibility of the current welterweight champion to thwart Kamaru Usman’s attempts to usurp his position as divisional ruler. Although winning, their prior encounter at UFC 278 was nearly a replay of their first encounter.
In both matches, “The Nigerian Nightmare” consistently outwrestled “Rocky” for extended periods of time. The only difference between their first two fights was that Usman was knocked out in the last seconds of one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history, rather than winning another unanimous decision.
Edwards cannot let his hopes for their impending trilogy match depend on perhaps connecting with the same shot. He needs to create a strategy that will ensure he wins at least three of the five rounds he will compete in. He will need to make certain alterations, such as these.
#5. Leon Edwards must use elbows in the clinch
The absence of Leon Edwards’ signature elbows in the clinch during their original rematch was one of the match’s most intriguing features. Every time one of his adversaries tries to clinch him, “Rocky” counters by framing his forearm against their jaw and pushes them aside to make room for himself.
This works particularly well against wrestlers since they frequently try to spin inward to establish a good inside angle for a takedown. To counter them with elbows as they turn towards him, though, Leon Edwards utilises his other arm from his opponent’s non-framing side.
By stepping over his opponents, who are then forced to turn towards him and into the path of a counter-elbow, he increases his chances of landing these elbows. In the clinch, Kamaru Usman frequently attempts takedowns, but the last time, “Rocky” refrained from using any elbows. He must make his enemy pay this time.
#4. Leon Edwards must use his traditional southpaw weapons to counter Kamaru Usman’s jab
Jabs serve as measuring sticks from which combatants construct combinations. Simple logic behind the jabs: if a fighter can land a jab, they can also land a right cross. In the striking phase, Kamaru Usman’s right cross and jab are his most effective moves. Leon Edwards has fortunately created responses to the jab.
He uses a southpaw posture, which gives him the ability to use his lead hand to trap the lead hand of an orthodox opponent, neutralising their jab. For some reason, Rocky failed to use his lead hand to block his opponent’s jab in UFC 278. He must continually stop “The Nigerian Nightmare’s” jab throughout their trilogy match.
Usman will be persuaded to give up his jab and adopt a southpaw stance if you do that. Sadly, Usman will constantly be startled if he chooses to use southpaw jabs because Edwards’ looping cross-counter over the top is the Englishman’s best defence against them.
#3. Leon Edwards must stop exposing his back during anti-wrestling sequences
The worst habit of Leon Edwards is his propensity to expose his back to counter takedowns. This frequently happened at UFC 278. Every time Kamaru Usman tried a takedown, “Rocky” flipped over onto his stomach and stood up by pushing with his hands and feet into the mat.
Sadly, doing so constantly exposed his back. The problem with that is that he leaves himself incredibly open to chokes, particularly rear-naked chokes. Thankfully for the current champion, Usman doesn’t possess any particularly offensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves. The majority of Nigerian grappling focuses on wrestling.
Hence, Edwards renders him susceptible to mat-returns, which Usman employed against him. Usman got a back-clinch every time “Rocky” exposed his back and dragged him back to the mat whenever he tried to stand.
‘Rocky’ was taxing in part because of the repeated mat returns. He must prevent being mat-returned if he wants to keep his cardiovascular system intact against “The Nigerian Nightmare.” He should use his counter-elbows in the clinch, not expose his back, and then swiftly disengage from grappling.
#2. Leon Edwards must target Kamaru Usman’s knees
Over the years, MMA fans have heard tales regarding Kamaru Usman’s damaged knees. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ has permanently injured knees as a result of wear and strain from his years as a wrestler. He can’t run or jog without suffering excruciating pain because they are in such bad shape.
Usman is particularly susceptible to low kicks, push-kicks to the knees, and oblique kicks because of the state of his knees. The former welterweight champion frequently displays his lead leg while jabbing as his stance is extended due to his overuse of jabs. He can be countered by Leon Edwards, a prolific oblique-kicker.
Rocky would be wise to respond to every jab from “The Nigerian Nightmare” with an oblique kick to the knee. By doing so, he will make his opponent less mobile and less able to shoot for takedowns.
#1. Leon Edwards must make Kamaru Usman pay for slipping punches
Kamaru Usman slipped on the outside of what he thought was a straight left during the decisive exchange at UFC 278. Instead, it was just a ruse to get him to turn his head towards a booming head kick. The Nigerian’s lapses, as Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson famously observed, were dangerous.
Usman doesn’t fumble punches by making inconspicuous motions. Instead, he makes a disproportionate head-dipping action. He slips his head far wider and farther than most people do. This makes him especially susceptible to attacks with broad, extended arcs.
If Leon Edwards enters the octagon intending to counter his opponent’s frequent use of straight punches with looping punches and head kicks. He can’t expect to deliver the same knockout blow as in the previous fight, but he must punish Usman for his worst faults.