Leon Edwards edged past Kamaru Usman at UFC 286 on Saturday, retaining the welterweight title in a nervy main event at London’s O2 Arena.
Edwards dethroned the dominant Usman in August, stunning the Nigerian-American with a head-kick knockout with one minute left on the clock, after being controlled for the majority of the bout. That result followed the pair’s 2015 meeting, which Usman won on points with a comfortable grappling showing against the Jamaican-born Briton.
And so, fans had been left to guess this week whether Usman would out-wrestle Edwards again en route to victory, or whether his successor could conjure a moment of mixed martial arts magic once more.
But ultimately, there was to be no dominant display or deified strike; Edwards’ discipline – and lack thereof, at times – proved decisive.
Under the daunting dome of the O2 – which reverberated with every roar from the London crowd – the rivals rounded out their trilogy with their most competitive contest by far.
Thirty-one-year-old Edwards, using a variety of calf, oblique and body kicks, seemed to pull ahead in a tense first two rounds, before the playing field appeared to level out after Round 3. It was in that third frame that Usman began to find his grappling form, while Edwards was docked a point for holding the fence to stand – although the champion also employed effective defensive wrestling to stand fairly on numerous occasions.
In any case, Edwards seemed at risk of losing further points, as referee Herb Dean warned him about holding the glove of Usman, who also complained of multiple alleged kicks to the groin.
However, Edwards’ quality held up where his composure at times faltered. Although a close Round 4 left the result no clearer, Edwards produced an impressive final frame at a crucial juncture.
“Rocky” denied his challenger multiple takedowns, while intermittently stinging the 35-year-old with uppercuts and leg kicks, as Usman continued to press forward – unperturbed – in pursuit of a decisive moment.
In the end, the only decisive moment was the revelation of the judges’ scorecards, which read 48-46, 48-46, 48-48 in Edwards’ favour.
In the co-main event, Usman’s teammate Justin Gaethje was on the right end of a majority decision, beating Rafael Fiziev 29-28, 29-28, 28-28 in the fight of the night.
Full UFC 286 results
Leon Edwards (C) def. Kamaru Usman via majority decision (48-46, 48-46, 48-48)
Justin Gaethje def. Rafael Fifiziev via majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
Gunnar Nelson def. Bryan Barberena via first-round submission (armbar, 4:51)
Jennifer Maia def. Casey O’Neill via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Marvin Vettori def. Roman Dolidze via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Jack Shore ‘didn’t want to take’ UFC 286 fight because of father’s chemotherapy
Jack Shore def. Makwan Amirkhani via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 4:27)
Chris Duncan def. Omar Morales via split decision (27-30, 29-28, 29-28)
Yanal Ashmoz def. Sam Patterson via first-round KO (punches, 1:15)
Muhammad Mokaev def. Jafel Filho via third-round submission (rear naked choke, 2:42)
Lerone Murphy def. Gabriel Santos via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Christian Leroy Duncan def. Dusko Todorovic via first-round TKO (knee injury, 1:52)
Jake Hadley def. Malcolm Gordon via first-round TKO (body punches, 1:01)
Joanne Wood def. Luana Carolina via split decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Jai Herbert vs Ludovit Klein ends as majority draw (29-27, 28-28, 28-28)
Veronica Hardy def. Juliana Miller via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
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