Leon Edwards: The Problem with an All-Rounder

Leon Edwards
Leon Edwards beats Gunnar Nelson by decision during UFC Fight Night 147 at the London O2 Arena, Greenwich on Saturday 16th March 2019. (Photo by Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Known to some as “Rocky”, Leon Edwards has been a professional since 2011. The all-rounder made his UFC debut in 2014 and has shown serious improvement throughout his stay. On July 20th, 2019, he takes on Rafael dos Anjos in an effort to set up a title fight in the log-jammed welterweight division.

In this article, I’ll go over what makes Edwards a good fighter and an all-rounder. Edwards will likely remain fixed as a top-ranked welterweight for some time to come. However, I find that he will struggle at the top of the mountain, as the jack of all trades tends to be the master of none.

Leon Edwards: The Problem with an All-Rounder

“Rocky” beginnings

When Edwards made his debut in the UFC, he fought Claudio Silva, an aged, but talented jiu-jitsu player. From this fight, you can recognize all of the elements that have carried Edwards throughout the years.

Firstly, Edwards loves the middle-range, as a southpaw Edwards is constantly circling in an attempt to get around his opponent’s lead hand.

Against Pawlak, Edwards circled around his lead foot. This leaves an open space, perfect for shooting a power straight right through.

This leads hand-in-hand with what he likes to do in this range- engage in a low pace kickboxing match, where he can feint, kick and punch straight.

Edwards can clearly land straight lefts nicely and looked to punish Silva with his efficient punching. The standard combination for Edwards is the 1-2.
Using the check hook, Edwards was able to hook and pivot off, constantly forcing Silva to follow him. It also helps that the hook had enough sting to seriously hurt Silva.

Edwards constantly sought to maintain the center of the octagon and would frame and push off of Silva in order to maintain his range. This is still a huge part of his game and how he keeps himself safe from strikes.

Edwards tends to frame off in this same method regardless of his opponent’s style (striker or grappler)

Edwards can also build off of that framing when defending takedowns. From the frame he tends to position himself to fire off knees to the body.

Notice how Edwards will push off of Silva’s shoulder. Edwards will either use this to frame and push off or to frame and guide Silva to the floor.

Unfortunately for the UFC newcomer, his over-eagerness to strike got him taken down repeatedly and Silva would win the split decision. Still, Edwards showed signs of a technically sound fighter who had some things to work on.

The Wrestling Factor

Edwards would go on to win his next two fights, using his mid-range kickboxing to snipe and knock out Seth Baczynski. However, he would then face his next big challenge, which would be the future champion Kamaru Usman.

Against, Usman Edwards showed that he could hold his own in the open mat clinch exchanges, posting his head underneath Usman’s and deny him the body lock.

Notice the framing once again, Edwards used this to also hold his own in the clinch with Usman and deny him the body lock.

Edwards, unfortunately, could not put enough volume or damage to force Usman to back off. Thus, Usman was free to plod forward, tie Edwards up in the clinch and force takedowns.

As much as Edwards showed promise on the open mat clinches, against the fence Usman was clearly the stronger wrestler.

Returning to Form

Usman was able to grind out the decision and Edwards was sent back home with wrestling in his mind. After this fight, he would go on to fight Dominic Waters. Against Waters, he began to add layers to his clinch game after realizing that his framing could set up many offensive and defensive options in his game.

Waters shoots in the open but Edwards does the right thing. He frames, forcing Waters to build back up and into the clinch. From there, Edwards shoves his head underneath Waters’ and throws a knee. After that, he shucks Waters to his right and gets the body lock.
Waters would always shoot for open mat double legs and try to force it to the cage. Edwards however, uses his framing nicely and denies these opportunities to stall and grind him down.

While Waters had nothing for Edwards on the feet, the constant takedown attempts were a nice litmus test for Edwards. However, it was beginning to show the aggressiveness and technical precision of Edwards’ clinch game. It was all about creating frames and breaking down his opponent’s grips.

The Contemporary Edwards

Edwards after the Waters fight would go onto fight a vast majority of strikers. Against Albert Tumenov, he was able to get takedowns on the overextended Russian.

Edwards would look for reactive takedowns whenever Tumenov looked overly eager in the pocket. These worked great to slow Tumenov down but to also get the choke later in the fight.

It felt like Edwards wanted to prove a point, that if he could take down the bigger and stronger opponents, it was likely that his wrestling was not incompetent. However, we would find out the reason why.

The Cracks

Against Bryan Barberena, a tough combination wrestle-boxer, Edwards was constantly sucked into a close-range boxing fight. When I mentioned earlier how Edwards loves to frame to move back to middle-range, it was clear he needed to. Edwards loves his straight punches, however, in close boxing exchanges, those long punches got him caught by hooks. Therefore, Edwards was forced to try and clinch.

Notice how Edwards moves away after the first flurry, but after the follow-up flurry goes for the clinch attempt in order to stifle the punches.
Notice how beyond the 1-2, Edwards didn’t really have much to offer Barberena. As a result, Baberena would be able to drop him later during his 1-2.

Still, Edwards proved that he could dominate opponents if their specific skill set could not overwhelm his various tools. But also, it showed that Edwards was learning to add some offense, after years of dealing with his wrestling woes.

Master of None

Edwards has yet to find a particular spot in which he can dominate. However, against Donald Cerrone and Gunnar Nelson, he showed he might be figuring out what he can finish fights with.

Against Cerrone, his straight punches and kicks were often fast enough and sharp enough to go in between Cerrone’s wide guard.

This was the range that this fight was fought at. With Edwards being able to touch Cerrone with his favorite straight strikes, and Cerrone stuck in place.
Cerrone gives up his charge when Edwards backs off and feints then gets jabbed for his effort.

Cerrone therefore, could not set up his usual rhythm and be forced to make awkward charges for either takedowns or punches.

When Edwards felt danger he would back off or pivot. When he felt he could deal damage he would stand his ground and throw elbows in the clinch

It was in the framing that Edwards started showing a new desire for violence. The all-rounder found that the transitions between striking and wrestling (the clinch) gave him opportunities to elbow with force.

Edwards here elbows off the break when Cerrone feels that it is safe, and in the second he elbows when Cerrone is running forwards which he also didn’t expect.

Against Cerrone, elbows cut him up and definitely hurt him a few times. However, against Nelson, he was able to drop and nearly finished him as a result.

Edwards was able to get the sneaky elbow, as he was guiding Nelson to the outside after his charge.
Some more sneaky elbow shots when Nelson is too focused on bracing himself for the knee strikes.

It’s clear that Edwards has found a way to hurt to his opponents in a way that they cannot return fire back. However, this tool doesn’t seem like it’ll fix his other problems.

Conclusion

Edwards is clearly a talented fighter who has improved on his already technical skill set. However, I believe that he will likely struggle against fighters that can apply better pressure, work the low kicks on his turned-in stance and can simply outmuscle him in the clinch.

While he might be able to knock down many of the top 10 welterweights, the higher the division he goes, the less likely he will find dominance in every aspect of the fight. Edwards has certainly added an aggressive clinch striking game, however, against the better wrestlers it might falter.

Regardless, Edwards is an interesting prospect and can certainly improve his boxing game. However, as an all-rounder, he will continually struggle against opponent’s that can enforce their specialized game against him. I hope to see him continue to find his niche and continue his title run.

 

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