“You all doubted me. They all said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now! Pound-for-pound, headshot dead, that’s it….”
Although the new UFC welterweight champion, Leon Edwards landed that kick in the last minute of his fight, a fight that he was on the way to losing, there was no luck element, no fluke nature and nothing unplanned about it. Rewatching the final round, it was clear to see that ‘Rocky’ didn’t just blindly throw the left high kick that won him the bout, he’d set it up throughout the final five minutes.
We take a look at all the reads that Edwards made throughout the final round and how this allowed him to become the first British-based UFC champion.
First man to take Kamaru Usman down ⏩ First man to knock Kamaru Usman out@Leon_edwardsmma | #UFC278 pic.twitter.com/VCxS1D9n43
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) August 21, 2022
How Leon Edwards Set up the Kill Shot
Edwards was down 3-1. After an impressive first round, Edwards’ head coach, Dave Lovell emplored Rocky to “stop feeling sorry for your f*cking self!”, everyone in the arena, including the fighters themselves, knew that Edwards would have to finish the fight if he was to get his hand raised. The Birmingham man isn’t known for his finishing ability having finished just two of his last 10 fights. Rocky’s back was against the wall until he put Kamaru Usman‘s back flat on the canvas.
Round Five, Minute One
Edwards was struggling throughout the bout to deal with the forward pressure of the champion, Usman. Usman was able to easily back him up throughout and land multiple takedowns when Rocky was pressed up against the cage. The champion did a great job of cutting off the cage and didn’t allow Edwards to use his lateral movement to circle out.
Starting the fifth round, Edwards did a much better job of staying in the centre of the Octagon. At the 4:30 mark, he switched to orthodox, popped out a lazy straight which allowed him to get Usman into a Thai-style clinch and he subsequently landed a step in left knee, a technique that he had done well to land throughout.
Aside from this, there was little else landed by Rocky in the first minute of the final round. He shot out a few jabs, but nothing that actually looked to land with purpose.
Round Five, Minutes Two and three
For almost the entire second and half of the third minutes of the final round, Usman controlled Edwards against the cage in the clinch. Edwards was largely unable to get his back off the cage wall but did to well to keep hold of the overhook, not allowing Usman to get a takedown. With 2:30 remaining in the round, referee, Herb Dean separated the men due to inactivity against the cage. Both men returned to the centre of the Octagon. Edwards lands a teep kick up the middle but it doesn’t seem to have an effect on Usman who merely sweeps it away with his lead left.
With 2:04 left of the fight, Edwards makes the first read which will lead to the finish. He throws a 1-2 and Usman dips off to his right to slip the attack.
Round Five, Minute Four
This is the pivotal minute in Leon Edwards’ career, life and this fight. Rocky makes a number of big reads in this minute which will ultimately lead to him lifting the belt.
At 1:58, he throws a body kick which lands from the southpaw position. Usman (who has a history of this) claims that the shot is low and Dean steps in to cause a pause to the action. The replay shows, however, that the shot is legal.
With 1:42 left, Edwards lands a heavy inside leg kick, something that he has landed consistently throughout the fight. He then instantly feints another leading to Usman’s right hand dropping to parry it away.
With 1:30 remaining, Edwards throws a lazy jab as a range finder. He just touches Usman’s lead hand and recognises that Usman is out of range.
At the 3:46 mark of the fifth round, Edwards drops his weight and sinks into his knees. This is something he did throughout the fight but here it was extremely pronounced. The Brit then once again paws at Usman’s lead hand, again to find range before feinting a rear kick. He turns his hip over slightly but doesn’t commit to it. Usman reacts to Rocky’s feint by circling to his right, which is certainly surprising. There’s no logical reason for Usman to look to circle into the power of Edwards’ potential strike. You can see the rear feint kick and subsequent response from Usman here:
Edwards then throws another inside leg kick and Usman yet again uses an over-emphasised sweep in order to try and offset the balance of Edwards and block the shot from landing fully. With 1:06 remaining, Edwards throws a very lazy jab which was nowhere near close to landing.
The next strike is the most important strike of the fight for Edwards (aside from the head kick knockout). With 1:02 remaining in the fight, he touches the lead hand of Usman. This is the perfect range finder for the final kill shot. It’s of vital importance to recognise that this isn’t a jab, it was simply Edwards looking to figure out his range, find out where Usman is and measure him up for the final strike… and it clearly worked.
How this range finder differs from the first example above is that Edwards appears closer to Usman. He was able to position his range finder on top of Usman’s hand, rather than underneath it as was the case in the first example.
The Knockout Blow
The knockout shot comes just four seconds after Edwards throws out his range finder. He feints the rear leg attack again by loading his hip. He then fakes a jab and throws a straight left, which Usman crucially parries and slips off to his right. As he slips, he eats Edwards’ high kick straight in the face, knocking him out instantly.
Here we can see both the parry and slip from Usman, followed by the all-important knockout blow.
So what’s the relevance of all the range finders, leg kicks and rear leg feints? They all lead to the final knockout shot.
The two range finders allowed Rocky Edwards to know that he was in range to ultimately land the head kick. The leg kicks throughout gave him a read on the reactions of Kamaru Usman (that he’d look to sweep away the leg kick rather than check it). They were also there to distract Usman, Rocky had thrown multiple leg kicks during the fight and there’s no reason why Usman would suspect a high kick coming (Edwards hadn’t thrown a single head kick all fight).
The most important aspect, however, was the loading of the hips and rear leg feints. It showed Rocky that Usman had a tendency to slip off to his right-hand side. Not only did Usman do this following the feints, but he also did this when Rocky threw the 1-2 earlier in the round. Edwards (as we saw) threw a 1-2 followed by a high kick and the strike landed with not only his own momentum but with the momentum of Usman dipping into it.
“headshot dead, that’s it….”
*All footage is owned by the UFC*