Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards serves as the main event of UFC 278 as we see a rematch seven years in the making. In their first meeting, we saw Usman’s pressure and wrestling overwhelm Edwards to deliver Usman the unanimous decision.
Despite the dominance in the first fight, no one could deny Leon Edwards his second shot at the title. Having gone 9-0-1 since losing to Usman, Edwards has displayed massive jumps in his game, truly rounding out his skill set with stellar Muay Thai grappling, and impressive takedown defense. In his fight with Nate Diaz, he took Diaz down with relative ease, almost at will. He was also getting the better of the exchanges on the ground until Diaz attempted a leg lock, and opted to keep things standing for the rest of the fight.
Usman on the other hand has fallen in love with his hands of late. Many speculate that this is in order to try and extend the longevity of his knees, given the decades of wrestling. Regardless of the reason, Usman has found his power. Against Gilbert Burns, he was like a kid with a new toy, putting Burns down with his power jab. Against Jorge Masvidal, he looked unbeatable, landing the cross on Masvidal several times. Many believed that he would prove himself clear of Colby Covington in their rematch, but Usman was unable to finish Covington.
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards – By The Numbers
While the stats never lie, the victory in Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards will lay in who has improved most in their opponent’s realm. The numbers below (credit @NateLatshaw) show us that the numbers themselves are extraordinarily close in everything except takedowns. However, as noted, Usman hasn’t been chasing them nearly as much as he used to. Edwards on the other hand secured 4/5 takedowns against Nate Diaz.
The other notable stat is that Leon’s striking accuracy and distance striking are higher than Usman’s. Leon tends to punish opponents who overextend themselves in striking, which Usman is prone to doing.
Takedowns and Shutouts
As mentioned, Edwards has been far more willing to go to the ground as of late, taking Nate Diaz down four times out of an attempted five. However, these were all sneaky little inside trips and jiu-jitsu takedowns, and we haven’t seen him sprawl in quite some time. There are a lot more unknowns about Edwards’ grappling game, owing to his less active schedule of late.
On the other hand, Usman has been keeping his wrestling as a plan B, and has been seemingly enjoying his hands. However, he was taken down by Colby Covington (despite what the official stats say), and it was from Covington taking his back and dragging him down. Edwards displayed growth in this skill brilliantly against Diaz. After he got Diaz to the ground, his transitions and defensive work shone brightly.
The big question in the grappling exchanges are whether Usman will want to wrestle, or save his knees, and whether Edwards will be capable of denying them. However, if Edwards can not, his massively improved jiu-jitsu will continue to give Usman something else to think about.
Fundamentals vs. Fun-And-Mental
Usman’s recent standup fights have been a tale of his mastery over the fundamentals. Looking like a kid with a new toy he wanted to show off against both Burns and Masvidal, he added some nice hooks to his repertoire against Covington in their rematch. However, he does leave himself open after some big shots, and tends to move his head minimally, and when he does, along lateral and anterior lines.
When Usman does back up, he leaves his head open in a way very similar to Dominick Cruz. As we saw last week, this leaves him open to counters when breaking off engagements. We saw Covington fail to capitalize on this in their rematch, but Edwards’ length and kicks may be able to make the connection.
Edwards has displayed an excellent ability to punish his opponents if they overshoot. He displayed this excellently against Belal Muhammad and Diaz. However, he does tend to over commit to some strikes himself. This will open him up to grappling exchanges from Usman. Edwards’ differentiator in this fight will be his leg kicks, which are brutal. Edwards is more than willing to chop at the lead leg in order to set up more damaging shots and take the strength out of his opponents legs.
Edwards is also significantly more experienced in his use of elbows and knees. Landing several spinning elbows on Diaz as they separated from clinch positions, if Edwards can land a few of these, it will strongly discourage Usman from spending too long in those positions.
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards – The Prediction
It’s extremely difficult to cap against Kamaru Usman, given his recent insane consistency lately. His mastery of the fundamentals of striking, having found his power and his wrestling heavy base make him deserving of his P4P #1 status. However, Leon Edwards is levels above the next best striker Usman has fought in Masvidal as a mixed martial artist. His submission threat and massively improved jiu-jitsu make him formidable for anyone.
If Edwards can prevent Usman getting in close, and punish Usman’s longer, lunging shots while defending the takedown, Edwards has a really good chance of becoming England’s second UFC champion. However, that is a lot of ‘ifs’, and Diaz had Edwards on wobbly legs with a right feint to left cross – the mirror of the shot that Usman used to put Jorge Masvidal down.
Edwards’ path to victory will likely lie in chopping Usman’s lead leg, particularly the knee. If Edwards can incorporate oblique kicks into his arsenal, it may dissuade Usman from striking at distance, and force him to close the distance. From there, Edwards’ elbows will be a large factor, as well as his ability to keep off the cage and off the ground.
Prediction: And Still. Kamaru Usman R4 TKO.
How do you think Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards plays out on Saturday night?
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