Rivalries and Trilogies – The Tale of UFC 286

Tyler Spadafore, Reporter

When you hear people talking about combat sport rivalries retaining to mixed martial arts, you may hear them mention Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier, Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz, or even Michael Bisping vs George St. Pierre. On Saturday, March 18, one of the best MMA rivalry fights took place.

UFC 286 is one of the biggest fight cards of the year and the main event is the cause of that interest. The main event was a five round bout between welterweight veteran and previous champion, Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman vs current champion Leon “Rocky” Edwards.

Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman have fought two times before UFC 286 and they split performances. When Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards first fought in 2015, Usman got the better of the Englishman after three rounds via unanimous decision. They met again for a rematch in 2022 on UFC 278 when Usman was then the champion. The second fight was going in a similar direction with Usman coasting to a seemingly easy win. With one minute left in the final round, Leon Edwards had a “Rocky” moment himself and pulled off an iconic come from behind fifth round knockout victory. Leon Edwards head kicked Kamaru Usman who had defended the welterweight belt six times before the rematch with Leon Edwards.

Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman were then 1-1 and needed a trilogy to settle the score. Critics believed that Leon’s win was a fluke and that Usman was going to dominate Leon in the trilogy. The sport books agreed with the critics and believed that Usman was a -345 betting favorite. Despite the critics and the betting odds, Leon Edwards ignored the noise and believed that he would put on a performance that would make the home London crowd proud and end with him having the welterweight belt around his waist.

And that Leon did, Leon Edwards looked like a different fighter in comparison to the second fight. Leon started the fight with cracking liver kicks from his southpaw stance, increasing Usman’s urgency to grapple. Leon continued with leg kicks which caused visible damage to Kamaru’s lead leg. Leon continued this game plan as well as defending the multiple take down attempts Kamaru shot throughout the fight. Edwards went for the signature head kick in the opening sequence of the final round, but Usman was ready for it. Kamaru tried to wrestle again, but again was denied. The champion started to let his strikes go again, tagging Usman with more kicks to the legs and body. Again Usman tried to wrestle, and again Leon shut him down.

Leon Edwards defeated Kamaru Usman by majority decision serving as Leon’s first title defense in the welterweight division. This victory proved to all of the doubters that Leon “Rocky” Edwards is the real deal and his magnificent comeback victory was not a fluke.