At this point in Leon Edwards’ career (now 29), it’s perhaps acceptable to say that he is still one of Europe’s most underlooked fighters.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Edwards spent most of his time growing up in Birmingham after his family emigrated to the UK. He wears both the Union Jack and flag of Jamaica with pride on his way to the octagon, and attributes his experiences in both countries as reasons for his introduction to MMA at 16 years-old.
With an eight-fight win streak, and only two UFC losses, one a split decision, the other a decision to the current welterweight king (Kamaru Usman), there’s no doubt he’s earned his top 5 place among one of MMA’s toughest decisions. He hasn’t had it easy, and it isn’t about to get any easier, with the highly anticipated bout against Khamzat Chimaev who’s extremely keen take his first stab at a ranked opponent.
It’s been over a year since we last saw Rocky’s last fight, and with all the questions being asked about his eagerly awaited collision with Chimaev, what better time to refresh your memory as we step Inside the Mind of Leon Edwards!
From Kingston, Jamaica to Aston, UK
Edwards was born to a loving family who would always protect him, but nothing could cover his eyes from his neighbourhood’s state of crime, poverty and desperation, nor shield his ears from hearing frequent gunshots on the streets.
“Killing became normal to me as a kid. Hearing gunshots was normal; it did not faze me”, Edwards told ESPN. The gruelling aspects of daily life in Kingston undoubtedly prepared Rocky’s mindset for enduring pain, punishment and struggle.
Crime-Ridden Neighbourhoods, Gangs & Exposure to Fighting
Making the move to the UK at 9 years-old, he spent the remainder of his childhood growing up in Aston, which is notoriously notable for it’s crime-ridden neighbourhoods, mainly due to gang culture, which is where he was first exposed to fighting.
“I didn’t plan to get into a gang. It’s just what you did. It was a means of survival. People don’t understand that your options are limited when you don’t know any better.”
He acknowledges that his father’s murder ignited a darker, more powerful drive in his gang activity, and he would frequently get into street fights, eventually earning the nickname, ‘Rocky’ among his peers.
MMA Saved His Life
Edwards naturally had the fighting spirit, but it wasn’t until the age of 17 that he was first introduced to the sport of MMA.
He’d not been an MMA fan, and had barely any idea of what it actually was, but to his mother, it was a path to put his fighting instinct to good use and redirect his energy from the streets. Edwards subsequently enrolled at the Ultimate Training Centre in Erdington.
After eight months’ of training, he made his amateur debut, allegedly competing (and winning) four times in a single day as part of a local tournament at the UTC.
Fabian Edwards, His Brother in Combat
In the Edwards family, Leon isn’t the only one making waves in mixed martial arts. His younger brother, Fabian, is currently signed with Bellator MMA, and currently holds a record of 9-1.
Leon’s junior by two years, Fabian is young in his career, and one can only imagine how glorious two brothers simultaneously clutching the title belts of their respected premier promotions would look.
Changing the Face of UK MMA
When former UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping retired in 2018, the door opened wide for a new star on the British MMA scene. It’s a market that the UFC has always held to great importance, especially as the sport continues to grow.
With Darren Till’s stellar performance against Donald Cerrone timing in well with this, it seemed he was the logical fit for Britain’s new MMA flag-bearer. He catapulted up the ladder, taking just two ranked fights before losing to Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title, and has since lost three out of his last four.
Now, we’re not saying that it’s game over for Till, but with Edwards still riding one of the division’s longest current winning streaks, he has a legitimate chance of becoming Britain’s most recognised MMA talent. He’s fighting in one of the most tested divisions historically, and is potentially one performance away from a title shot.
Edwards’ Well-Rounded Skills, Historically Rare for a Brit
The other interesting point to make about Edwards is how well-rounded he is, which has tragically always been a rare attribute for British MMA fighters. With some of the best boxers, kickboxers and traditional martial artists in the world, our nation has never fully embraced grappling to the same extent as countries like the US, Brazil, and Russia.
Edwards however, started as a pure mixed martial artist, without the prior experience or bias per se, of any specific discipline and this has really shown throughout his career.
Good Wrestling, Sound Jiu-Jitsu & Crisp Striking
He’s gone through elite grapplers like Gunnar Nelson, and legends like Donald Cerrone and Rafael Dos Anjos, showing off good wrestling, sound jiu-jitsu and crisp striking.
Kamaru Usman got the better of Rocky last time they fought, but there’s no doubt both have shown significant improvements, and their first bout wasn’t particularly that one-sided, making the prospect of a title bout still a very interesting one.
Was 2020 An Unfortunate Step Back?
On paper, you probably wouldn’t expect the no.3-ranked welterweight in the world on an eight-fight win streak to be matched up with an unranked opponent, but we think soon, Edwards will welcome the unbeaten Khamzat Chimaev to the rankings, after a year of inactivity.
He’s had two fights already called off this year, with the closest resemblance to a fight coming in a bout with Covid-19, which isn’t exactly a step up the ladder.
COVID-19: Both Edwards & Chimaev Tested Positive
Chimaev also had to pull out of the scheduled January 20th bout as he tested positive for Covid. His manager Ali Abdelaziz said: Khamzat had coronavirus, and when he went back to the gym, his lungs had not recovered 100 percent. He took X-rays and blood tests and he needs more time for his lungs to recover. As you know, coronavirus attacks people’s lungs, and right now, it’s about taking that necessary time for him to heal correctly.
As things stand, Chimaev is a legitimate threat to anyone in the welterweight and middleweight divisions, and if anyone can find some good from the doomed year that was 2020, it’s him. He’s run through everyone they’ve put in front of him in just a matter of months.
When it Finally Happens, Leon Really MUST Beat Chimaev
A win against Chimaev here would do nothing at all to Edwards’ ranking, but a loss could cost him everything. Losing to an unranked opponent would surely mean that his place in the rankings will fall dramatically, if rankings still mean anything.
That being said, derailing the hype train of the Russian-born Swede would hopefully mean a big push for Rocky. Dana White has hinted that a win here could very well earn him a title shot, but it would surely need to happen in dramatic fashion.
The Next Major British Champion?
With Rocky potentially one stunning performance away from an opportunity at becoming Britain’s second major champion, 2021 could really be Leon Edwards’ year!
He’s also got unfinished business with Jorge Masvidal, after the infamous ‘three piece and soda’ incident back in 2019. While Masvidal isn’t interested in that fight anytime soon, Edwards climbing to the top could create a huge money fight between the two somewhere down the line.