Leon Edwards: Inside The Mind of Birmingham’s Own ‘Rocky’

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.

Leon Edwards sports both UK and Jamaica flags

Leon Edwards sports both UK and Jamaica flags

“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.

Leon with brother Fabian

Leon with brother Fabian

As we’ve seen with the Diaz brothers, the Nogueira’s and even Jon Jones’ sporting family, growing up as siblings of combat definitely has its advantages in building tough, experienced fighting IQs.

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.

With an extreme-life backstory giving rise to a solid career so far, we’re incredibly excited to see where the future takes Rocky as well as the landscape of British MMA.

Who is your favourite MMA fighter that’s on the rise at the moment? Which fighter would you like to see KFK’d next? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram.

So there we have it folks; a closer look at the back ground story and narrative behind Leon “Rocky” Edwards, the multi-skilled no.3-ranked UFC Welterweight fighter. With 18 wins, at only 29 years-old, do you think he’ll be able to defeat the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev when the match finally happens? Which of his traits do you gel with most, and what’s your fave “Rocky” fight?

RESURRECT YOUR HIDDEN ROCKY IN 2021 in the KINGDOM of FU, starting with our exclusive interview with Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Lennox Lewis, interview with ONE’s Featherweight World Champion: Thanh Le, our MMA specials: Khabib Nurmagomedov: Inside the Mind of the Russian Eagle, & Jorge Masvidal: Inside the Mind of a Real-Life Street Fighter, Top 5 Crazy Knockouts, Top 5 MMA series, Top 5 MMA Finishes of 2020, GET IN THE GAME IN KFK GEAR and subscribe for more STREETWISE MOVES on YouTube!

Oliver Gibbs

From an early age, Ollie developed a deep love for Asian action cinema and subsequently the more traditional martial arts. He trained and competed in judo up to his university years and now enjoys nothing more than covering combat sports as a journalist!

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