The UFC have confirmed that Leon Edwards will make his first defence of the UFC welterweight championship against former champ Kamaru Usman when the organisation returns to London's O2 Arena on 18th March for UFC 286.
It will be almost a year to the day after an unforgettable card in London when Tom Aspinall, Arnold Allen, Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann all recorded wins in front of a boisterous home crowd, and the UFC will be hoping for a similarly memorable night.
The UFC returned to London in July on the back of a successful event in March, with Aspinall looking to put himself into title contention, and while McCann and Pimblett recorded wins again, the main event was cut painfully short with Aspinall suffering a knee injury in the first round.
The event will mark Leon Edwards’ first return to the Octagon after recording one of the most shocking finishes in UFC history last August, following reports that Kamaru Usman asked to fight Edwards in London.
While the Birmingham man started the fight well, taking the first round from the champion, Usman came on strong, taking the next three rounds and easing his way to a comfortable decision victory before Edwards’ head-kick knocked the Nigerian Nightmare out.
Usman had won 19 straight MMA fights and had cleaned out the welterweight division, beating the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal (twice) and Colby Covington (twice) and was the second-longest-reigning welterweight champion, behind only the legendary Georges St-Pierre.
Going into the fight, Usman was being considered amongst the all-time greats, not just for his number of title wins, but the manner of them.
As pound-for-pound number one, he was a big favourite going into the rematch with Edwards (the pair actually fought in Usman’s second UFC fight, where Usman won by unanimous decision, which, incidentally, was the last time Edwards lost a fight) and was an even bigger favourite going into the final round, but Edwards’ stoppage with less than a minute to go gave Great Britain its second UFC champion.
For so long, Edwards was one of the UFC’s hard-luck tales. Establishing himself as one of the world’s best welterweights, Rocky was set to fight Tyron Woodley in 2020, but Covid meant the fight was cancelled. Edwards was then set to fight Khamzat Chimaev, with his opponent contracting Covid, postponing another fight.
Belal Muhammad was then confirmed as Edwards’ next opponent, but in another cruel twist, an accidental eye poke meant Muhammad was unable to continue, just seconds into the second round.
Edwards finally got a full fight out of Nate Diaz later that year, with the former lightweight contender very nearly causing an upset of his own late into the fifth round, with Edwards having dominated the previous four.
And at long last, following another withdrawal, this time from Jorge Masvidal, Edwards was granted a title shot which he grasped with both hands to have the belt wrapped around his waist.
Unfortunately, British favourites Arnold Allen, Molly McCann and Paddy Pimblett will all be missing from the card. A blockbuster fight between Allen and Max Holloway was reportedly being lined up, and while it doesn't look set to happen on these shores, fans will be keeping fingers crossed that the bout does at least happen somewhere in 2023.
McCann will also be missing having announced her intention to take a break from the Octagon following her defeat to Erin Blanchfield at UFC 281, while Pimblett requires surgery on an ankle injury.
In better news, Justin Gaethje was also announced as the co-main event to take on rising lightweight Rafael Fiziev in what promises to be an absolute barn-burner.
With what has already been announced, as well as the promise of more fights to come, it's sure to be an unforgettable night in London.