For an athlete coming out of an unexpected and potentially soul-crushing defeat, perspective is critically important. Kamaru Usman could look back on his knockout loss to Leon Edwards in the waning seconds of the final round of a bout he was set to win by a wide decision at UFC 278 on August 20 in many ways.
He is approaching the age of 36 and has been fighting professionally for 10 years. He has been competing in combat sports for most of his life. Losses can be a natural passage of time and may indicate the inevitable decline that nearly every MMA fighter experiences at some point.
Osman, of course, doesn’t see it that way. The bout at UFC 278 was a rematch of their fight in 2015, when Usman controlled it from start to finish and won it with his wrestling. And though he lost his championship belt, as well as his 19-bout winning streak and recognition as the pound-for-pound champion of the world, Usman mostly remembers UFC 278 in a positive light.
“The thing that people are failing to realize is that this was not the first time I fought Leon Edwards,” Usman told Yahoo Sports. “I fought him before and that first fight felt like that second fight.”
Edwards won the first round at UFC 278 – a rarity for anyone in the UFC – but Usman took control in round 2. He won rounds 2, 3 and 4. Between the fourth and fifth, Edwards’ coach Dave Lovell was pleading with him to fight more aggressively.
“You’ve got to put this f*** out of the fire,” Lovell said at one point in the break before the dramatic final round.
Usman was in command in the last round. He pushed on and was clearly going to the finish, trying to put an exclamation mark on what was for the most part an extraordinary finish. Had he stayed away, simply kept Edwards out and not tried to get involved in the final 90 seconds, he would have won a decision and still remained champion.
Most importantly, he will not face Edwards in a rubber match in the main event of UFC 286 at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday.
None of Osman’s coaches, from Trevor Wittman on down, urged him to play it safe because they, more than anyone, understand what the man goes through. And Usman is not one to play it safe.
“The thing is, my coach and my corner, they know who I am, they know what I do and they know how hard I work, how hard I work my body,” Usman said. ” “Early in my career, there were a few fights where I played it a little safe. I felt terrible after those. I didn’t do the amount of work I did, the amount of trauma I put on my body.” I don’t think I’ve represented [in those early fights where I played it safe],
“That’s the fun thing and the crazy thing about what we do. When you work out as much as we do in the gym, you want to leave it all there. And so I always want to leave it all there.” “
Usman is eager for the opportunity to fight Edwards for a third time in order to set things right in his mind.
Edwards has some psychological advantages in the fight, including that the kick wasn’t just some random, out-of-the-blue Hail Mary that happened to land. Just like new women’s flyweight champion Alexa Grasso practiced a back take to upset superstar Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 285, videos have hit the internet showing Edwards practicing the kick.
This, then, was no fluke.
Also, Usman was knocked down by Edwards for the first time in his career. While Edwards is a striker – and one of the best in the business – the fact that he was able to take down Usman should give the former champion pause.
However, Usman was not at all concerned with Edwards’ wrestling ability.
Osman said, “To be honest, he can’t knock me down. He can’t do that.” “That one happened and it was a weird thing, and it was because of me being lazy. I was lazy in that situation. I wasn’t as stingy as I was when I was going up against a guy like Gilbert Burns or someone like Colby Covington. Boy. When I’m going up against guys that I know wanna take me down, you know, I’m stingy out there. It’s stingy and it’s shutout. That’s how I get into those fights .
“I guess you could say that’s where I made a little mistake because I didn’t respect [his ability to take me down], When he hooked my leg, I twisted my leg. I was trying to roll him over. I didn’t calculate their leverage. I give him props for this. Leon Edwards isn’t going to shoot a shot and get on my leg and bring me down. impossible.”
Of course, intelligent viewers of MMA have learned over time to expect the unexpected. And it was certainly unexpected to see Kamaru Usman on the floor as Leon Edwards paraded in with the newly won welterweight championship belt.
Usman is as smart as he gets in this game, but he is pretty sure the rubber match will be similar to the first two bouts, except without the spectacular, life-changing head kick at the end.