UFC welterweight contender Leon Edwards stoked for return to Octagon

LAS VEGAS — It’s not usually the best idea when one fights as often as there is a Congressional election, but through no fault of his own, that’s the position that Leon Edwards finds himself in as he prepares to fight Belal Muhammad on Saturday at Apex.

After an impressive victory over Rafael dos Anjos on July 20, 2019, in San Antonio, Edwards moved up to third in the UFC’s welterweight ratings.

And then, well, he basically disappeared.

He was scheduled to fight Tyron Woodley a couple of times and then Khamzat Chimaev a couple of other times. But for various and sundry reasons, the bouts were postponed, so Edwards basically stayed on the sideline as the sport went along without him.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs in the last year or so,” said Edwards, whose problems coincide with the start of the pandemic. “There have been a lot of frustrating times and I’d wonder what was going on. But I’m back in good spirits. I’m back in good health. I’m happy to be competing again.”

Edwards paused a second before he continued that sentence. And given what he’s been through, it’s hard to blame him for being a little gun-shy.

He probably won’t fully believe he’s active again until he makes the walk to the cage and sees Muhammad in there awaiting him. That’s when he’ll know it’s real.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - JULY 20:  (L-R) Leon Edwards of Jamaica punches Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center on July 20, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Leon Edwards punches Rafael Dos Anjos in their UFC welterweight bout on July 20, 2019. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“It’s a couple of days away, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Edwards said, laughing. “There’s not much I can do but hope things go ahead as planned.”

Edwards’ week was made much better when UFC president Dana White said that he’d get the next chance at champion Kamaru Usman should he defeat Muhammad on Saturday.

There was talk that it might be either No. 1 Colby Covington or No. 4 Jorge Masvidal, but White was unequivocal that with a win, Edwards would get the shot.

Edwards, a -275 favorite at BetMGM, has reeled off eight consecutive wins since his last loss, which came on Dec. 19, 2015, against Usman.

It’s an obstacle to overcome, but he’s overcome much more in his life. He was born in a one-room home in Jamaica that had just one bed in which he slept as a child with his parents and his brothers.

He grew up in a crime-infested area and witnessed killings first-hand. The family moved to England when he was young but he was again in a bad area and got into a gang.

He’s overcome much to get where he is, so he’s not going to let a previous loss or coronavirus issues throw him off track.

“Everyone has their own story, but I know what it is like to come up the absolute hardest way and earn everything you get,” he said.

Even as he’s become successful, though, he’s still had to deal with racism. As a Black man in a majority white country, he’s gotten used to being treated differently because of the color of his skin.

He wasn’t among those shocked by Oprah Winfrey’s interview Sunday with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, his wife who is the Duchess of Sussex. They alleged racism in the royal family and that the royals were concerned about the color of Markle’s son, Archie, before he was born.

It was an all too familiar refrain for Edwards.

“Racism is 100 percent in the U.K., no doubt about it,” Edwards said. “It’s not as loud or as overt as it is in the U.S., but it’s there and it’s just as bad. I’ve faced it. I’ve faced it in my career and in my personal life.

“It’s sad, really, what [Markle] is going through. She just had a baby and this should be the happiest time of her life. She should be enjoying this time with her new baby and her husband and instead she has to go through this. It’s terrible.”

But he’s looking forward, not back, and hopes to hit the pinnacle of his professional career later this year by winning the title.

It would be a remarkable turnaround given his beginning, but he doesn’t want to lose sight of what is important. And there is no Usman fight without a win over Muhammad.

Considering how long he has had to wait, he’d be happy with a fight against the Apex custodian if it came down to it.

“I want to be active and I’m happy to put the past behind me,” Edwards said. “I have to remind everyone of who I am, but I will do that [on Saturday]. I am so well prepared and I am ready to go five hard rounds. It’s just a great feeling to be back and doing what I love.”

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