Leon Edwards of Jamaica participates in the UFC Fight Night Open Workout at OCBC Square on June 20, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah - Zuffa LLC)" align="center" />As soon as Leon Edwards found out that he was going to headline the UFC’s return to Sinagpore this weekend against perennial contender Donald Cerrone, it was all business.
That even applied to press appearances with “Cowboy” in Singapore and Brooklyn.
“I think for Cowboy, he likes to be friendly with his opponents, and he wants to laugh and joke, but that’s not for me,” said Edwards. “I explained to him after the press conference that there will be no friendship. There was nothing there. And going over there this time will be a totally different thing. We’re going over there for war now.”
It’s a 14-hour trip for Edwards from England to Dubai to Singapore, not the most pleasant of journeys, but one he eagerly took both for the press tour to announce the bout and for Saturday’s fight. And that first trip did help.
“I got to see the weather and what it’s like over there,” he said. “The time difference and just seeing what they’ve got over there and how the fans react to us. So a hundred percent, it helped me to know how to handle it.”
Those are the logistics, which are always good to have under control. As to handling his first UFC main event and the spotlight shining directly on him and Cerrone, the Birmingham welterweight is doing just fine with that too. In fact, he’s looking at this as just another fight.
“I’m just focusing on getting in a fight, putting him away and going from there,” he said. “I’ll look back on it after it’s all done. But for now, it’s just another fight for me. Another fight, same cage, just a different opponent. That’s all it is. I’m just focusing on the job at hand.”
See, all business. It’s what got the 26-year-old to this stage, and after five consecutive Octagon wins, the No. 13-ranked Brit now has opportunity to headline against a veteran action hero.
Win, and everything changes. But he’s not about to let a possible future dictate a present he controls.
“I know it’s a big fight, headlining the Singapore bill and fighting a legend like Donald Cerrone, but it makes no difference to me,” he reiterates. “I’m going out there to put him away and carry on with my career. My goal is to get to that world title and I have to go out there and perform. I’ve got to go out there and make a statement and prove to the rest of the division that I belong in the top five.”
Edwards has made a steady climb since his UFC debut in 2014, bouncing back from a split decision loss to Claudio Silva to win seven of his next eight, the only setback coming against fellow contender Kamaru Usman. But it’s been on this recent five-fight winning streak where Edwards has evolved from a striker who showed why he was nicknamed “Rocky” to a well-rounded mixed martial artist with championship potential. That’s been satisfying, but he also knows that to break through to the next level, he has to balance winning and winning with style.
“For years going back, the statement was that the European guys can’t wrestle,” Edwards said. “So I’ve looked forward to going out there and showing that we’ve got wrestling over here and prove to the rest of the world that we’ve got guys here that can wrestle against the Americans or whoever. But now, I’m looking to go back to my old style and looking to start putting these guys away. I don’t feel like just winning in the UFC is enough anymore. I feel like you have to perform and put on a show to get to where you want to get to, so my goal is to put Cowboy away.”
When Darren Till pulled off a stoppage of Cerrone, it propelled him up the 170-pound ladder and made him a star. Edwards is confident that he can repeat that feat and get a similar push, especially given Cerrone’s aggressive style, which means “Rocky” won’t have to look too hard to find “Cowboy” on fight night.
“Cerrone’s pretty much a straight line fighter – he comes forward, goes backwards - so I don’t have to go look for him,” Edwards said. “He’ll play right into my hands and this will be a good fight for me to showcase my skill set and show the rest of the world that I belong and solidify my name this year.”
It’s a name he’s earned. He didn’t trash talk or blow up social media to get here. He did it with his fists and a healthy dose of hard work. That’s something no one can take away.
“It feels great that I’ve earned my way up,” Edwards said. “I didn’t talk and then jump the queue. It feels good to know that I worked my ass off and am getting to where I want to get to. It’s a good thing for the kids around my area and in the gym to see that you can achieve great things just by being yourself and working hard.”