Leon Edwards had been lobbying for the chance to share the Octagon with Donald Cerrone for some time and once the bout was finally booked, the surging British welterweight wasn’t shy about telling the veteran and everyone else that was listening that “Cowboy” was “old and slow” and not capable of hanging with him in the cage.
Early in the first round, that appeared to be the case as Edwards quickly opened up a cut just above Cerrone’s right eye with a well-placed knee in the clinch. Despite it being the biggest fight of his career and his first main card assignment, the Englishman showed no sign of jitters, thwarting Cerrone’s takedown attempts and countering every offensive offering his experienced adversary had to offer.
By the end of the second, Cerrone’s face and chest, as well as sections of the canvas, were stained dyed red from the constant stream of crimson running out of the cut above the American’s eye. But while Edwards enjoyed more early success, the savvy Cerrone started to claw back into the contest, stinging “Rocky” with a couple clean shots and connecting with a high kick late in the frame.
As the middle stanza began, both came out showing a greater sense of urgency, with Cerrone trying to press forward and Edwards snapping out sharp counters from the outside. With the flow of blood from the side of his eye stemmed and his confidence rising, Cerrone started turning up the pace, starting combinations with shots to the body and forcing Edwards to stuff multiple takedown attempts. Though the Birmingham man had his moments, the old school gunslinger started to find his rhythm as they reached the main event rounds.
With the pace slowing in the fourth, the spirited affair turned into a more tactical battle, with Edwards sticking Cerrone with clean counters as he looked to press forward. Late in the frame, however, the former WEC standout swept the feet out from under Edwards, putting him on the canvas. But he couldn’t keep him there and when they rose, his face was again awash in crimson, the cut over his eye having been opened up once more.
The crowd roared as the final five minutes began, saluting the welterweight combatants and thrusting Edwards and Cerrone forward into the last round.
Throughout the frame, it was “Cowboy” coming forward and “Rocky” responding from the outside, momentarily stunting Cerrone’s advances with clean single shots. With just over 90 seconds remaining, the veteran put his confident younger foe on the canvas, but Edwards again returned to his feet without taking any real damage.
With 15 seconds left in the fight, they channeled Max Holloway and Ricardo Lamas at UFC 199, pointing to the center of the Octagon and agreeing to slug it out to the horn, sharing an embrace after having traded blows for 25 minutes.
Both men believed they had done enough to earn the decision, but when the tens and nines were tallied, it was Edwards who emerged with the biggest win of his career, collecting a trio of 48-47 scores to sweep the scorecards and push his wining streak to six.
While Cerrone proved that the old, slow gunslinger still has plenty left to offer, this was a major moment for the 26-year-old from Birmingham.
After quietly climbing into the Top 15 with wins over Albert Tumenov, Vicente Luque and Peter Sobotta as part of his five-fight run of success, he took full advantage of his first headlining assignment, commanding the spotlight in the lead up to the bout and delivering a quality in his first headlining assignment.
Edwards asked for the opportunity, Cerrone obliged him and the British upstart made the most of it, introducing himself to all those that hadn’t been paying attention and solidifying his place amongst the collection of improving, advancing young talents making steady progress up the divisional ladder.