Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but Leon Edwards has potentially the biggest fight of his career ahead of him when he goes toe to the line against Nate Diaz at UFC 263 this weekend.
Despite being unbeaten in his last nine fights, Edwards has faced a constant string of bad luck over the past two years. From difficulty in finding opponents to a global pandemic halting “Rocky’s” run toward a title shot, it’s safe to say that his persistence and trust in the process has earned Edwards this opportunity to share the Octagon with a superstar like Diaz -- one where a dominant performance could give the British-Jamaican just what he needs to take his career to the next level.
“He’s one of the biggest names in the UFC at the moment,” Edwards told the UFC.com during his UFC 263 fight week interview. “For me to go out there and take him out would put me right where I need to be, which is fighting for the world title. That’s my focus, going out there, putting my best foot forward, performing to the best of my abilities and getting the victory.”
There couldn’t be a better storyline or better matchup for the first-ever non-main event or title fight to be scheduled for five rounds. Both the widely-respected Edwards and fan favorite Diaz are veterans of training for five rounds, and their ability to finish fights prior to the final horn makes this fight all the more intriguing.
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“I think with a person like Nate, he’s going to bring the best out of you,” the 29-year-old said. “He’s right there in front of you, you don’t have to go looking for him, and you know what he’s going to bring to the table. He’s been doing it now for his whole career, his patterns are the same. This is going to be a guy that brings the best out of me, and I cannot wait to show that to the world.”
A perennial title contender who seems to be constantly overlooked in the UFC welterweight division, Edwards has taken out names like Rafael Dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone and Vicente Luque during his rise to the top of a division reigned over by champion Kamaru Usman -- the last person to hand Edwards a loss, nearly six years ago.
It’s a name he’s had his sights set on for a while.
Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz Preview | UFC 263
Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz Preview | UFC 263
“It would be amazing to go back and defeat the guy who defeated me five years ago,” Edwards said, explaining what a title shot against Usman would mean to him beyond just bringing his career full circle. “To win the belt off him would just be an extra bonus. It would be good to go back and capture the world title from Kamaru.”
One who prefers to work in silence and just outside of the spotlight, while always carrying with him the champion mindset, what truly sets Edwards apart is his belief in himself and his training, no matter who or what stands in front of him.
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“My main aim is to be victorious and that’s it,” Edwards said. “I believe I’m going to win the fight anyway, I don’t believe that I’m going to be a spoiler because I’m meant to win the fight, I’m going to win the fight, and that’s all.”
Originally slated for the co-main event spot at UFC 262: Oliveira vs Chandler, this bout was pushed to the already-stacked UFC 263 card when Diaz revealed he sustained a minor injury during training. It was a situation Edwards wasn’t even fazed by, as the past two years primed him for almost any hiccup the sport might bring to the table.
“It was only an extra month. It’s not like they moved it six months down the line, so it wasn’t too bad,” Edwards said, chuckling. “I just had to taper off my training a little bit to peak at the right moment, and that’s what I did.”
While the Birmingham, England producr has faced his share of adversity in arguably the most important time of his career, he’s managed to focus on the bright side of every situation -- something that took a bit of fine tuning to be able to do.
“I feel the time out is definitely paying off. At the time, I was frustrated by it but now looking back on it, I’ve improved my martial arts leaps and bounds and it’s rare that someone in their prime gets a year out, just to improve. Normally, you’ve got back to back to back and you don’t get as much time to improve your skillset. So I see the time now as a blessing.
“Now, I just believe everything happens for a reason, you know? It taught me to enjoy the process a little bit more. I’ve learned to take it in stride and embrace the journey - the ups and the downs - and it’s made me a better person over the last year and a half, skill wise and mental wise.”
If everything happens for a reason, then the hurdles Edwards has had to clear not only over the past two years, but throughout his life, undoubtedly have to be leading to greener pastures.
First, it’s Nate Diaz. Next, time can only tell. But regardless of what fate has in store for Leon Edwards, his goals will always remain the same: to prove that no matter where you come from, no matter what you go through, you can always become a champion.