A quick run through the Instagram page of welterweight contender Leon Edwards, and you can’t miss the photos of boxing legends throughout his feed.
From Tommy Hearns and the late, great Pernell Whitaker to Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson, Edwards’ love for the sweet science is clear. But is this a signal that he’s looking to dip his toe in the ring?
“Not really,” laughs Edwards. “They’re just all my favorite boxers and something to relate to, really. They’re all great champions that inspired me as a kid to do what I’m doing. I’m a big fan of boxing and all the men that did this and the journey they’ve been on and the lives they’ve lived.”
Edwards is living that life as a prizefighter now, and it’s been a good one so far, as he enters his UFC San Antonio main event against Rafael Dos Anjos as the 12th ranked 170-pounder in the world and one on a seven-fight winning streak. But just like Ali and Johnson were more than just fighters in terms of their impact, Edwards is also thinking outside of just what happens in the Octagon.
“My thing is to prove to underprivileged kids that they can be whatever they want to be in life and they don’t have to finish where they started,” said Birmingham, England’s Edwards, a native of Kingston, Jamaica. “That’s how I want to impact the world. I came from nothing and I want to prove to kids that are in the same position that I was in as a kid that you can come from nothing and still be on top of the world and be whatever you want to be in life. The journey don’t have to end at where you started. You don’t have to follow in your parents’ or family’s footsteps; you can change your family’s future and be whatever you want to be in life if you work hard at it.”
Edwards has put in that work, going from a relative unknown to a second UFC headlining gig in his last three fights, as well as a fighter who has evolved from striker to mixed martial artist.
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“When I came to the UFC I was more of a striker than anything, but I’ve been in the UFC now for five years and I’ve improved leaps and bounds,” said Edwards. “I’m well-rounded, I’ve outgrappled grapplers, I’ve outstruck strikers and I feel like I can do it all. I’m good anywhere the fight goes, I’m not worried about getting taken down or in striking, so it feels good.”
His opponents may disagree, and the names on his list of conquests keep getting bigger. He holds a win over surging Vicente Luque, longtime contender Donald Cerrone and Icelandic ground wizard Gunnar Nelson, and beating a former world champion in Dos Anjos may end up being the biggest feather in his cap. Yet despite his success, “Rocky” flies under the radar. And that has to be frustrating.
“At one point it did bother me,” he admits. “But now, I trust in my journey, and maybe that wasn’t my journey. This is the path I’m on, this is the path I chose for myself, this is what I’m doing and I don’t feel I need to do what people want me to do. As long as they pay me my check, that’s all that matters. I’m in it to create wealth for my family and change my family’s future and that’s that. Whether you love me or hate me, that’s none of my business. I focus on competing, I focus on being one of the best in the world and focus on getting paid, and that’s it.”
Come on, who hates Leon Edwards?
The 27-year-old laughs, as far from a polarizing figure as you will see in any sport. Edwards simply shows up, does his job and then it’s back to the gym. It’s not flashy, but it’s working, and he’s fine with taking the slow and steady road to the top because he knows when he does get there, he’ll be ready.
“I believe I’m one of the best fighters in the world and I believe I can beat any man on any given day,” he said. “I trust in my path and I believe I’m number one, so I don’t worry about what another man’s doing or what they’re saying or how they’re approaching their fight game. It might work for them, but I’ve always been taught that if you rush in, you leave yourself open. I’ve trusted my journey this far and it’s paid off this far. I’m on a seven-fight winning streak in one of the hardest divisions in the sport and it’s all going well. So I’m looking forward to Saturday and going out there and beating a former world champion in RDA. That will make it an eight-fight winning streak and put me in contention for a world title shot.”
Sounds like a plan, one that may reach a winning conclusion before he even hits his prime. Now that’s scary.
“I’m only 27 years old, and I’m not even in my prime yet,” Edwards said. “I’m getting better every day, so I will be a world champion, and when that day comes, I’ll look forward to it, but the best is definitely coming. I feel good, I feel strong, I feel fit, I’m young, I’m mentally focused and it’s good.”