Britain’s Leon Edwards retained his welterweight title in front of his home fans as he beat Kamaru Usman by majority decision at UFC 286 in London.
Edwards, 31, was the more dangerous striker throughout as he prevented the majority of Usman’s takedown attempts.
The victory over Usman, 35, sees Edwards make his first title defence since beating the Nigerian in August.
The bout at the O2 Arena was billed as the biggest British MMA fight in history.
In shocking Usman to avenge a 2015 defeat and win the title in August, Edwards became just the second British UFC champion and first since Michael Bisping in 2016.
Edwards’ achievement prompted the UFC to host a trilogy bout and its first numbered show in Britain since 2016, when Bisping defended his middleweight title against Dan Henderson in Manchester.
Following victory, Jamaican-born Edwards opened the door to a fight with former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington, who was sat at cage-side, but also said he might travel to Miami in April to see Jorge Masvidal’s fight with Gilbert Burns.
“That man [Covington] has sat out for two years. I might take a little trip to Miami and see what’s going on there,” said Edwards.
“I know it was a close fight so I knew I had to land the cleaner shots. He didn’t land many clean on me. He just had lots of pressure. Thanks to Kamaru for being a great competitor.”
Edwards cements best welterweight status
Edwards’ win over Usman in August ended his dominance of the division, the then pound-for-pound number one having been on a 14-fight UFC win streak that yielded a title win in 2019 followed by five successful defences.
The first sighting of Edwards on the night brought a huge cheer as the big screen showed the champion arriving at the arena to the theme of Eye of the Tiger – a song synonymous with the boxing movie Rocky, which inspired Edwards’ nickname.
Anticipation grew throughout the evening as celebrities filtered into the sold-out arena for the historic event, including snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan and actors Jared Leto, Anya Taylor-Joy and Tom Holland.
Former champion Usman made his cage-walk first and was booed loudly from the pro-Edwards crowd as he stepped inside the octagon.
Edwards, in black and gold shorts to signify a UFC champion, was in contrast greeted with passionate support as he high-fived fans while shouting “let’s go”.
The early stages saw Usman pushing forward, using his jab and feinting takedowns. Edwards then started to use his kicks effectively as the round wore on, landing a heavy body kick towards the end.
The next 10 minutes saw Usman continuing to push forward looking for takedowns, with Edwards looking to evade and kick from distance.
The third round brought a nervous moment for Edwards as he was deducted a point by referee Herb Dean for holding on to the cage to prevent a takedown by Usman, which was greeted with disdain by the crowd.
With the fight close going into the fourth round, fans tried to inspire Edwards by chanting “Rocky” as the Birmingham fighter continued to chip away with leg and body kicks while working to nullify Usman’s wrestling.
Usman continued to push forward throughout, but he found limited success with his grappling – Edwards able to battle back to his feet at the cage on numerous occasions.
The pair shared a moment of respect as they touched gloves at the start of the fifth – the 13th round they had shared together – and while Usman persisted in looking for takedowns against visibly tiring Edwards, the Briton was able to battle on to a majority decision win.
‘London, you have yourself a great champion’
In victory, Edwards extended his unbeaten run in the UFC to 12 fights, his last defeat coming against Usman in 2015.
“He didn’t get any takedowns, I was landing cleaner shots, I took out his legs,” said Edwards.
“I couldn’t get the kick around his head. He had the perfect defence. I was trying to set it up with kicks to the body and legs.”
As the bell rang at the end of the fight Usman raised his hands, believing he had won, and he maintained this position in the post-fight interview while paying tribute to Edwards.
“I think I did enough to win the fight but I knew it was close,” he said.
“He had a great gameplan. I always said from the start we’d meet again and I’m not done. We will see each other again.
“I always gave him props for what he’s accomplished. He’s a brother like myself and great respect. London you’ve got yourself a great champion.”
In the co-main event, American Justin Gaethje earned a majority decision win over fellow lightweight Rafael Fiziev in an entertaining bout.
With both fighters renowned for their dangerous striking, the bout was billed as a fight-of-the-night contender and it did not disappoint.
Following a close two rounds, Gaethje, 34, began to find regular openings in the final five minutes as a series of jabs and uppercuts dealt visible damage to Azerbaijani Fiziev’s face.
In the post-fight interview, Gaethje suggested a final run at the lightweight title may lie in wait, currently held by Islam Makhachev, before hinting at retirement.