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Leon Edwards earns statement win, calls for Jorge Masvidal or a title shot

Leon Edwards earns statement win, calls for Jorge Masvidal or a title shot

Leon Edwards celebrate his win against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on ESPN 4

In the biggest test of his career thus far, Leon Edwards proved to the world that he’s a legitimate contender in the UFC’s welterweight division.

Edwards exhibited his well-rounded skillset on his way to earning a unanimous decision victory over Rafael dos Anjos. One judge scored the fight 50-45, while the two others saw it the same, 49-46, giving “Rocky” his eighth win in a row and moving his professional record to 18-3 overall.

“I’m still growing. I’m still learning,” Edwards said to Jon Anik after the fight. “To compete against a former world champion in RDA and [do] what I did, I feel great. I’m proving to the kids from the UK that you can stay in the UK and [succeed], so I’m very happy with my performance tonight.”

Edwards found success at the start of the fight, making it known that he planned on utilizing his grappling against the veteran. He didn’t appear to be deterred by the bright lights and big stakes, landing a takedown less than a minute in.

Dos Anjos attempted to control the wrist of Edwards, but Edwards was able to maintain the position and control the fight for the majority of the round.

Edwards’ striking shined in the second round of the fight, particularly his elbows. He started to land elbows off of the break in the clinch and one of them opened a wide cut over the right eye of dos Anjos.

Dos Anjos found some success of the feet as well though. His low kicks began to take a toll on Edwards’ lead leg. With two minutes left in the round, dos Anjos dropped Edwards with a low leg kick and quickly hopped into top position. Edwards was eventually able to escape the position and get back standing, where the two traded to seal a close round.

Following the second, Edwards felt confident that he was well on his way to victory.

“Once RDA starts losing, it’s hard for him to come back and get the win,” Edwards said. “I knew coming into the fight, once I took the first two rounds, I’m gonna win the fight because he rarely comes back after losing two rounds.”

Dos Anjos had previously gone all five rounds in three of his last four bouts. He defeated Robbie Lawler, but dropped unanimous decisions to Colby Covington and current welterweight king Kamaru Usman.

Edwards credits Usman for exposing the weakness that “Rocky” kept in the back of his mind as his game plan unfolded successfully.

After the pivotal first two rounds, Edwards had a target to lock onto. He pawed at dos Anjos’ cut when the two were at distance, but the round was largely decided by Edwards’ work in the clinch. A frequent user of the clinch himself, dos Anjos found himself getting overpowered by the stronger, bigger Edwards, which certainly blocked his usual path to victory.

Dos Anjos mounted some offense in the championship rounds. He controlled the center of the Octagon and forced Edwards to work from the outside.

The former lightweight champion decided to gamble on a high-risk shot in the fourth round. Dos Anjos launched what would be a fight-ending flying knee had it connected, but Edwards read it and slapped him onto his back, stifling the momentum that dos Anjos had been trying to build.

By the time the final horn sounded, both fighters raised their hands in the air, but only Edwards would keep them up after the judges’ scores were read by Bruce Buffer.

With the win over the fourth-ranked contender, Edwards set his sights on the cream of the crop at 170 pounds.

“There’s a little weasel called Jorge Masvidal,” Edwards said. “Accept the fight and let’s do it. You’re not on my level. Let’s make the fight happen.”

The two have prior history following UFC London in March. While Masvidal was getting interviewed backstage following his emphatic knockout win over Darren Till, he and Edwards exchanged words. The conflict escalated to a scuffle as Masvidal appeared to land multiple punches on Edwards during the altercation.

Edwards said that he wants to fight one more time this year, and if Masvidal isn’t his next opponent, he wants a title shot against a former opponent of his.

“Give me the rematch against Kamaru Usman,” Edwards pleaded. “He was the last guy to beat me four years ago and I would love to rematch to him. Let’s make it happen.”

The welterweight title picture will potentially be further complicated by the Colby Covington vs. Robbie Lawler fight that is set for UFC Newark in two weeks.

One name not in the picture any longer is dos Anjos. He falls to 2-3 in his last five bouts with losses to Covington, Usman and now Edwards. At 34-years-old, a surge to the top of the welterweight division would be a tall task for the veteran.



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