Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman staff picks | UFC 286
- Our experts predict the outcome of the Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman fight
- Read on to find out who they think will win and their best bets
The UFC welterweight title is on the line once again as Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman clash for the third time at UFC 286. The highly anticipated trilogy bout will headline the event, which takes place on Saturday, March 18 at the O2 Arena in London, England. The main card will air live on pay-per-view via ESPN+ at 2 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. ET.
Edwards (20-3) shocked the world when he dethroned Usman (20-2) by head-kick knockout in their rematch at UFC 278, ending his rival’s 19-fight winning streak and becoming only the second British UFC champion in history. The Birmingham native is now undefeated in 11 straight fights since losing to Usman by unanimous decision in their first encounter back in 2015.
Usman, who was widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport before his loss to Edwards, will look to reclaim his belt and settle the score with his nemesis. The Nigerian-born American has defeated some of the top names in the division, including Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, and Gilbert Burns.
In this article, The Body Lock’s expert analysts will provide their predictions for the Edwards vs. Usman trilogy fight at UFC 286, as well as our best bets and the latest betting odds.
The betting odds favor Usman as a -250 favorite, meaning you would have to bet $250 to win $100. Edwards is a +190 underdog, meaning you would win $190 if you bet $100 on him.
- Leon Edwards: +190
- Kamaru Usman: -250
Both of these fighters will have to take a good hard long look at their last performance in preparation for the trilogy. There is a lot both men can use to boost their confidence and a lot that they will have to work diligently to alter as they meet again.
Leon Edwards is the more technical and sharp fighter from the outside, he uses his height and reach well when given space. He usually stands southpaw but will switch in order to throw his attacks from the lead-hand side. For example, early in the Usman fight, he went conventional to attack Usman’s right knee with a lead leg side kick, a technique that he surprisingly held back on later on in the fight considering Usman’s knee problems in the past and that it’s a great technique to halt forward momentum. This is also the stance which he uses to land the power jab instead of the setup. I believe regardless of what stance he is in, utilizing his knees up the middle is also key as Usman rushes in with flurries, Edwards was able to do so a couple of times in their second meeting but failed to follow up with anything significant after landing the individual blows.
For Usman, he has to and will be wary in that outside range. He is great at corralling Edwards to the cage before he opens up and has a lot of success because as he unloads, Edwards typically covers up and allows Usman to go to the body or level change, which is where the majority of his takedowns land. On the flip side, Edwards did have wrestling success when he was fresh but the key is that it comes when he is able to clinch up square and use his height and reach to off balance and break the posture of Usman and hit those outside trips. Based on both their skillset and physical advantages, level changing is not going to be a high rate of success for Edwards, but working from those overhooks could be.
What Usman does so well is that when he does get his opponents pressed up against the fence, he gets the head past the right shoulder and wears on them, pulling them away and down rather than just smashing them into the cage. This creates a constant pressure, where they carry his weight, which is largely what fatigues his opponents so much faster than they expect. Many people have attributed Edwards’ fatiguing to the altitude but it is notable that he was sharp and fast when he was at his range punching and kicking in the fifth, it was mostly in the grappling exchanges that he began being complacent and not responding. Every time Edwards would have success, Usman would immediately try to return with something to gain that advantage back, throughout the entire fight, which is why he was potentially ahead on scorecards.
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An interesting look in the first fight was the first time Usman was forced to work out of a bad position flattened on his back. We have typically seen Usman out-wrestle and thus actively control when the fight hits the mat and essentially always end up in top position. As Edwards became the first man to disrupt this pattern, we were able to see for the first time Usman’s reaction, which was immediately to go belly down and give up his back, allowing Edwards to then execute a body triangle and win the round. He was eventually able to get out of it, but it should be noted for Edwards that Usman may still carry some of those wrestlers’ instincts, uncaught due to an ability to have thus far dominated top position.
However at the end of the day, landing that heavy strike, taking the back, and these areas where Edwards could make big strides towards winning could very well be few and far between with Usman’s style. There were moments in the rematch where Usman let go of positions to unload shots, which could be less likely with a more conservative Usman willing to win on points rather than risk that finish. Furthermore, like last time, every time Edwards explodes and exerts that energy to success, no doubt Usman will spend the same to return and send the ball rolling back into his court. Regardless of the strides in grappling, Leon has made or will make between their last fight and now, the big issue is that Usman’s wrestling gas tank is built over a career, and Leon, as skilled as he is, is unable to keep that pace.
Best Bet: Kamaru Usman to win (-235)
Context is everything. On paper, Edwards is the current welterweight champ and earned that title by knocking out Usman nearly 7 months ago, yet he is a +200 underdog in their rematch. That is because of context. In their last fight, Usman was clearly winning for 24:04 of a 25-minute fight. Usman nearly tripled Edwards’ striking attempts and landed significant strikes a 1.5:1 ratio. Beyond out-landing Edwards on the feet, Usman also landed 5 takedowns inside of 4 rounds and racked up over 10 minutes of control time. Yet, he lost the fight when Edwards landed a head kick from hell and knocked Usman out cold with less than 1 minute to go in the fight. Usman being a -250 favorite again over Edwards suggests that the context around the fight, Usman winning 90% of the fight, impacts the line significantly. Said simply, Vegas oddsmakers are expecting this trilogy fight to continue on the path of the first matchup- Usman won by decision- and the first 24 minutes of the rematch.
The line also indicates just how elite Usman is. Despite being 35 years old and coming off a brutal knockout loss, Usman’s impressive skillset and history have more than warranted respect from the books. For those that don’t already know, Usman is a highly skilled wrestler, a significantly improved striker, an intellectual fighter, and an all-time great champion. His reign was so dominant, until Edwards landed his left leg, that some were beginning to discuss Usman as the GOAT of the welterweight division. Yes, the same division that GSP sat atop for years. Stylistically, Usman fights behind a power jab that has only improved in speed, precision, and snap over the years. He uses the jab at times to deal damage; and, at other times, to dictate pace and space. Once he gets his opponent where he wants them, he, without telegraphing his next move, will look to land a heavy right hand with a follow-up combination, or shoot a powerful takedown. Usman’s background is in wrestling and it has been the foundation for his career. He is so skilled at timing his shots, powerful when driving hips, and relentless, even if the takedown attempt is initially stuffed. Unlike some wrestlers who are out of their element if the takedown attempt turns into a clinch fight, Usman excels in the clinch as well. He holds position with a low center of gravity, drives his head into the chest of his opponent, and can use throws and trips to bring the fight to the mat. Until his recent loss, Usman’s combination of consistent offense, persistent wrestling, and intelligent defense made him seem almost unbeatable. However, now that Edwards cracked the code with a cracking kick, Usman seems more human, his age more apparent, and his notorious knee problems more concerning.
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Leon “Rocky” Edwards lived up to his nickname with one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history. Seemingly unaffected by losing 24 minutes of a rematch against such a dominant champion, Edwards continued his same game plan in round 5 that had yet to work effectively in the first 4 rounds. Had Usman evaded the kick, critics would likely have criticized Edwards for not adapting mid-fight and ramping up the pressure. But, because he did land, Edwards has been praised for trusting his style- lower output but highly technical striking. Edwards, an athletically gifted southpaw kickboxer, has always shown picturesque striking. His footwork, punching and kicking combinations, and relaxed yet powerful strikes could be a silhouette for an expert kickboxing video. Edwards typically stands tall in the center of the cage and pumps a long and stiff jab forward to force a reaction out of opponents. His approach is patient, almost casual at times. Then, when they react, Edwards instantly pounces and switches from almost apathetic striking to an explosive and lightning-quick combination that can, as we all saw, shut the lights out in an instant. Because of his lulling style, Edwards backers often are frustrated at his lack of aggression and can, justifiably, worry that he can get out-worked. However, much like Chito Vera in the 135 division, when you have the explosive power, truly special timing, and impeccable skill of Edwards, passivity isn’t a criticism, it is a strategy.
This fight will likely look, at least early on, similar to the last one. Usman will jab and wrestle while Edwards looks to counter and stuff takedown attempts. I think the key differences in this fight are Usman’s reputation, Edwards’ confidence, the hometown crowd, and Usman’s knees. Usman, for a long time, felt unbeatable atop the division. But, now that he’s been not only beaten but finished, the mystical shine that once clouded competitors is gone.
While Usman has benefited from his reign, Edwards has inversely struggled from a lack of consistently competing. Edwards has dealt with a career of canceled fights, injuries, and strange obstacles impeding his rise in the division. Now that he is champion, Edwards has the consistency and confidence to fight at his best. The London crowd, which will undoubtedly propel Edwards before and during the fight, will only boost his confidence and energy.
Finally, and most tangibly, are Usman’s knees. He’s had knee issues for years that have limited his movement and wrestling. Now that he is 35, his knee issues are likely the worst they’ve ever been heading into a fight. Moving away from the narrative of the fight, I think Edwards will apply more pressure early, Usman will be wearier of that deadly head kick, and Edwards will be able to land more consistently with his hands. He landed an impressive 73% of significant strikes in their first matchup; and, if Edwards is more confident while Usman is less confident and mobile, Edwards should be able to ramp up the volume.
I think only Edwards has the power to end the fight and I think he will have the edge in a decision as well. If it goes to the scorecards, it will likely be razor-thin. I might just be fading Usman because of age and newly exposed vulnerability, but I can’t pass up underdog odds in a fight that I think will be back and forth if it goes the distance. Give me “Rocky” to remain champ.
Best Bet: Edwards to win (+190)