In the seven months since Leon Edwards pulled off one of the most stunning comebacks in UFC history, he’s checked out his championship victory a few times.
OK, it’s a lot more than a few times given the unavoidable video of his sudden, fifth-round head kick knockout of longtime welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in the fifth round of their August rematch.
“Obviously, you see the clips. It’s everywhere right? The knockout went viral,” Edwards told The Post this week via Zoom, ahead of Saturday’s UFC 286 rubber match with Usman in London. “Literally, you take out your phone, someone’s tagging you in it or popping up in your Instagram.”
Edwards (20-3, 10 finishes), after a strong start to the first championship opportunity of a UFC career that began in 2014, had tailed off in rounds two through four.
Usman (20-2, 10 finishes) had taken back momentum and appeared to suck the spirit from the challenger, whom color commentator Joe Rogan after the fourth round and his own coach Dave Lovell days later labeled “dejected.”
Edwards recalled feeling less dejection and more self-frustration with the way his body was performing in the altitude of Salt Lake City.
“I don’t think it was a mentality. It was more just frustration from the altitude affecting me so bad that I was frustrated with myself,” Edwards says. “It [wasn’t] a mental thing; it was more like a body thing. Your body’s [not] reacting how it should react to how it normally reacts.
“Clearly, it wasn’t, like, a mental thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to knock him out — and we knocked him out — and as clean as we knocked him out.”
And clean it was, the way 31-year-old Edwards cleaned Usman’s clock with a high kick the champion says he had been “setting him up with it throughout the rounds.”
Just moments after Rogan declared on the pay-per-view broadcast that Edwards “may have resigned himself to losing a decision” — and play-by-play man Jon Anik presciently added “but that is not the cloth from which he is cut” — the challenger planted his left shin square on the jaw for a picturesque high kick as Usman crumpled to the canvas.
Only 56 seconds remained in the fight.
Edwards also credits Lovell’s fiery words — “Don’t let him bully you, son!” — in the corner before the final round for helping to “warm me up.”
“I think he knows how good I am in the gym,” Edwards said. “He sees me performing not up to my abilities, he’s basically like, ‘What’s going on? Fix it up, and you can’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers.’ I just went out there and got the job done.”
Edwards must do the job once more on Saturday as he and Usman look to break the tie in their series.
This time, it’s a bit of a home game for Birmingham, England’s resident champion.
He’ll be competing in the United Kingdom for the first time in four years, and “Rocky” is banking on a raucous atmosphere among his countrymen.
“It’s gonna be crazy,” Edwards says with a giddy laugh. “… I can’t even envision how crazy it’s gonna be yet.”