Leon Edwards became only the second British UFC champion with his highlight reel knockout of P4P king Kamaru Usman at UFC 278 – and he doesn't see his opponent improving.
The Jamaican-born Birmingham welterweight took home one of the most iconic belts in MMA with a left-side head kick that sent shockwaves through Utah as huge favourite Usman lost his crown after five title defences and 19 consecutive victories.
The 'Nigerian Nightmare', who handed Edwards his most recent defeat in the form of a unanimous decision back in 2013, had never been knocked out before the UFC 278 main event in which the home favourite had seemingly won rounds; two, three and four.
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Edwards, 31, was finally given a title shot by UFC president Dana White after nine victories and one no contest from 10 bouts since losing to Usman – after which he was disregarded as a threat by many.
Speaking to Daily Star Sport on his return to the UK following a holiday abroad, Edwards said: "It was one of the worst performances of my career and that was the best Usman we're going to get.
"That's what he does in fights that's the best we will see – and it was the worst of me. I think it will be a totally different fight – with the same result."
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Edwards has been in conversations with White and other UFC officials regarding plans for his title defence around March, with the boss earmarking London's Wembley Stadium and Cardiff's Principality Stadium as potential venues.
Despite the manner of Usman's defeat often leading to lengthy breaks, Edwards believes his previous dominance of the welterweight division makes him the only logical opponent.
Edwards, who trains out of Birmingham's Team Renegade BJJ & MMA, is expecting a totally different fight in early 2023 on home soil, having been limited by the effects of the Utah altitude in his title triumph.
He added: "It's weird because I felt fresher in the fifth round. Maybe it was from the talk my coach gave me. I felt more like me in there.
"I thought the altitude played a bid difference, my body wasn't reacting. I think I could do what I wanted, but it felt slower. I was slower to react.
"We took all the precautions to try to avoid it but yeah it played a massive part."
Edwards has spoken openly about growing up in a one-room shack with his parents and brother in Kingston, Jamaica before moving to Aston at the age of nine – with his father being shot and killed in a London nightclub four years later.
Having been pushed into an MMA gym alongside brother Fabian, now a Bellator middleweight contender, Edwards found his path away from a potential life of crime into global sporting superstardom.
Despite now being able to process his achievement after taking a break from the sport, Edwards still struggles to sum up the historic event, in which he joined Michael Bisping as a British UFC champion, having been overcome with emotion.
He said: "Everyone keeps asking me to put it into words, how I felt at that moment, but it's difficult. Working for so long for something and going through ups and downs, everyone doubting you and being the first guy training out of the UK to do it.
"There's a lot of pressure I put on myself. I said from the start I was going to be the world champion but the road to get there was so difficult. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. I've been on a break and I needed that. I've been here there and everywhere."
Edwards is set to return to the Octagon at an as yet undecided British stadium in early 2023 – and could be joined on the card by other British MMA stars such as Paddy Pimblett, Molly McCann, Arnold Allen, Tom Aspinall, Darren Till and Nathanial Wood among others.
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