‘Look at me now’ – You have our attention, Leon Edwards

What were the greatest moments at UFC 278? Megan Anderson, Jeff Wagenheim, Marc Raimondi and Brett Okamoto offer their takeaways from UFC’s return to Salt Lake City.

With less than a minute remaining in Round 5 of the Main Event at UFC 278, Leon Edwards looked like a lifeless challenger just hoping to make it to the finish line standing.

Edwards actually had a strong first lap. He scored an early takedown, the first Kamaru Usman gave up in his 15-fight UFC career. But starting in the second round, Edwards was mauled by the UFC Welterweight Champion, who stalked, beat and tired him. With the fighters waved together at the start of Round 5, it was clear to everyone Saturday night at Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena and everyone watching at home that Edwards had to pull off something big. How difficult that would be could also be seen in the challenger’s body language. Edwards looked exhausted. And instead of pushing the action, as the last five minutes ticked off the clock, his approach was enigmatically passive. He kept Usman at bay with punches and kicks, but nothing he sent back towards the champion looked threatening in any way.

Until …

“Headshot! bang! Finished!”

Those were the words Edwards shouted into the camera right after the fight ended at 4 minutes and 4 seconds into the final round. As Usman lay motionless on the screen, Edwards ran around in tears, climbed onto the cage then jumped off and summed up the moment with those few words, his voice barely audible over the roar of a shocked crowd.

Just when it seemed the 30-year-old Englishman from Jamaica had lost all hope, he had made a lazy left hand throw that Usman effortlessly parried. But what Usman never saw was the left headbutt that was right behind the punch. It landed flush on the right side of the champion’s head, and, well, boom… done.

In one of the most impressive comeback victories the Octagon has ever seen in a championship fight, the fight was over and there was a new champion. This excitement may have been unthinkable for some, but MMA fans have been trained to expect the unexpected. Just last December, women’s pound-for-pound No. 1 Amanda Nunes was upset by Julianna Peña. That was an even bigger shock than this result. If anything, it prepared us all for what happened that night.

Yet so much about this result was unthinkable. For one, Usman came into the fight not only as the world welterweight champion, but also as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. He was less than a minute away from his sixth consecutive successful title defense and 20th consecutive win. Usman has been named as a candidate for holy status of greatest fighter of all time.

In fact, leading up to that night, one could have been forgiven for not even knowing that Edwards was part of the UFC 278 main event. Almost every superlative in the narrative that hyped this battle card had centered on Usman. Along with the GOAT talk, there was even speculation as to whether Usman would next face off against the fast-rising Khamzat Chimaev and what challenge he might face after that should the champion pass that test.

Saturday’s challenger was something of an afterthought.

Edwards should have been used to it. Despite entering the fray on a 10-fight unbeaten streak – he hadn’t lost since a 2015 decision loss to Usman – Edwards had been largely overlooked. I mean, Jorge Masvidal got two shots to the belt before Edwards got his.

Why is that? Edwards is not a great talker. He had made decisions in his last four wins. He was not considered one of the stars of the sport. He had to win and win and win to make it impossible for the UFC matchmakers to overlook him.

“Look at me now!” Edwards kept demanding in his postfight interview.

Well, champion, you’ve got the world’s attention now. -Jeff Wagenheim


If that’s it for Rockhold, don’t remember him for the past few years

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Paulo Costa easily wins his bout against Luke Rockhold via unanimous decision in the co-main event of UFC 278.

Luke Rockhold hasn’t won a fight since 2017 and only one win since 2015. On Saturday night at UFC 278, Rockhold gasped at the end of the first round but showed a lot of heart as he ended the fight against Paulo Costa in a unanimous decision loss. Rockhold actually continued to insult Costa despite being absolutely exhausted, sometimes leaning over and putting his hands on his knees. It was an ugly performance, but a display of will and determination.

It honestly sums up where Rockhold is in his career now. He still has the desire; He still has a passion for the MMA game. But his body just doesn’t respond anymore at the age of 37 after 15 years as a professional fighter.

As Rockhold walked backwards from the Octagon, his longtime teammate Daniel Cormier left his broadcast position and embraced Rockhold in a hug. The two were part of a dynasty at the American Kickboxing Academy that included the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Cain Velasquez. At one point, Rockhold was considered just as good as his teammates. He was the top middleweight in Strikeforce history and held that title. And he impressively beat Chris Weidman in 2015 to win the UFC middleweight title.

That was seven years ago and many people expected Rockhold to reign at the top for a long time. He was by far the best 185lb fighter in the world at that point. But in his next fight, Rockhold was amazingly upset and was KO’d by Michael Bisping. Unfortunately, Rockhold hasn’t been the same since. In his prime, Rockhold was one of the most skilled middleweights in history – he could blow you away, wrestle the best of ’em, and have the ability to finish the fight. If it’s for his career (he wasn’t sure after the fight), what’s best remembered are his wins over Weidman, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Tim Kennedy and his smooth finish against Bisping in their first fight. – Marc Raimondi


Not Jose Aldo to need to retire, but it’s now threatening heavily

let me be clear Aldo has just had a three-fight win streak and it’s not like he’s been surpassed by Dvalishvili. He’s obviously still a very competitive bantamweight. But as always, one has to wonder what reason he has to fight again. He said his ultimate goal is to retire as champion and if he falls short on Saturday he will need to sit down with his team to shape his future.

Aldo still looked quick on Saturday, but he wasn’t looking so fast as we have always known him. He looked hungry and ready to gamble when he landed on the scorecards, but he didn’t seem to have it dig that might have been there earlier in his career to want something to happen. We may be seeing the first signs of a pullback, and if that’s the case, there’s really no reason to continue. If he wants a retirement fight in Brazil in January, which I certainly could wish for, the sport will embrace that. It’s always an emotional thing when a legend decides how they want to end up. Aldo has reached this point. – Brett Okamoto


What’s next, Tyson Pedro?

Pedro has had back-to-back first-round knockouts since his return to the Octagon against Ike Villanueva in April. In both fights, although neither lasted long, Pedro showed improved patience and control. He’s the type of fighter who doesn’t let those two wins go to his head. I think he will keep working to improve and develop his game.

With just eight fights in the UFC and his return to the sport, it’s best to allow him to regain his footing. When he entered this fight Pedro had already faced stiff competition from 2016-2018 but with such a long hiatus he is relatively new again.

The UFC could be looking to give him a chance against a ranked opponent in his next fight and it could be argued that he and Dustin Jacoby would be a good matchup. Sometimes after a fighter has shown, as Pedro has in his last two appearances, fighters can be made to face more notable opponents. But the best progression for him would be matchups, allowing him to slowly work his way up and back into the swing of things. He’s still in his prime. So if he can take his time to climb up the leaderboard, he’s less likely to be pushed too fast too soon. – Megan Anderson

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34432075/ufc-278-look-now-our-attention-leon-edwards ‘Look at me now’ – You have our attention, Leon Edwards

Emma Bowman

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