Interview with UFC welterweight standout Leon Edwards on Jorge Masvidal, Darren Till, Raheem Sterling and more

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Leon Edwards

“I ain’t got a clue why, but I think I’d kill the man. His time will come,” Leon Edwards says as the coffee on the table cools, and his mind heats up.

Last month, the UFC welterweight contender was involved in a crazy backstage brawl with Jorge Masvidal, an ugly clash which arose after the pair each recorded signature career victories.

The Briton, on home soil, was fresh from defeating heralded grappler Gunnar Nelson on points using his own game in the co-main event slot at UFC London.

Masvidal, an underdog with bite, had just flatlined Darren Till in the second round of the following fight.

As is natural in the hyper-speed world of combat sports, the conversation immediately turned to what was next for the two fighters targeting 170lbs champion Kamaru Usman.

No one expected a new storyline to emerge so soon, though.

“We were both doing media backstage after the fight. As I was walking past, he kept staring at me so I said ‘let’s fight in July’,” Edwards tells Sport360° as he enjoys a well-earned break with his family in Dubai ahead of holding his seminar at TK MMA & Fitness.

“He said ‘what did you say?’ and I said ‘we’ll fight in July’. As I was walking past he walked over with his hands behind his back.

“As soon as he got close, he threw shots, security grabbed me, grabbed him and that was it really. They moved his hotel and nothing else happened.

“But then he did interviews afterwards and just completely lied about it. He said I came up like this [hands in guard position] but who does that?! He said that’s why he threw the shots and blah, blah, blah, but like I said his time will come.”

Not as soon as you may think. Despite the obvious narrative, the media and fan furore over the incident plus the legitimacy of a contest without the backstage chaos –

Edwards is riding the second-best win streak in the division and has not lost since dropping a decision to Usman in late 2015 – the promotion opted for a different, slightly perplexing route.

Masvidal is slated to fight Ben Askren at UFC 239 in July, a decision the promotion’s president declared made sense from a rankings perspective. But that in itself is odd, because, well, the rankings are odd.

Despite seven consecutive victories, including back-to-back wins over household names Donald Cerrone and Nelson, Edwards sits at No11 – he dropped two places after his last victory.

“I don’t know who does these rankings, but they’re more about popularity,” the fighting pride of Birmingham explains.

“Look at Masvidal. He was on a two-fight losing streak, he beat Darren Till and now he’s number four or something.

“Ben Askren, he came in and had one fight, he’s now number five.

“To me, the rankings make no sense.

“I thought they would phone me Monday morning and organise the fight. All the fans wanted it, all the media wanted it and I wanted it.

“I think they offered it to Masvidal and he said he didn’t fight me.

“That’s what he said. My management team reached out to try and organise it. They gave him a choice between me or Ben. He chose Ben.”

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The elbow from the clinch is a lovely tool

A post shared by Leon "Rocky" Edwards (@leon_edwardsmma) on

Was it a decision based on fighting the lesser of two evils?

“He knows in a fight with me, I am better than him wherever the fight goes, striking, grappling, on the ground, wherever the fight goes, I’ll be the better and bigger man.

“He knew it wouldn’t go his way so that’s why he chose Ben.”

For now, Edwards must turn his attention to another opponent with the 27-year-old earmarking a July return to the Octagon against someone “highly-ranked or a big name like Anthony Pettis” before earning a shot at the belt late in the year.

But while the rankings are not a fair reflection of Edwards’ compelling reality within the UFC’s most talent-rich division, there is one title he believes is firmly in his grasp – the UK’s No1 MMA fighter.

“I’ve been saying this for a while now and they were trying to push Till to say he’s the number one,” Edwards says.

“That was actually the plan for UFC London, to settle it and see who is number one, me or him.

“For some reason, they went Masvidal and Till, but after his back-to-back losses, I feel I’m number one. I’m the one fighting these guys and winning.”

Darren Till after his defeat to Masvidal

Darren Till after his defeat to Masvidal

He adds: “I think he should move up to middleweight but it would be a huge fight. I would love to have that fight in my hometown, Birmingham.

“To come back to the UK and headline in Birmingham with Till, that would be good.

“But now my focus is on the title shot. I’m not really focusing on Till at the moment, especially after straight losses.”

Born in Jamaica before moving to the UK as a child, Edwards’ story is one to be celebrated, both at home and abroad.

A troublesome teenager, his mum sought to channel the energy of both he and his brother, Fabian, into something positive.

That path took the brothers into MMA and younger sibling Fabian is amassing an impressive career of his own under the Bellator banner where he is 6-0.

One dream, which sits alongside UFC gold, is for the brothers to fight on the same night.

“How good would that be? To be fair, for him to be a world champion in Bellator and me a UFC champ, that would be good as well,” a beaming Edwards explains.

“But I feel his dream is to be in the UFC and I think after this contract with Bellator, he should try to make the move.

“To have two brothers from Birmingham in the UFC, I don’t think it’s ever been done from the UK. It would be madness.”

Manchester City star Raheem Sterling

Manchester City star Raheem Sterling

Edwards’ ambition mirrors that of another English star with Jamaican heritage, Raheem Sterling.

The Manchester City and England winger has emerged as a leader in the fight against racism as division and hate spreads throughout the UK and beyond.

“He is 100 percent an inspirational figure,” Edwards says. “I follow him and we’ve got some mutual friends, but fair play to him for what he’s doing for football.

“That’s one of my things as well, to motivate the youth. There’s a lot of knife crime in the UK, it’s becoming a huge problem, and the area I grew up in, there’s a big gang culture. That’s my aim, like his, to bring young people in off the streets and into MMA and show them a positive way to do things.”

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