‘I’m the real No.1 contender’: Leon Edwards vows to put on ‘masterclass’ against Nate Diaz at UFC 263 as he chases title glo
UFC welterweight star Leon Edwards says that there will be no doubt as the identity of the true number one contender at 170lbs early on Sunday morning when he is through with Nate Diaz.
Edwards remains one of the most feared fighters in the UFC’s 170lbs fold despite a hugely unfortunate 18 months which saw him miss out on several high profile scraps due to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw showdowns with the likes of Tyron Woodley and Khamzat Chimaev scrapped.
His eventual return to action came in March but that too was ended early and declared a no-contest when opponent Belal Muhammad was deemed unable to continue after being the recipient of an accidental eye-poke courtesy of the Jamaican-born Brit.
But at Saturday night’s UFC 263 from Glendale, Arizona Edwards has landed himself the type of high profile fight he has been craving to separate himself from the rest of the welterweight pack – and he says that by the time he is finished with Nate Diaz late on Saturday night, the UFC will have no choice but to fast-track him into a title fight with reigning champ Kamaru Usman.
“I think once I go out there and put Nate away, that will put the UFC on notice that I’m the real number one contender,” Edwards told MMA Fighting.
“I know Dana [White] came out the other day saying Colby [Covington] is getting a title shot but I don’t think he deserves it. I’m going out there to put on a masterclass against Diaz, put him away and clear my title shot. I can’t see how they justify giving Colby the title shot when I’ve been here working my ass off for the last four years, five years, since last being defeated by Kamaru Usman.“
Five-and-a-half years, actually. Edwards’ run through the welterweight frame in recent years has been nothing short of exemplary but, so far at least, he has yet to forge a path back to Usman – the last man to hand him a loss in a fight which came early in both of their UFC careers.
Since then, both men are undefeated through a combined 21 fights but Usman’s last title and next title defence will have both come against fighters he had already recently defeated (Jorge Masvidal and Covington), leaving Edwards more time to add to an unbeaten streak rivalled only by Usman in the division.
And he says that the time for him to wait patiently on the sidelines for an opportunity is over.
“I go out there and prove my case again, for the ninth time in a row. I will be world champion by the end of this year,” he said. “I can feel it in my bones. The last year and a half was all for this moment. It’s all perfect the way it’s playing out. It’s working out as it’s meant to work out.
“[Usman] is the last guy to have beaten me, he got the decision over me. I want to get that one back. I believe I could have done way better in the fight. I’ve shown over my last eight, nine fights. That’s all it is.
“I want to get my win back, be a world champion and he’s just the guy that’s got the belt. I’m going to have to defeat him to be a world champion.“
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First things first, though, Edwards will have to make good on his pledge to ‘slice and dice’ the notoriously gritty Diaz, a fighter who rarely makes it through a fight without bloodshed. The Stockton man is exactly the type of blood n’ guts fighters that UFC fans can easily latch on to, which is why for Edwards this represents such an opportunity to demand he be recnognized in title talk.
“This is one of the biggest fights in the division if not the biggest fight in the division,” Edwards said of his opponent. “It’s going to be a great fight. I’m going to put the performance of my life in. The crowd’s going to see, the world’s going to see and the UFC’s going to see that I belong in the number one contender’s spot.“