Kamaru Usman is ‘more human than he thought’ after a stunning knockout loss to Leon Edwards and the British star should find ‘more moments’ to deliver another destructive victory, says MMA expert Mark Weir.
Edwards defends his UFC welterweight title against Usman in a trilogy clash at UFC 286 in London on Saturday night after he sensationally stopped the Nigerian with a head kick in their August rematch.
But can the Birmingham man produce another explosive triumph this weekend?
UFC coach Weir and UFC middleweight contender Christian Leroy give their verdict….
Reflecting on the dramatic climax to their last fight, with both men battling fatigue, Weir told Sky Sports: “I was very surprised considering Usman’s resting potential.
“It shows that Leon did his work!”
“He caught Usman off guard, similar to Khabib [Nurmagomedov] vs [Connor] McGregor,” Leroy added.
“When Khabib got him with the overhand, he wasn’t expecting that from him. Leon did a similar thing with Usman!”
Edwards was beaten by unanimous decision in their first fight in December 2015, but Weir believes the 31-year-old coped much better with the physicality of Usman in their second bout.
“I think Leon’s confidence will grow as a result of his grappling work on the ground,” said Weir.
“Everybody believes in Usman’s ground-and-pound, but Usman’s probably realising that he is a bit more human than he thought.
“Although Usman came back stronger in each round, he realised he can be taken down and he can be controlled.”
Leroy was equally impressed with Edwards’ much improved ground game, but insists Usman remains a threat if he can cope with a hostile atmosphere in London.
“Leon’s going to be very confident that he can be successful with his wrestling and grappling,” he said.
“Now that he’s on home soil, I think it’s going to be a completely different fight.
“The thing is, Usman is coming back after a loss, and everyone wants to see how this trilogy ends. What’s making me think it’s more in Leon’s favour is that he’s on his home turf.
“Usman’s not in the States where he’s comfortable, this is Leon’s territory. He’s going to feel unfamiliar.
“If anything, it makes him [Usman] more dangerous because he now knows what shot could take him out, so he’s going to be ready for that.
“He’s also going to come with a chip on his shoulder like he’s got something to prove. It’s going to be a banger!”
Weir also believes that Usman is fully capable of regaining his UFC title.
“No matter how old you are, I believe you always have one good fight left in you,” he said.
“He’s got something to prove, from what I hear he’s a warrior, and he’s been here before.”
Edwards appeared to be tiring ahead of the fifth round, but his corner team issued rousing rallying cries.
“He might’ve been questioning, ‘why am I this tired?'” said Leroy.
“I’ve personally trained in Albuquerque where we’re training 5,500 feet above elevation. On the first day of training, I felt like I was struggling for air, it took me almost three weeks to adjust to that.
“I think Leon was there for one week, maybe two? Not long enough to adjust, it’s a different kind of feeling. So, he must have been in his own thoughts – and it must have snapped him into reality when his corner was telling him off”.
Weir was surprised by the strong-worded approach from Edwards’ coaches.
“For me, if someone’s tired, it’s important for me to allow them to relax, and get them to calm down. You don’t want them to hyperventilate because the more the heart beats, the more tired they get.
“You want to talk to them calmly but sternly, and tell them what they need to do, shouting can make them more worried. Maybe it worked, but I’m not sure if it was the right way or wrong way, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody!”
With the UFC title and reputations at stake, Weir has suggested that both men will stick to their strengths.
“If I was coaching in Edwards’ corner, I’d be trying to get him to have more moments where he’d catch Usman’s chin,” he said.
“Knowing that he knocked him out like that with a kick last time, I’d be going with the leg kicks first to soften him up and then when he least expects it, change from low to high.
“Maybe take him down too, as he controlled him when he took him down. He just has to make sure he has a specific technique when he does that.
“For Usman, I’d say, focus on the wrestling as it worked for him last time, but I’d say do not do it from a distance. If someone has good speed, the last thing you want to give them is distance. That’s where speed is effective”.
Leroy agreed with Weir about Edwards’ winning formula, adding: “Leon needs to go back to what he had success with, and use that again, with a takedown here and there.
“It makes sense. Usman might be less athletic, but the technical aspect is going up, which counteracts it.”
A repeat win for Edwards could set up a fight against a more fearsome opponent, says Leroy.
“If Leon wins, it would be good to see him fight [the undefeated] Khamzat [Chimaev] at some point.
“They were set to fight each other but then it got cancelled because of Covid, so you expect to see that go ahead, for publicity purposes at least”.
Sky customers can watch Leon Edwards vs Kamaru Usman 3 on BT Sport Box Office on Saturday March 18, 2023. Visit https://www.sky.com/boxoffice/btsport/ for details.