UFC 278: Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards 2 Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IAugust 16, 2022

UFC 278: Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards 2 Head-to-Toe Breakdown

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    UFC 278, the Las Vegas-based promotion's next pay-per-view offering, goes down this Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah. All eyes are on the card's main event: a welterweight title fight between champ Kamaru Usman and challenger Leon Edwards.

    The Nigerian-American Usman, widely considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA today, will be looking for his sixth defense of the UFC welterweight title after thwarting Colby Covington (twice), Jorge Masvidal (twice), and Gilbert Burns since he won the belt with a decision win over Tyron Woodley.

    Edwards, a native of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, will be getting his first crack at UFC gold. He earned the opportunity to fight for the title with nine consecutive victories, including triumphs over the likes of Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson, Rafael dos Anjos and Nate Diaz, whom he defeated by decision last summer.

    UFC 278 will mark the second time Usman and Edwards have met. Usman won their first fight by unanimous decision, but that was back in 2015, which is basically ancient history in a sport that moves as quickly as MMA.

    Since then, both men have evolved into vastly superior fighters. That means their rematch could be an entirely different affair, even if the pre-fight odds suggest another Usman win.

    One way or the other, somebody's streak is getting derailed on Saturday.

    Keep scrolling to see how these two hugely successful welterweights match up on paper.

Striking

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    In the earlier chapters of his UFC career, Usman was known as a good-but-boring wrestler who was willing to lean on relentless takedowns and smothering top control to win his fights, even if it meant lulling everybody in the arena to sleep. That is no longer the case.

    Over the last few years, Usman has discovered some vicious knockout power.

    We had seen only a brief flash of that power before, when he knocked out Sergio Moraes in 2017. But Usman has used his newly discovered firepower to win three of his title defenses by stoppage, most impressively sending Jorge Masvidal to another dimension with a sizzling right hand in April 2021.

    It isn't just power that Usman has discovered, though. Under the tutelage of his new coach Trevor Wittman, his striking has become much more technical, both in terms of offense and defense. His jab has gotten particularly good.

    Is Usman still a little flat-footed? Sure. But you don't stop the likes of Masvidal and Gilbert Burns unless you're pretty skilled on the feet.

    The key stats reflect Usman's increasing proficiency as a striker. In fact, the champion has Edwards—a striker by trade—beat in most areas.

    He lands more significant strikes per minute: 4.66 to Edwards' 2.62. He has a slightly better striking accuracy rate than his rival, landing at a 53 percent clip compared to Edwards' 49 percent. He also has a slightly better striking defense rate, avoiding 59 percent of strikes thrown his way, while Edwards avoids 55.

    At this point, Usman has even won more fights via strikes than Edwards has. He stopped nine opponents in that fashion, while the Brit has done so only six times.

    Edwards may be more be a more technical striker than Usman, but at this point, there is little denying that Usman is plying his striking more effectively in the Brit in MMA.

    Edge: Usman

Submissions

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    Neither Usman nor Edwards is known for their submissions.

    Usman has won only one fight by submission, and that was back in his UFC debut in 2015 when he defeated Hayder Hassan—a guy with a notable history of being submitted—with an arm-triangle choke. Edwards has won three fights by submission, which is still not exactly evidence of a lethal submission arsenal.

    This is not an indictment of Usman and Edwards' jiu-jitsu skill. It's more of an indication that they are good enough in other areas that they don't need to rely on submissions the way other fighters do.

    Unfortunately, that makes it a bit difficult to determine who has the edge in this phase of the fight. There just isn't a ton of information to work with. Case in point: Usman attempts only 0.12 submissions per 15 minutes, while Edwards attempts 0.35.

    It's worth noting that Usman has a higher belt ranking than Edwards. He's a black belt under the great Jorge Santiago, while Edwards is only a purple belt. But that's probably just an indication that he has spent more time in a gi than Edwards, not that he's better at submissions in MMA competition.

    This one is closer, but we're giving the edge to the guy who has won more MMA fights by submission.

    Edge: Edwards

Wrestling

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    This one's a no-brainer. Usman is not only one of the best wrestlers in the UFC welterweight division, but one of the best wrestlers in MMA, period.

    Usman's college accolades are not as impressive as some of the sport's other great wrestlers. But he has managed to work his wrestling into his MMA game better than just about anybody.

    Usman hits an average of three takedowns per 15-minute fight with an accuracy rate of 49 percent. Edwards averages only 1.48 takedowns per 15 minutes with an accuracy rate of 35 percent. Usman is also often celebrated for his 100 percent takedown defense rate, while Edwards only has a 70 percent takedown defense rate.

    Despite being a striker by trade, Edwards has out-wrestled some of his opponents, including Icelandic grappling specialist Gunnar Nelson. But against Usman, he's out of his depth.

    Edge: Usman

X-Factors

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    Christian Petersen

    Usman's X-Factor: Don't Expect An Easy Fight

    Usman is widely considered the greatest fighter alive today, and he has beaten all but a few of his Octagon opponents with ease. That includes Edwards, who he thrashed to a decision win back in 2015.

    But it would be a mistake for Usman to expect another easy fight this Saturday.

    Edwards has gotten much better since the first time they fought, and he has been waiting for a crack at Usman for years. He's been preparing for this opportunity for ages, and he will be determined not to waste it.

    Usman should expect the toughest fight of his career on Saturday. He might not get it, but expecting another cake walk will make him vulnerable.


    Edwards' X-Factor: Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

    It seems unlikely that Edwards will be able to beat Usman with his skill or athleticism alone. To unseat the champion, he's going to need a clever game plan.

    Pressure could be the key.

    Usman is excellent when he is leading the dance, but he has not been as effective in the rare instances that his opponents have been able to put pressure on him. We're talking about gutsy forward movement and relentless high-volume striking—the things Colby Covington did well in his two fights with the champ.

    Edwards has the range, striking skill and cardio to emulate Covington's strategy. It's a long shot, but if he gets Usman on the back foot and starts landing high-volume shots at range, he might be able to steal a few rounds—maybe even enough to win the title.

Prediction

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    Set Number: X163858 TK1

    Edwards is as tough of a challenger as Usman has faced, but it's still hard to imagine the champion losing this fight.

    He seems to have his challenger beat in most areas that are likely to matter in the matchup, and he has a massive advantage in championship experience to lean on in the unlikely event that things start to get dicey.

    Edwards should fare much better against Usman than the likes of Jorge Masvidal did, but he will ultimately experience a similar fate: watching as the man whom he hoped to beat leaves the Octagon with the belt that he hoped to steal.

    Prediction: Usman by unanimous decision

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are via UFCStats.com and Tapology.

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