It was the end of the fourth round. The columns were all half-written, the bets five minutes from cashing. Kamaru Usman was comfortably ahead on the scorecards and cruising to a sixth consecutive defense of his UFC welterweight title. The end was just five minutes of formality, of the continued slow crush of Usman's dominance away.
And no one seemed to know it more than poor Leon Edwards.
"A dejected challenger," observed color commentator Joe Rogan.
"Yeah," agreed fellow broadcaster Daniel Cormier.
The fifth began with the broadcasters predicting Edwards was far behind on the scorecards and that the challenger would need to find a stoppage to win. They talked about moral victories, about the accomplishment of going 25 minutes with maybe the sport's greatest reigning champion.
In the round's opening moments, Din Thomas, another valuable part of the broadcast team, said, "If it wasn't obvious enough, Leon is broken now...he's embarrassed from his own performance."
On further inspection, Edwards did indeed appear to be wearing what we used to call a thousand-yard stare.
But then, there was a cracking sound. And there was Usman, on the mat, looking sightlessly up at the lights.
The champ had just ducked into a perfectly disguised left high kick from Edwards. And there he was, separated from his senses. The cleanest knockout you could ever hope to see. And there was no more roof on the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
With a mere 56 seconds remaining in the contest, we had a UFC welterweight champion, and his name was Leon Edwards.
"I can't put it into words, Joe," an ecstatic Edwards told Rogan in the cage after the fight. "For years you all doubted me and said I couldn't do it. You all said I couldn't do it. Look at me now! … God is on my side. I've said it all week: this is my moment."
You can't fault those commentators in hindsight; they were speaking for everyone watching. Edwards had the look of a beaten man and Usman had the look of an absolute master of his craft, plying his trade en route to another convincing win. Recalling their observations isn't meant to cast aspersions on this so much as it is to capture the mood in the arena and between the two combatants, which they accurately did.
Until that fateful moment, the first round was easily Edwards' best. Each man exchanged kicks early (kicks were a critical weapon for Edwards in all five rounds) and with Usman plying his bread and butter: takedowns and control time on the mat or along the fence. When Edwards landed a trip takedown, he became the first man to take Usman down in the UFC, ending the champ's perfect 100 percent takedown defense rate.
Likely sensing he may have lost a round, Usman ratcheted up the pressure in Round 2. This was the champ's highest-output striking round, per UFC stats, as he outlanded Edwards 36-20 in significant strikes. Usman repeatedly walked Edwards down against the cage and then chopped at the head and body as Edwards covered up.
The third and fourth unfurled in classic Usman fashion. Whenever Edwards regained his verticality, he was quickly dumped on his backside again or ate an elbow for his troubles. In these two rounds, Usman amassed six minutes and 14 seconds of control time, well over half of the total 10 minutes of combined action.
As confirmed after the fact, the judges all gave Edwards the first and Usman the second, third and fourth, making the last stanza a make-or-break proposition for the challenger. And even though his face was blank and his eyes were glassy, he still appears to have gotten the message.
Usman had taken the drama out of the proceedings. And then, with a minute remaining in the final round, when Edwards threw that straight left hand and convinced Usman to duck into a head kick, he put it all back in and then some.
Yes. Some people will say Edwards was still not the better fighter that night, that a fluky shot is what has him leaving with the gold.
That's not inaccurate. But it doesn't change the fact that this kind of thing is baked into the sport. It's the special sauce of MMA: so many things can happen.
And for those who saw Edwards shock everybody who was watching, this can't help but be an all-time come-from-behind win. There were plenty of other upsets that happened in the face of longer statistical odds—Edwards was "only" about +260—but this is up there for out-of-nowhere, snatching-victory-from-jaws-of-defeat victories.
Anderson Silva's Hail Mary triangle choke on Chael Sonnen in 2010 probably rules the genre. The second and third Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard fights were great. Going back to the venerable Pride days, Fedor Emelianenko coming back in 2004 after Kevin Randleman nearly slammed him into unconsciousness is another good one.
There are plenty to choose from, and this fight just joined that rarefied list. This is more fun than marching slowly toward Usman's date with Khamzat Chimaev, assuming the phenom got past beloved but fading Nate Diaz at UFC 279 next month. That day will come, but these delightfully, quintessentially MMA detours are always part of the story.
So forget about Chimaev for now. UFC President Dana White said afterward that he's ready to make the Usman-Edwards rubber match, and to make it in Edwards' native England.
It's good to be the champion, and Edwards has earned his way here. No matter what happens the third time around, Edwards will always have one of the company's most thrilling title wins in history.