'When that first kick lands, Usman will fear it' – Inside the Leon Edwards camp

When Leon Edwards makes his way down to the cage at the O2 Arena on Saturday night, younger brother Fabian will again be by his side.

The Birmingham fighter is back on home soil to defend his UFC welterweight title against Kamaru Usman in the capital, the deciding fight in an engrossing trilogy between the two.

Last August, a devastating head kick in the final minute of their second fight dropped ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’, leaving him unconscious on the mat. It shocked the world, apart from striking coaches Dave Lovell and Henry Cleminson along with Fabian, who had been calling for that stunning shot all night from ringside.

The Jamaican-born brothers have been in each other’s corners throughout their professional careers. Leon achieved his dream last year with middleweight contender Fabian on the brink of securing his own world title shot in Bellator in May.

In another intense training camp leading into UFC 286, the 29-year-old has had a front row seat, as he has throughout his brother’s journey.

‘Honestly, this is the sharpest I have ever seen him,’ Fabian told Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s been incredible to watch. This is his homecoming. He has just got to be the boss in there, this is his show.’

Over the last five years, Leon has put away some of the best the welterweight division has to offer in Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson, Rafael dos Anjos and Nate Diaz.

‘A grudge match with Jorge Masvidal, the man he brawled with backstage at the same arena he fights in on Saturday back in 2019, never materialised but it allowed him to shift focus to what would be a show-stopping title victory last year.

Usman stood as the pound-for-pound best in his division until his world was rocked. Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Masvidal were among those he dismissed before suffering his first defeat in nine years.

Usman was winning on the judges’ scorecards having won round two, three and four before being blasted in the fifth. But assessing the psychological affect that emphatic finish will have had on the Nigerian, Fabian is not banking on Usman being anything less than the best version of himself.

‘I don’t think there’s much change for him. He is still thew same person, the same fighter,’ he said. ‘We saw the best of him last August and I think it is the same version. He was at his best before he got KO’d and he will bring that same energy. But obviously this time, were on home turf and we’ll thrive on that.

‘We are not banking on any psychological damage. We are not thinking “he got cleaned out so that means it can happen again”. Whether or not he is feeling that damage, we can’t focus on that. But when that first kick lands on Saturday, if he starts twitching, we’ll know.’

The Edwards brothers’ remarkable but tragic story saw them born into poverty in Kingston, Jamaica, moving to the UK as children where their father was murdered when Leon was 14 and Fabian 12. Leon’s victory marked the pinnacle of an emotional and draining journey, immediately FaceTiming his mother who was watching on from back home, unable to face watching her sons go to war.

‘Mum can never come along,’ Fabian explained. ‘It isn’t because she doesn’t want to, she just can’t. She just can’t bear it. The support from her has always been massive but to be there next to the cage, it’s a bit too much for her. That’s just the fight game though. And it’s been like that since the amateur days.’

Even for the battle-hardened Fabian, watching his flesh and blood fight doesn’t get any easier.

‘I feel more nerves when I’m in the corner for his fights and I think that’s the same with him. We have been down this road loads so we know how to handle it. But it doesn’t really get easier. This is what we chose to do but it is still hard, you just learn to deal with it. You know what to expect at this stage so you know how to handle it.’

Moments after cleaning out the world’s best last summer, Leon bellowed into a microphone: ‘They all doubted me, they all said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now.’

Having chased worldwide recognition for over a decade, Fabian believes his brother has finally earned the respect he has always had from his family and his team.

‘With or without the respect, he is still and has always been focused on his dream. It doesn’t really matter because his team and family respect him and that’s what matters.

‘It is good that the industry is starting to wake up but as long as it is his family, friends and teammates doing that, that’s what kept him focused, that’s what’s kept him driven.’

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