Kamaru Usman claims he and Leon Edwards both know who the superior fighter is ahead of their trilogy bout at UFC 286 in London on Saturday.
“He’s the champ and I’ll give that to him, but him and I know,” Usman told Sky Sports, despite being knocked out by Edwards in August.
Birmingham’s Edwards, 31, became just the second British UFC champion when stunning Usman, but the latter is out to ensure that hold on the welterweight title is short-lived.
“I will deal with him March 18,” added Usman. “I’ve never been disrespectful with Leon. If anything I’ve been the only guy that has given him respect all throughout his career.
“I’m not going to start now. He said a couple things now that have offended me, but I’ll talk to him about that on Saturday night.
“When I get in there and fight these guys, I’m not fighting their skills – I fight guys with better boxing, better kickboxing, maybe better wrestling credentials – but it doesn’t matter, it’s about how you mix it up. That’s the beautiful thing about this sport, it’s called mixed martial arts and I don’t think there’s anybody in the world that agrees that’s he’s better at MMA than I am.”
Edwards, born and raised in Jamaica before moving to the UK aged nine, is relishing the prospect of fighting at The O2 and is confident of beating Usman in front of a home crowd.
“I enjoy the moments. This is my fifth or sixth main event, so I’ve been in a main fight before,” Edwards told Sky Sports. “I understand it’s a power fight, but it’s the same cameras, more screens, that’s about it. It’s the same cage, the same Usman.
“I know it’s going to be crazy, but let’s not overcomplicate it. It’s going to be a packed arena and I get to enjoy it with my family. That’s the only difference to me, more friends and family there.
“I think Kamaru is Kamaru, since the knockout he’s been playing it down, ‘I’m happy that I lost the bout’. Everyone says the same when they lose, the story doesn’t change, ‘the pressure on me and bla bla bla’.”
Usman, meanwhile, played down the pressure, says the confidence “never left”, and stressed he is coming “home” by fighting in London.
“My fans! These are my fans,” said ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’.
“Everybody keeps saying you’re coming to enemy territory, I’m at home, this is London. This is my people here, they love me, they tell me all the time they want me to come to London and put on a performance for them. I asked for this, I could have waited and done it in Vegas, but no, ‘Let’s go to London’.
“I love the support. That just goes to show how massive the sport is and how much it’s growing. I love it, whether they’re screaming for me or against me.”
Addressing the rumours he walks down stairs backwards, Usman added: “I don’t have to, I choose to. I’m just smart, I’m preserving my knees so I can go longer.
“I could walk forward, and sometimes I do, but for the most part I’m going backwards. I can do it in the dark, I’ve been doing it for years.”
‘Why does everyone call out McGregor?’
Edwards is eager to focus on Saturday, but when asked about a possible next fight he questioned why every fighter appears to be calling out 34-year-old Conor McGregor, whose last bout was when losing to Dustin Poirier in July 2021.
“I don’t understand why everyone calls out Conor, he hasn’t fought for however long. I know he was a big star in the sport, but if you keep doing what you’re doing anyway, you can get the money and you might get the Conors.
“I need to focus on what I need to do. Every single fighter from heavyweight to strawweight is calling him out, it’s weird. I don’t understand it, I’ll just keeping being me, I’ll just be the champ, my aim is to be the best of all time.”
Asked hypothetically if there was the same money on the table to fight McGregor or Jorge Masvidal next, Edwards did not hesitate.
“Masvidal,” he added, with their 2021 bout cancelled due to an injury for the American.
“There’s a story behind it, there’s motivation there. The motivation would be that I don’t like him.”