SALT LAKE CITY — The fight was all but over. Aside from a takedown and a rear-naked choke attempt in the first round, Leon Edwards was handily losing to Kamaru Usman.
There was less than a minute left. Usman was on the verge of winning his 16th straight UFC fight, tying Anderson Silva’s record. It looked like another dominant performance from the man considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
And then, bam!
Edwards ripped a left head kick and Usman was unconscious on impact. At 4:04 of the fifth and final round, Edwards knocked out the seemingly invincible Usman to snap his historic streak and win the UFC welterweight title Saturday at Vivint Arena. The 18,321 in attendance were stunned and then whipped into a frenzy, chanting Edwards’ “Rocky” nickname.
The Utah fans knew they witnessed history. And they really, truly did. An argument could be made that Edwards pulled off the greatest comeback knockout in UFC history.
It’s rare for a challenger to finish a champion in the final round while being down on the cards. Miesha Tate did it in 2016, choking out Holly Holm to win the UFC women’s bantamweight title. Jiri Prochazka finished Glover Teixeira with a fifth-round rear-naked choke in June to win the UFC light heavyweight title, though that was more of a back-and-forth fight. Edwards did it with a Hail Mary head kick.
Perhaps the best comeback in the sport’s history was Silva’s triangle-choke finish in the fifth round against Chael Sonnen in 2010. Sonnen had dominated the entire fight with his wrestling and ground-and-pound before Silva pulled the choke out of nowhere from his back with just over two minutes left. But again, it was not a knockout.
On top of that, Edwards did it against the best fighter in the world and one of the greatest of all time. UFC president Dana White was already talking about Usman in the GOAT conversation. Edwards put an end to one of the most impressive trajectories in the history of MMA with one kick.
With Usman was on the verge of tying the longest winning streak in UFC history, Edwards put a halt to it and who knows if fighter will ever match or beat it. Alexander Volkanovski now has the longest active winning streak in the UFC at 12. Usman was also about to exceed Matt Hughes’ five title defenses, the second most in UFC welterweight history. But now he’ll have to settle for a tie with Hughes for now.
Edwards and Usman will fight again, for sure. It’ll probably be the next fight for both, a massive trilogy bout that will be held in Edwards’ adopted home country of England. Edwards will have a chance to defend the title and further his own legacy then.
But now? No matter what happens from here, this epic knockout — perhaps the greatest comeback KO in UFC history — will live forever.
Ciryl Gane will not get a title shot next, even with a spectacular win over Tai Tuivasa
Raimondi: Real. It seems unlikely Gane will get a title shot again this quickly after losing to champion Francis Ngannou at UFC 270 last January. As good as Gane had looked climbing the rankings to face Ngannou, his former teammate at MMA Factory in Paris, his performance in the title fight was a disappointing one. Ngannou was able to defeat him with a bad knee that needed surgery by wrestling and grappling, something Ngannou had never been known for previously. Ngannou is one of the most powerful punchers in UFC history and that is how he usually wins fights. Very few saw that wrestling-heavy game plan coming and Gane had a hard time figuring it out.
Gane is only 32 years old and almost surely will get another crack at the belt. He is a hearty, -550 favorite against Tai Tuivasa. But even if he wins in spectacular fashion, it really doesn’t seem likely that he would be next in line. Ngannou is still recovering from surgery and he is expected to be a free agent in January. No one is quite sure how that situation will play out.
Meanwhile, if Ngannou isn’t healthy or is on his way out the door, the UFC seems poised to do an interim title fight between former longtime light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, the most successful UFC heavyweight champion next. That fight could take place as early as December at UFC 282, which Jones eluded to in a recent post on Twitter. If Ngannou walks, Gane could theoretically fight the Jones vs. Miocic winner for the undisputed title. But, Curtis Blaydes is also out there as a top contender and Gane might have to go through him first.
There are definitely paths that could lead Gane to a heavyweight title shot with a victory over Tuivasa, but the most likely scenario is the skilled Frenchman needing to win one more before his second chance at the belt.
Demetrious Johnson — remember him? — is still a pound-for-pound force
Wagenheim: We’ll find out on Friday when “Mighty Mouse” fights a rematch with Adriano Moraes for the One Championship flyweight title. When they met in April 2021, Moraes successfully defended his belt with a shocking knockout of the former UFC champ with a knee in the second round. It was the only time in Johnson’s 35-fight career that he’s been finished. Now they’re doing it again, and the fight is a big deal for One, which is trying to establish itself in the United States. This week’s event will take place in Singapore — but will be broadcast live in prime time in the U.S. It’s hard to think of a better way for the promotion to showcase Johnson, one of the greatest in the history of MMA. Both men are in the ESPN men’s flyweight top 10, but Mighty Mouse is the brand name that American fans will recognize.
Does Johnson have a future as a presence in pound-for-pound rankings? I might be proven wrong by the end of the week, but I’m going to say “not,” the days of Mighty Mouse as a top-shelf competitor have passed. The man is 36 years old and has not had a high-level win since 2017. Sure, he won three in a row in One to earn his first title shot, but he didn’t exactly steamroll his lower-tier opponents. This is not to diminish the career-long greatness of Johnson. He’s No. 3 in UFC title fight wins with 12, behind only Jones and Georges St-Pierre and ahead of Anderson Silva and Amanda Nunes. As that list of names suggests, Johnson belongs among the all-time greats, and I’ll be watching on Friday to see what he has left to show us.
Okamoto: Not real. I think that’s pretty obvious. How in the world could it be? Chimaev just beat the No. 1 contender at welterweight. He’s in his prime and talking about winning titles in three different weight classes. Diaz is 1-3 in his past four fights. The last time he fought for a championship was 10 years ago, in a different weight class. The only way you can say this is the right fight for Chimaev is that it can build his brand, which is why the UFC made it. And I can’t blame it for that.
Once Diaz made it clear he only intended to have one more fight in the UFC, the promotion was going to make a business decision on who that final fight would be against. And it was either going to be Conor McGregor (for the money) or Chimaev (for the sake of building Chimaev). So, it’s pretty easy to understand why this fight is happening. But no, I can’t say it’s the right fight for Chimaev. A better fight would have been an opponent like Colby Covington, which the UFC also had an interest in booking.