Edwards sets sights on UFC belt as British MMA booms

STOCKHOLM, Aug 16 (Reuters) - After a long, hard road to the top, Leon Edwards is ready to beat Kamaru Usman to win the UFC welterweight championship this coming Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah, providing a major boost for the burgeoning British MMA scene.

With Liverpool-born fighters Paddy "The Baddy" Pimblett and Molly McCann electrifying the crowd at a recent sold-out UFC event in London, British MMA is on the crest of a wave, and Edwards can put the cherry on top with a victory at UFC 278.

"I'm excited man, it's been a long time coming, it's been a long, long road, so the time is now and I'm excited," Edwards told Reuters in a Zoom interview from Salt Lake City as he prepared for Usman, whom he lost to by decision to in 2015.

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"We've both improved (since then), and I can see it going many different ways when I picture it. I can see me trying to push a wrestling-based fight again like the first fight," Edwards explained.

"I can see me wrestling with him and then turning it into a striking fight, I can see me choking him out, I can see me getting a decision. I've pictured him being up on the scorecards and me coming back and winning - I've pictured it many different ways."

With nine wins and one no-contest in his last 10 fights, Edwards is full of confidence ahead of his first tilt at the UFC title.

"This is my fourth or fifth main event for the UFC, so for like the main events now, this feels like just another fight to me," he said.

Edwards puts the British boom in cage-fighting down to the older generation hanging up their gloves and moving into coaching.

GREAT FIGHTERS

"We're getting just as good of a training camp as we would have if we went to America or anywhere else, I think that's why it's so good. There are great fighters coming out of the UK and that is one of the main reasons," Edwards said.

The 30-year-old, who was born in Jamaica but grew up in the English city of Birmingham, is something of a poster boy for the redemptive powers of combat sports.

His father was shot and killed in a London nightclub when Edwards was 13, and he spent four years involved in gangs and crime before extricating himself through MMA.

"It's not about where you start, it's about where you finish. Don't let your environment make you who you are and cloud your vision," he says when asked what advice he would give to young people.

"When I was young, all I could see was going around with my friends and stuff like that, but find what you love to do... dedicate yourself to it and it will pay off."

Edwards is aiming to become only the second British champion in the 29-year-history of the UFC, joining Michael Bisping, who pulled off a shock victory over Luke Rockhold in 2016 to snatch the middleweight belt.

For Edwards, taking the title from Nigeria's Usman would be the crowning glory of his career.

"That would be unbelievable... To be able to go out there and prove I'm the best... it is just the icing on the cake," he said.

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Reporting by Philip O'Connor Editing by Christian Radnedge

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