Leon Edwards has been fighting in the UFC for a long time, but had to wait eight years for his biggest fight and seven to get a coveted rematch. And his most significant victory so far. The 30-year-old Briton, who was born in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, shocked everyone on Sunday when he knocked out former light heavyweight champion Kamaru Usman of Nigeria. The African is known by his nickname Nightmare, and for good reason – before the meeting with Leon, he had five successful defenses of his championship belt. And in 2015, he already defeated Edwards by unanimous decision.
But before reaching the top of the MMA elite, the fighter known by his nickname Rocky goes through a long and thorny road.
He, his mother and his little brother said goodbye to their native Jamaica to start a new life in Birmingham in 2000. They just need to save themselves from a reality in which “hearing gunshots every day is normal”, as Leon himself tells. His father was the first to go to the Island, and things are slowly working out – after they all lived in a one-room apartment in the homeland, things are already broken in Europe.
But four years after their arrival in Albion, one evening the phone at home rang and Leon remembers his mother starting to cry.
“I knew what my dad was up to, so I knew sooner or later something bad was going to happen. Late night phone calls like that never lead to anything good. And it’s not like he died in his sleep. He was killed. This seemed to enrage me even more and pushed me to start leading a similar lifestyle – criminal,” says the MMA star.
The 30-year-old fighter still does not know the whole story regarding his father’s death. Only that he was shot in a nightclub, and the whole situation was about money. Back in Kingston, he is part of the criminal contingent…
Rocky, as Edwards is known, described the next few years after his dad’s death as “the darkest of his life.” The gangs and organized crime in Birmingham are pulling him in with their tentacles.
In Jamaica, Edwards enjoyed as peaceful a childhood as he could, being the son of a man better known as The General. Leader of a local gang.
“We lived in a battlefield. Shootings were normal. We lay down and hid, and when we looked around and saw that everyone was alive, we breathed a sigh of relief. At some point you accept these things as normal,” he adds, and the family’s decision to move in Britain it should be a fresh and clean start.
Yes but no. Aside from his father continuing to do the same things, Edwards gets in trouble at school, his classmates make fun of his Jamaican accent, and that’s when he gets his nickname “Rocky.” Because he doesn’t owe them anything. With your fists.
“There were two big gangs in town then, and when you’re in the same school with some of the gang members, you inevitably get involved in those things. After my father’s death, I became even more angry, I fought even more. I wouldn’t said that I was in life-threatening situations, but there were times when I thought about it… We did what all gangs do. We sold drugs, there were robberies, shootings, stabbings…” he recalls the bad days of your life.
He was arrested several times for beatings and for having a knife. His mother drags him out of the police station every time, and he is aware that her heart is breaking from what is happening. She thinks that this is his world and life… Until one day, when she is 17, she sees an MMA gym and sends her boy there. Although Edwards had never heard of the sport before. The gangs have so washed his views of fighting that the possibility of an honest one, with rules and a sporting context, seems ridiculous to him.
After some training, he is told that he has an innate talent. Gradually, he starts winning competitions and prizes, and also sees the pride in his mother’s eyes. At 18, he debuted as an amateur, and at 23 he already signed with the UFC.
Where he continues to rage to this day, and his last loss was to Kamaru Usman. Whom he knocked out on Sunday to become world champion in Salt Lake City at UFC 278. In doing so, Edwards brought Britain its first title since 2016 and only its second in history.
To this day, he refuses to accept the definition of “gangster”, although he was part of a criminal gang. Now he just wants to help people who want to change. He is categorical about one thing – sports saved his life.
“I want to be a better person than what my history makes me look like. The more I succeed, the more I want to help other people. To show them that it’s not important where you start, but where you end,” he is emphatic he.
According to him, without MMA he would be dead. Or in jail.
“The fact that I am already a champion shows everyone that nothing is impossible,” reports the champion.