London’s O2 Arena has quickly become one of the UFC’s most electric venues. When current welterweight champion Leon Edwards stunned the mixed martial arts world with his last-minute head-kick knockout of Kamaru Usman, it only made sense for England’s own to defend the crown in front of his home crowd. UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3 is scheduled for a robust 15 fights with the main card starting at 5 p.m. ET. The early start time is always a welcome benefit of London cards and a nice change for fans on the East Coast.
Edwards never appeared to be a threat to Usman through the first 39 minutes they spent in the Octagon. Usman easily ground out a three-round unanimous decision back in 2015 and was one minute away from sweeping the scorecards again. Then, out of nowhere, Edwards’ improbable head kick changed everything in a matter of seconds. Or did it?
Despite being the welterweight champion, Edwards enters the trilogy fight as a +200 underdog. The odds aren’t as wide as the last meeting, where Edwards closed just below 3 to 1, but it’s clear bettors are bearish on the probability of a repeat performance from the champion.
Kamaru Usman (-250) vs. Leon Edwards (+200)
The residual impact of Usman being KO’d is the defining factor in the fight. What’s driving bettors to the window is the million-dollar question of how Usman will respond at 36 years old. I have seen enough Octagon time from these two to know that Usman has the tools to win rounds decisively and the cardio advantage to apply his wrestling over the course of five rounds. Do we see a new Leon Edwards? Does his career-defining victory inject him with enough confidence to close the gap with Usman? It’s possible, but it also feels like a pretty big leap. In terms of probabilities, it seems much more likely Usman will tighten up defensively and return to his bread and butter here. That’s not to say Edwards isn’t a worthy champion or that his knockout should be remembered as a modern-day Matt Serra-Georges St-Pierre moment, but I have a hard time seeing him finishing Usman again or winning enough minutes to take home a decision. St-Pierre was a much more methodical fighter after losing his title and used his wrestling to limit his exposure to damage. I expect Usman to employ a similar strategy to reclaim his title by grinding out a win on Saturday.
Will the fight go the decision? (-175)
The uncertainty of betting on a professional fighter’s psyche may make bettors shy away from picking either fighter. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to make. Before the Usman-Edwards 2, many wondered if the second fight would go the same way as the first encounter since Usman had significantly improved his striking during his title run. It did for 24 of the 25 minutes. Layer in that Usman is almost sure to enter the trilogy fight with a more conservative, defensive game plan focused on the top position and control time, and nothing points to another stoppage. Edwards has only stopped two fighters by strikes in his previous 14 UFC bouts, Peter Sobotta five years ago and Seth Baczynski in 2015. There is fantastic value with Kamaru Usman by decision at even money (+100), but if you are in the camp of not trusting Usman off the knockout, then betting the fight to go the distance is still a good play at this price.