UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title
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UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title

Leon Edwards retained his welterweight title, cruising to victory over Colby Covington at UFC 296 in Las Vegas.

UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title
UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title

In a fight with few significant moments, Edwards out-struck the American and nullified many of the grappling exchanges.

An emotional Edwards then criticised Covington, who had made a crass comment about the Briton’s late father in the fight build-up.

“This guy used my dad’s murder as entertainment,” said Edwards.

“It took a lot for me to calm down. I spoke to my mum and my team and shut it all down.

“After the press conference, I was crying backstage because of the rage. You can’t use my dad’s death.”

Edwards shows patience to silence home support

There was anticipation throughout fight week in Vegas, with Edwards and Covington’s faces plastered across the extravagant billboards along the Strip and in the casinos.

But the build-up to the bout had been soured by former interim champion Covington’s repulsive comment at the pre-fight media conference that Edwards’ late father was “in hell”.

Covington is often brash and outlandish, garnering attention around his fights, but his comments about Edwards’ father drew criticism from fellow fighters and pundits.

An emotionally charged Edwards went into the contest on an 11-fight win streak after making the first defence of his title against Kamaru Usman in March, with Covington last competing 21 months ago in a win over Jorge Masvidal.

Donald Trump was octagon-side to support Covington, who had said pre-fight that the former American president would wrap the title around his waist if he beat Edwards.

Also in attendance were a plethora of stars including UFC champions Alexander Volkanovski, Islam Makhachev and Sean Strickland, actors Jared Leto and Mark Wahlberg, and rapper Stormzy.

Draped in an American flag and accompanied by former WWE star Kurt Angle’s theme, Covington made his way slowly to the octagon, taking slow, deep breaths, before walking over to Trump for some last words of advice and entering the cage.

Edwards, meanwhile, who was largely booed by the crowd, walked purposely to the octagon but looked relaxed as he sung along to his walkout song.

The fight started with the Briton pushing forward, as he would throughout the following 25 minutes, feinting and landing leg kicks, while chants of “Colby, Colby” rung out around the arena.

With Edwards continuing to put Covington on the back foot while waiting for openings, the crowd began to get impatient with the lack of action, booing and shouting “come on, do something”.

Covington sprung into life halfway through the bout, launching for a takedown and getting Edwards to the ground, but the champion quickly got back to his feet.

Perhaps sensing he was down two rounds, Covington continued to up his punching output, but the damage from Edwards’ leg kicks was starting to show, with heavy bruising on the American’s leg.

Covington continued to look for takedowns in the latter rounds and landed some, but Edwards was always quick to get back to his feet, or turn the positions round to his advantage.

As the final bell rang, both fighters raised their arms in the air appearing confident of victory, but it was Edwards who was deservedly given the nod.

‘Covington is a dirty human being’

UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title
UFC 296: Leon Edwards cruises to victory over Colby Covington to retain welterweight title

The victory extended Edwards’ winning streak to 12, which is one behind George St Pierre’s welterweight record of 13.

Following the win, Edwards said he fought wanting to match Covington’s strengths in grappling.

“I know I’m the better athlete but they kept going on about cardio so I wanted to match the cardio,” said Edwards.

“I wanted to grapple with him. I’m a mixed martial artist, so I wanted to come out here and prove my case.

“I feel like I was the much better athlete and technician. He’s good, a great competitor but a dirty human being.”

Covington, who was booed by the crowd following the bout, says he felt he should have won the fight.

He said: “I had a long lay-off so I think a bit of ring rust had something to do with it. I feel great, I didn’t feel like I got touched. Everyone who faces adversity in life, keep going.

“People have been ducking me. Leon didn’t want to fight in his home country.

“I made a mistake, I made a bad mistake early on. I didn’t take any damage, it was the easiest fight of my life. I thought I won.”

In the co-main event, Brazil’s Alexandre Pantoja defended his flyweight title against American Brandon Royval with a unanimous decision win.

Pantoja, 33, was making the first defence of his title since a split decision win over Brandon Moreno in July, with Royval, 31, last fighting in April with victory over Matheus Nicolau.

The pair had met previously, with Pantoja submitting Royval in the second round via a rear-naked choke in 2021.

Pantoja got the better of the grappling exchanges over an exciting five rounds, with Royval unable to repeat the feats of his previous two fights where he secured two finishes.

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