By JOHN COON, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Leon Edwards dropped Kamaru Usman with a kick to the head and neck in the final minute of the fifth round to win the welterweight championship at UFC 278 on Saturday night.
Usman appeared to be seconds away from a 16th consecutive victory, which would have tied an all-time UFC record, before Edwards came up with the stunning finish just in time. He delivered the knockout blow with 56 seconds left in the bout.
“That crosshead kick landed perfectly,” Edwards said.
Edwards (20-3) is undefeated dating back to his previous bout with Usman in 2015. The British fighter rose to No. 2 in the welterweight division while accumulating nine wins in that stretch ahead of the title bout.
Usman (20-2) lived up to his reputation as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world for much of the bout. The Nigerian weathered a late first-round takedown and turned the tables with a late second-round takedown. Usman controlled position throughout the third round, earning two more takedowns, and led 39-37 on the judges’ scorecards after four rounds. He appeared on his way to a win by unanimous decision before Edwards rallied in the final round.
“The octagon belongs to nobody,” Edwards said. “No man is meant to hold the belt for that long. I said all week I felt like this was my moment. This is how it was meant to play out.”
Edwards still believes he has plenty left to prove even though he is now the champion. He mentioned repeatedly how he didn’t like how his body reacted to Usman’s attacks throughout all five rounds.
“That wasn’t my best performance, and I did not feel myself in this,” Edwards said. “I feel like I have much more to offer.”
UFC’s first pay-per-view event in Utah drew 18,321 fans and $4.2 million in live gate revenue, a Vivint Arena record. It marked the 23rd consecutive sellout for the UFC.
Dana White praised the arena atmosphere and said the UFC could return to Utah as early as 2023.
“You could put this crowd up there with anybody tonight,” White said.
Paulo Costa prevailed over former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in a unanimous decision in the middleweight bout. Costa (14-2) had lost two straight bouts coming into Salt Lake City.
Rockhold (16-5) returned to the octagon for the first time in three years and his rust showed as the bout progressed. Costa more than doubled Rockhold in total strikes through the first two rounds and eventually left him with a bloodied mouth in the third round. Rockhold wiped his own blood over Costa’s face in the round’s final seconds while both fighters were locked in a stalemate on the ground.
“I didn’t see it in the moment of the fight. I just felt something on my face,” Costa said. “But when I saw, it was very disgusting. … It was a weird moment.”
Merab Dvalishvili prevailed over former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a unanimous decision in the men’s bantamweight bout, earning his eighth straight win. Aldo (31-8) had vocal support from the crowd but wore down under relentless pressure from Dvalishvili (15-4) over three rounds.
Lucie Pudilova beat Wu Yanan in the main card women’s bantamweight bout for her third straight win. Yanan suffered her fourth straight loss. Pudilova earned a TKO at the 4:04 mark in the second round after dragging Yanan to the canvas and repeatedly smashing elbows into her from a back mount.
Tyson Pedro earned a TKO over Harry Hunsucker 1:05 into the first round in the light heavyweight bout to round out the main card bouts.
Marcin Tybura handed Alexandr Romanov his first career UFC loss in the heavyweight bout, winning by majority decision. Romanov (18-1) slammed Tybura (23-7) to the canvas multiple times in the first round but ran out of steam in the remaining two rounds.
Sean Woodson and Luis Saldana fought to a rare split draw in a featherweight preliminary bout earlier in the evening. It was the first career draw for both fighters.
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