Leon Edwards escaped drugs and poverty after his dad was shot dead, now he is targeting UFC champ Kamaru Usman and stardom after Belal Muhammad

Leon Edwards escaped drugs and poverty after his dad was shot dead, now he is targeting UFC champ Kamaru Usman and stardom after Belal Muhammad
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Leon Edwards finally returns to MMA action on Saturday night in Las Vegas as he continues his pursuit of UFC welterweight gold against Belal Muhammad.

Having not fought since a dominant display against Rafael dos Anjos in July 2019, it seemed as though ‘Rocky’ could be stuck on the sidelines indefinitely.

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Born in Jamaica, but fighting out of Birmingham, Edwards has all the tools to become a UFC champion

A scheduled bout for UFC London against Tyron Woodley was scrapped due to COVID-19, he rejected a last-minute title shot against Kamaru Usman and his proposed bout with Khamzat Chimaev appears to be another cursed MMA contest.

However, after what feels like an eternity, one of the most complete mixed martial artists to ever come from the UK is back in action at the UFC Apex in Vegas.

The absence of almost two years will surely be worth the wait if Edwards can get past Muhammad in spectacular fashion, with a title shot against current 170lbs king Kamaru Usman on offer.

Yet overcoming hardship to succeed is something the 29-year-old has had to do his entire life, starting with his childhood in Jamaica living in a shack.

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Khamzat Chimaev was set to face Edwards, but has pulled out of the bout through COVID-19

Edwards lived in Kingston with his mother, father and brother, Fabian, in a wooden shack with a zinc roof in just one room; this room contained the kitchen, the living room and the bedroom.

“Everyone is broke, but they’re still warring over territory,” he told ESPN. “It’s probably the poverty and hunger that does it to men. It’s mad.

“As a kid growing up in Jamaica, all you see is crime, drugs, killing, shooting, poverty. Day in and day out. I’ve never seen someone get shot in front of my face, but I’ve seen people who were hit with bullets running to get away.

“Killing became normal to me as a kid. Hearing gunshots was normal; it did not faze me. When you’re playing outside in Jamaica and you hear gunshots, you don’t run and hide. You just look, and if it’s nowhere near you, you carry on with your day. That was it. It is a part of life. We didn’t know any better.”

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‘Rocky’ and his brother Fabian Edwards

Edwards’ father was involved in nefarious activities, but always made sure to provide for his family. However, when Leon was just a teenager, his father was tragically shot dead.

“When I was 14, my father was murdered,” he said. “He was shot and killed at a nightclub in London. It was something to do with money. I don’t know what exactly. It was some mad s—, but I knew that it could happen.

“But that didn’t make it any easier. It fme up. It pushed me more into gang life and crime, toward the negative. My mid-teens were my darkest years.

“My crew was involved with fights, robberies and stabbings. We sold some drugs. We smoked weed and drank, a bit. I was arrested a few times, for fights and having a knife.

“It was mostly fighting. I fought to defend friends, I fought to intimidate and I fought because of beefs. I fought all the time. That’s why my nickname is ‘Rocky.’ I got that from school. That’s before I got into MMA. I got it just from scrapping in the streets.”

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The 29-year-old from Birmingham dominated Rafael dos Anjos in his last outing in the octagon

It must have felt as though the world was against Edwards at times, even after moving to the UK.

Even his UFC career has been littered with difficult moments, like the fights being cancelled in the past 12 months or losing his welterweight ranking after an eight-fight win streak.

Both Usman and Georges St-Pierre managed to avoid defeat in the welterweight division for 13 fights. Should ‘Rocky’ manage to reach or even eclipse this achievement, then all the sacrifice will have been worth it.