Ahead of UFC 286, the UK pioneer stopped by The MMA Hour and offered his thoughts on Saturday’s main event, which sees Edwards make the first defense of his UFC welterweight title in a trilogy match against Kamaru Usman in London’s O2 Arena. Edwards became just the second-ever English UFC champion in 2022 when he authored one of the most iconic comebacks in MMA history with his fifth-round knockout of Usman at UFC 278.
“I think Leon’s going to be really, really sharp,” Hardy said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I think he’s realized what he’s capable of now, from that first fight. He won the first round. He was able to take Usman down, mount him, take his back. A lot of confidence can be taken from that. But then he lost the second, third, and fourth round quite convincingly, but I also felt like he looked very flat. I’ve trained in Salt Lake [City], I can imagine that his lungs felt like they were burned and his body felt very heavy. And I don’t really feel like it was a good Leon performance, even though obviously he won the belt.
“I thought the second to the fourth round, he looked very, very flat, and not at all himself. Then the corner team rallying him at the end of the fourth round was just something special. ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Rocky!’ Perfect. It pulled him out of that psychological hole that he was in, and he went and took the belt off Usman, conclusively and concussively. It was a beautiful performance. And I feel like he’s most likely going to do the same thing this weekend as well. Of course, Usman can slow him down and drown him and control him up against the fence, but there are gears to Leon’s game, and as long as he’s got his lungs underneath him, I feel like he’s going to have that striker’s chance.
“Elbows and knees are my prediction for him this weekend,” Hardy continued, “because I expect to Usman to fight him at a much closer range. But I also think that Leon’s going to have the conditioning, the gas tank, and the weapons to do the business.”
Hardy, 40, has a big weekend of his own ahead of him. Not only is he set to corner his wife — Veronica Hardy — for the first time for her UFC 286 preliminary card bout against Juliana Miller, he also officially finalized his new role as Head of Fighter Operations of PFL Europe on Wednesday, which will see him serve as a matchmaker and talent scout in Europe, working closely to identify and develop new up-and-coming stars for the promotion. Hardy will also continue to serve as a primary voice of PFL Europe’s broadcast booth.
With so much going on, Hardy admitted that his long-awaited plans for a comeback fight in either boxing or MMA have be relegated to the back-burner as his focus shifts elsewhere.
“The reality is, I tried to fight a couple of times last year,” Hardy said. “I had the boxing matches with Diego [Sanchez] lined up, and two weeks out, it was cancelled and postponed to later in the year. And then it was picked up, and then two weeks out again they decided that it was going to go on Sky Sports, and they took all of the non-boxing people off the card. It was very frustrating. It felt like it evaded me twice last year and I did two training camps. I was ready.
“Now, of course, Veronica is back in competition, she has to be the priority because she’s world championship material, there’s no doubt about it. And if I can do anything to help her get there, then that has to take priority over my competition. I’m 40 now, I’ve got a beard that’s turned into Gandalf’s, and I’ve got other jobs to be doing within MMA as well. So if I do fight, it will be a very selfish thing for me to do. I’m not counting it out, because I can be selfish at times. But I have bigger priorities now, and they are not me fighting. So I’m not retiring officially, but I’m certainly sticking a pin in it to prioritize more important things.”
Hardy’s biggest priority, for now, is UFC 286. It’s Veronica’s first in-cage appearance since March 2020 and an important one after dropping four of her past five UFC bouts.
It’s also a chance for Hardy’s countrymen to author one of the most legendary nights in UK MMA history — but that’s all going to come down to Edwards’ third crack at Usman.
“Main event, O2 Arena, pay-per-view, defending his belt for the first time on home soil — the crowd are going to be absolutely wild for him. And he deserves this,” Hardy said. “He’s been neglected by the organization for a long time. I remember him sitting on stage with [Jorge] Masvidal and [Darren] Till feeling like he should have been the [UFC London] main event [in 2019] — and arguably he should’ve been. But it is what it is. His timing was perfect.
“He’s arrived now. UFC 286 has got his name all over it, and all he needs to do is go out there and beat Usman again, which is far easier said than done. But I have confidence. I picked against him last time and that was a mistake. I won’t do it again.”