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Leon Edwards out to prove UFC’s blunder by schooling Khamzat Chimaev: ‘It’s going to be a shock’

Leon Edwards has every intention of showing that the hype around Khamzat Chimaev isn’t warranted when they meet in the UFC Fight Night headliner on Dec. 19.

Edwards, No. 9 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie welterweight rankings, is seemingly taking a big risk in putting his eight-fight winning streak on the line against the highly touted but unranked Chimaev.

Despite the discrepancy in divisional position, the lay of the land at 170 pounds made accepting the matchup a logical choice for Edwards. He’ll have been out of action 18 months by the time he competes, and after a main event with Tyron Woodley fell apart in March because of COVID-19, and a title shot against Kamaru Usman failed to materialize in July, Edwards said Chimaev is currently his best option.

“I was calling out the ‘so-called top guys’ in the UFC – (Gilbert) Burns, (Jorge) Masvidal, Colby (Covington) – for over a year, and they kept turning the fight down,” Edwards told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “So I thought, ‘OK, what’s the best option?’ (Stephen) ‘Wonderboy’ (Thompson) called me out, but if I go out there and beat ‘Wonderboy’ it does nothing for my career, and I’m in the same position I’m in now. So I thought, ‘What’s the next best thing outside the champion?’ It’s to fight the most hyped guy right now in the division, which I believe is this kid. The UFC loves him; Dana (White) loves him. If I go out there and smoke him, let’s see what they say. I feel I’ll be guaranteed a title shot after this.”

The way in which the matchup between Edwards (18-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) and Chimaev (9-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) came to fruition was rather unusual. Edwards originally didn’t express interest in facing Chimaev, but his options narrowed. The UFC then removed Edwards from its official rankings, citing inactivity, but less than 24 hours later the promotion announced the Chimaev fight was set.

All that drama failed to strike a nerve with Edwards. He said he was always privy to what was happening behind the scenes and ultimately left with no negative feelings about the process.

“I’m going in there happy with my position, happy with where I’m at,” Edwards said. “Obviously I would’ve preferred a title shot, but outside of that this is the next best option in the division. I feel, after this, I’ll be granted a title shot, so I’m good.”

Edwards’ perceived role against Chimaev is to test the Russian prospect. Chimaev has delivered at every turn, finishing all three of his UFC opponents and setting records in the process. UFC president Dana White has hailed Chimaev like few before, calling him “one of the most special fighters” he’s ever seen and booking him outside the norm.

After studying Chimaev closely, Edwards said he can’t get on board with that degree of praise. He plans to show why inside the octagon.

“Nah (the hype isn’t justified),” Edwards said. “From what I’ve seen in his fights, his wrestling tournaments, I just feel the level they’ve given him is made for him to win. I truly believe it’s going to be a shock to him when he gets in there with me. … They’ve done it before time and again, right? They try to build these guys up, and they get one good win, two good wins and then they push them straight to the top. They don’t give them time to build their career and learn stuff. We can name many times Dana White’s come out and been like, ‘This is the next guy.’ Then they get pushed up the rankings and beat straight away. He’s not on my level, and I’ll go out and show it.”

Edwards thinks he’ll win the fight definitively, but the Brit said he’s not overlooking Chimaev. He’s been in Chimaev’s shoes, and Edwards knows what it’s like to be a young, successful fighter with a lot of momentum and an unflappable confidence.

And although Edwards has not received anywhere near the push of Chimaev in his UFC career, he sees similarities and – more importantly – knows the traps that come with being in that position.

“I’ve been where he’s at,” Edwards said. “I had an eight-second knockout before in the UFC. I’ve had the latest stoppage before in the UFC. I’ve done this already. I’ve done this, and I know how it feels. He’s full of confidence, and it’s all going his way. Let’s see when it’s not going his way what happens then.

“It’s hard to judge him. His competition, skill-level wise, is so low. It’s hard to judge how good this guy is. So I went back, and I watched all his old fights, and it was the same thing. All the competition they give him is just random people.”

Edwards is embracing the challenge of derailing arguably the most hyped fighter in the sport. He truly believes the UFC made an error in judgment putting the bout together, but only his actions inside the octagon can back that up.

Chimaev has finished every opponent he’s faced through nine fights and has yet to let anyone escape the second round. He’s never been hurt, knocked down, caught in a submission, or placed in any real danger in any of those fights.

If Chimaev is able to thwart a foe of Edwards’ experience and talent level, then his star will likely catapult to the very top. Edwards has no intention of being a stepping stone, though, and he envisions a finish of Chimaev that will extend his winning streak and usher him into a long-awaited title shot.

“Let’s see how he deals with adversity,” Edwards said. “We haven’t seen him out (of) the second round. Let’s see how he handles getting punched, getting taken down, being down on the scorecards, and coming back to get a finish. I’ve proved it to myself already. I’ve proved it in the octagon already. Let’s see how he deals with adversity.

“It’s totally different when you hit people with shots, and you get resistance. Other people he’s fought have offered no resistance. He’s basically gone in there and done what he wanted to. I’m going in there to finish him, and I think I need to finish him to prove to the world he’s not on my level, and I deserve a title shot next.”

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