Just how big was Leon Rocky Edwards defending his title on home soil for the future of the sport in the UK?
That’s a question that’s crossed my mind several times since the event took place. Before we got the 3rd and final fight of the trilogy we of course had UFC 278 Salt Lake City, Utah which is a night that will stay in the memory of British fight fans forever. The 5th round head kick is heard around the world. It’s hard to pick a favourite moment from that night for me, one thing I do remember is being shocked at the emotions it brought out in me.
I stood up with genuine tears of happiness in my eyes, it was well past 5 AM in Swansea, Wales where I’m from but I knew that night that I had witnessed a truly special moment. The post-fight speech, the FaceTime call with his mother, the emotion he displayed, who he has done it against, the way he did it and everything he had to overcome to get there. The moment felt perfectly scripted for Rocky and his nickname had never felt more fitting.
From the moment head coach Dave Lovell of Team Renegade attempted to fire Rocky up with an inspired speech before the start of the final round, it looked like we could be on for something special. I’d be lying if I said I thought it was gonna happen at that very moment, that’s what made it so special when it did. It is truly like a rocky movie and the UFC playing the rocky theme music whilst Leon was celebrating his victory was just the icing on the cake.
Fast forward to today, almost 2 weeks out from Rocky winning the third and what looks to be the final fight. Just how big was this win for the future of the sport in the UK?
Now I understand that MMA is massive in many parts of the world but here in the UK, it’s just not unfortunately. Football, Rugby, Cricket, Golf, Darts and Boxing all have more of a media presence and more government backing. I don’t think you can understate just how massive this win could be for British mixed martial arts. Just think of what he’s done, he’s defended the belt on home soil and inspired countless people worldwide not just in the UK. He’s shown us all that you can do it from Birmingham and not only at one of the world’s most famous MMA powerhouse gyms. He’s also shown the British people that MMA is here to stay.
It feels like thanks to Leon and many other British athletes and fight fans, the pieces are in place for the sport to truly explode. Many said the original Rocky film in 1976 saved a dying sport that was on the decline. Could we have our own version with Leon Rocky Edwards, instead of saving a dying sport he is indeed giving life to a sport that was never truly born here. Something I like to call the Rocky effect. I hope to see this reflected in more media coverage for the sport and local fighters, more support from the government and the continued growth of the sport in these parts, as there are some beautiful stories in the combat sports world and the sport truly has the ability to change people for the better.
Upon reflecting before writing this, which happens to be my first attempt at writing an article. It had me thinking of how different things could be if that now-famous head kick hadn’t landed. Thousands of new faces would not have shown up to all gyms across the UK on the next Monday, Kamaru Usman would’ve remained the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, Leon would suffer another setback on his inspiring journey, and I personally would not have witnessed and experienced the very moment that inspired me to be a part of trying to help the sport grow.