Leon Edwards is hoping to be propelled into super-stardom when he takes on Nate Diaz at UFC 263 this Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona.
‘Rocky’ has lived up to his nickname for all the wrong reasons – enduring a nightmare period away from the sport as inactivity threatened to blight his progress in the welterweight division.
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.
Edwards finally managed to book an opponent in March, yet his fight with Belal Muhammad was cruelly cut short due to an accidental eye poke and it left the Birmingham-native in tears.
However, he has secured what could be a life-changing fight with Diaz this weekend, with the winner likely to get a welterweight title shot.
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.
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.”
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 f***** me 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.”
It must have felt as though the world was against Edwards at times, even after moving to the UK.
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.
But a win over hardened veteran Diaz this weekend will propel him towards his ultimate ambition – the welterweight title.
A rematch with the king of the division Kamaru Usman – the last man to beat him – awaits.
“This is the fight that will put me where I belong,” Edwards declared ahead of UFC 263.
Nate Diaz may yet have something to say about that. But given what Edwards has overcome in his career and life so far, you’d be brave to bet against him…