Leon Edwards hopes to be propelled to stardom when he takes on Nate Diaz at UFC 263 this Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona.
“Rocky” lived up to his nickname for all the wrong reasons – enduring a nightmare period away from the sport as inactivity threatened to spoil his progress in the welterweight division.
A scheduled UFC London fight against Tyron Woodley has been called off due to COVID-19, he rejected a last-minute title shot against Kamaru Usman and his proposed fight with Khamzat Chimaev appears to be another cursed MMA contest.
Edwards eventually managed to book an opponent in March, but his fight with Belal Muhammad was severely cut short with an accidental blow to the eye and left the Birmingham native in tears.
However, he did secure what could be a life-changing fight with Diaz this weekend, with the winner likely to secure a chance for the welterweight title.
Yet overcoming the hardships to succeed is something the 29-year-old has had to do his entire life, starting with his childhood in Jamaica, living in a cabin.
Edwards lived in Kingston with his mother, father and brother, Fabian, in a wooden cabin with a zinc roof in one room; this room contained the kitchen, living room and bedroom.
“Everyone’s broke, but they’re still fighting over territory,” he told ESPN. “It’s probably poverty and hunger that do it to men. It’s crazy.
“As a kid growing up in Jamaica all you see is crime, drugs, murder, shootings, poverty. Day after day. I have never seen anyone shot in front of my face, but I have seen people who have been hit by bullets run to escape.
“Killing became normal for me when I was a child. Hearing gunshots was normal; it didn’t bother me. When you play outside in Jamaica and hear gunshots, you don’t run and hide. Just watch, and if it’s not near you, you get on with your day. That was it. It’s 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 in a nightclub in London. It was something to do with money. I don’t know what exactly. It was a little crazy, but I knew it could happen.
“But that didn’t make it easier. It messes me up. It pushed me more towards gang life and crime, towards the negative. My teenage years were my darkest years.
“My crew has been involved in fights, robberies and stabbing. We sold drugs. We smoked weed and drank a little. I was arrested a few times for fighting and possession of a knife.
“It was mostly fights. I fought to defend friends, I fought to bully and I fought because of the oxen. I was fighting all the time. That’s why my nickname is “Rocky”. I got it at school. This was before I got into MMA. I got it just by closing in the streets.
He must have felt like the world was against Edwards at times, even after moving to the UK.
His UFC career has been littered with difficult times, such as canceled fights in the past 12 months or losing his welterweight standings after an eight-game winning streak.
But a victory over hardened veteran Diaz this weekend will propel him to his ultimate ambition – the welterweight title.
A rematch with Division King Kamaru Usman – the last man to beat him – awaits him.
“This is the fight that will put me in my place,” Edwards said ahead of UFC 263.
Nate Diaz may still have something to say about this. But given what Edwards has overcome in his career and life so far, you’d be brave to bet against him …