UFC 286: Do Underdog Champions Defend Their Title?

Edwards’ first title defence will be the 40th time a champion has defended a title as an underdog.
10:00, 18 Mar 2023

London plays host to it’s first UFC numbered event since Michael Bisping defeated Yoshihiro Akayama back in October 2010. This time with championship gold on the line as Birmingham’s Leon Edwards hopes to keep his belt on home soil, facing the former pound-for-pound number one, Kamaru Usman. 

Heading into this one, Leon Edwards is the 2/1 underdog with Betfred, with Usman priced at 2/5 to retake the welterweight title. So we’ve done some analysis through the years of title-holding fighters defending their belts as underdogs, and put together some stats on whether you should be backing Edwards, or whether the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ is the man getting his hand raised on Saturday. 

Edwards vs Usman is the 40th title fight that sees the champion as the betting underdog. The first ever underdog title champion on record came back in August 2007, as Randy Couture defeated Gabriel Gonzaga in Las Vegas, with Couture priced at around 11/8 on the night compared to Gonzaga at 4/6.

Historically, the belt has been retained by an underdog 21 times (53%) compared to the 18 times the favourite has had their hand raised at the end. In terms of British fighters in title fights, the signs don’t bode well for Edwards. The only two British fighters to ever fight for top spot are Michael Bisping and Darren Till, Bisping famously winning the title as a massive underdog against Luke Rockhold after accepting the fight on short notice and shortly following the filming of Vin Diesel’s xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage. 

Bisping’s only defence as an underdog came against George St. Pierre, the Canadian superstar claiming the title from him after some entertaining pre-fight press conferences. ‘The Count’ was 11/10 entering that fight, with GSP at evens to claim the middleweight title, which he did exceptionally before retiring. 

Till on the other hand, fought Tyron Woodley for the welterweight crown back in 2018, priced slightly lower than evens, with Woodley the underdog this time around. This was the last time a champion entered a fight as an underdog in the 170lbs weight class, thanks to Kamaru Usman’s rapid ascent in the division and the path of destruction that he’s left in his wake over the last three years. 

At welterweight, out of the last 15 title fights, there has only been three champion underdogs, Woodley twice against Till and Steven Thompson and one for Robbie Lawler (against Rory Macdonald). Each time this equation has come to the fore, the underdog has been victorious. 

This shows that, despite the previous records of fighters, there’s a history of non-favoured champions managing to defend their titles despite the odds. If Leon Edwards fails to beat Kamaru Usman on Saturday night, he is the first welterweight champion to fall at the first hurdle as an underdog. Unnecessary pressure to add onto the biggest fight of someone’s career, for sure, but records always lurk in the background. 

Now for those that might be looking at a route of finish if you’re backing Edwards to get it done, it’s worth checking out the method of victory of those fights. Luckily, we’ve already got that covered too. 

Out of the 21 underdog wins, 11 of them have been decided by the judges. There’s been seven KO/TKO victories and three submissions. The hottest round for a finish is round one, with four, however this fight seems more suited for going the distance, given how late Edwards’ KO victory over Usman was back in Utah. 

All in all, the signs are good for Leon Edwards, who looks to become just the second ever British fighter to defend a championship, bringing UFC gold back to the UK for the first time in over five years. 

With the UFC’s appeal in the UK only continuing to grow, fans will be treated to a tremendous night of fighting, this time at a reasonable hour in comparison to the 5am ring walks inside Manchester Arena when Michael Bisping fought Dan Henderson for the second time. 

BETFRED: Edwards vs Usman Odds

*18+ | Be Gamble Aware | Odds Subject To Change

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