Leon Edwards aims for the head, kicks – and misses. At least not clean. A dull, disappointed murmur rumbles through the hall. Because everyone in the more than 17,000 spectators in London’s O2 Arena knows that their compatriot with the left kick to the head of Kamaru Usman took his UFC welterweight title from him last August. That was a sensation. Until then, Usman was considered to be the best mixed martial arts fighter in the world. Underdog Edwards knocked him out just before the end of the fight; otherwise he would have lost a clear point decision. This Saturday evening they want to see the miracle again.

Almost half a year after surprisingly winning the title, Briton Edwards – nicknamed “Rocky” – defended his belt in front of his home crowd in London. He does not manage the longed-for second knockout against Usman – in the end the rematch goes over the full distance of five times five minutes.

The duel is full of dramatic turns. Edwards brings clear hits. Usman shifts to his dreaded wrestling skills. Edwards prevents a takedown by illegally holding on to the fence of the chain link cage known as the “Octagon”. The referee deducts a point from him – now it’s no longer clear who’s in front here. Both mobilize all their strength, hit, kick, pull, push with a brutal sprint to the finish.

The hall goes wild as ring announcer Bruce Buffer declares Edwards the winner on points – who is still the champion. It was extremely close, not nearly as definitive as Edward’s brilliant knockout in the last fight. The ones from the knockout resulting, martial catchphrase “Headshot – Dead!” – headshot, dead – the enraptured Brits chant through the hall this time. Your husband did it.

Edward’s success is more than a personal triumph and validation of his victory over what until recently was considered an overwhelming opponent. The fact that he can still call himself world champion after this weekend gives the growing MMA market in Great Britain additional impetus. The title means the UFC will continue to serve the island as a key market. Without a world champion, he would not have brought an event as big and important as this to London, said UFC President Dana White once again demonstratively at the press conference after the fight evening.

Edwards’ cementing champ status is now benefiting not only himself but a whole host of compatriots who got some unfamiliarly bright spotlight as part of the weekend’s event. UFC 286 was broadcast on pay-TV in the US, and these events are bigger than the free-to-air, smaller fight nights the league flies to Europe for.

And the implementation was successful. Edwards was victorious, as were most of the other Brits in the 15-fight program. White gushed about the enthusiasm of the British fans. Various celebrities flew in to watch the fights. And indeed – actors like Tom Hardy, Jared Leto or Top Gun Maverick star Miles Teller romped around the Octagon in London, as well as a bunch of YouTube stars and other little stars.

Around them: full house. The London O2 Arena was sold out within a short time, despite ticket prices in the mid three-digit pound range – for seats at the back in the upper tier. For the really good places sums with a zero were due. But it works. In London, fans of the UFC run into the booth every time. In addition, UFC posters usually pave the city, and pubs advertise that they show the fights. It’s always a big social event when the Battle League arrives on the Thames.

An hour’s flight east of the Rhine and Elbe, one can only be jealous. The last Fight Night in Germany to date took place in 2018, the arena in Hamburg was not nearly sold out. There were similar pictures at most of the previous five events in Germany. Most of the time, the upper tier was left behind, and many of the tickets below were sold off or given away so as not to offer television viewers in the USA, Brazil or Dubai an overly sad backdrop. For a long time, there was simply no broader interest in this country.

But there is hope: In recent years, attention has grown noticeably for the sport, which was once decried as a brutal cage fight. Smaller leagues have certainly found their market in this country and are now organizing in front of sizeable – and mostly well-filled – grandstands. The fights and their marketing have become more professional.

What is missing at international level are German stars. At the moment it is not foreseeable that someone from the half-dozen German UFC fighters will land a coup there like the Brit Edwards is currently doing. Even one level below, in the extended race for the next title fight in one of the twelve weight classes, no German is represented. The middleweight Abus Magomedov, who won his UFC debut in September in just a few seconds by knockout, is currently believed to have corresponding potential.

It’s obviously a long way from debutant to world champion. In the meantime, German fans will have to travel to England – or even further to the martial arts mecca of Las Vegas – if they want to experience the spectacle of the world’s largest MMA league live. A look at London shows what is possible.