'Now it's my turn': Fabian Edwards is ready to follow his brother Leon's path

Fabian Edwards will look to add a second MMA world title to the family trophy case on Saturday against Johnny Eblen at Bellator 299. Tyler Miller/Getty Images

When Leon Edwards connected with an unexpected head kick on Kamaru Usman late in their August 2022 fight to become UFC welterweight champion, one of the Edwards cornermen remembers a chill running through his body at cageside as he let out a "Wow!"

That reaction was shared by much of the MMA world, from chills to exclamations. It was, after all, a stunner of a knockout, coming with less than a minute left on the clock in a fight Edwards had been losing.

But no one else watching the title fight that night could relate to the cornerman's second reaction to the golden moment.

"Now it's my turn," Fabian Edwards, younger brother and training partner of Leon, remembers thinking as he celebrated with their team.

Any parent will tell you that if one of your children gets something, their little sibling will want one too. It goes for toddlers to juice boxes, and it also applies to grown-up mixed martial artists and championship belts.

For years, the Edwards brothers had spoken quietly with each other about their shared dream of becoming world champions. That night, 13 months ago, Leon reached his goal. His brother realized in the moment of family glory that the rest was up to him.

This Saturday, 30-year-old Fabian Edwards has his opportunity to add a second championship belt to the Edwards' family trophy case when he challenges Bellator middleweight champ Johnny Eblen in the main event of Bellator 299 in Dublin (4 p.m. ET main card on Showtime).

"It feels kind of surreal, a pinch-yourself moment," Fabian told ESPN on Wednesday. "Leon and I have put in a lot of hours of work to finally get here. It feels like the right moment at the right time."

Edwards is quick to point out that simply making it to a title bout does not propel one to the promised land. There's still work to do. But by witnessing his brother achieving his dream, Fabian experienced a surge of confidence in his own future.

The upswing in self-assuredness has shown in Edwards' two fights since the night his brother won gold, especially in Fabian's victory in May over former champ Gegard Mousasi, which earned him this title shot. The change in perspective has also been evident daily in the training gym.

"Yeah, a hundred percent, mate, I've seen a change in Fabian," said Dave Lovell, who trains the Edwards brothers at Team Renegade BJJ in Birmingham, England. "He always has trained hard, but imagine him being there when Leon won the world title, witnessing that, seeing what's possible. I sometimes have to hold him back now, to keep him from overdoing it in the gym."

For Fabian, working to the max in the gym feels like a necessity, considering what he's up against day after day. "I train with the best in the world," he said. "Leon and I put in a lot of great rounds of training and sparring together. He gives me problems sometimes, and I give him problems sometimes. And he's a champion."

Should Fabian become a champ this weekend, the Edwards brothers would be a rare set of siblings to reign as world champions simultaneously -- but not the only ones in Bellator history.

In October 2021, two-division champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vacated his lightweight title, saying he was doing so to allow his brother, Patricky, to go for the belt. And a month later, Patricky did win it, giving the Freire family a pair of Bellator titles. Patricky lost his belt last November. Patricio remains the featherweight champion.

Currently, only one pair of siblings reigning as champs in a major MMA promotion: Christian and Angela Lee in One Championship. Angela has been the atomweight champion since 2016. Christian first won the lightweight belt in 2019 and now is in his second title reign. (Last November, he added the welterweight title.)

That the Edwards brothers are on the verge of such an achievement would have been impossible to fathom just a few years ago. They were born in Kingston, Jamaica, Leon in August 1991, and Fabian 17 months later. When Fabian was seven, the family emigrated to England and settled in Birmingham. As had been the case in Kingston, there was gang violence in the streets of Birmingham, and Fabian and Leon witnessed a lot of it.

"We were brought up to always have each other's back," Fabian said. "We came from a foreign country, so we only had each other. That was the mentality."

Their dad was killed in a nightclub shooting when Fabian was 11. Not too long afterward, a new MMA gym opened in their neighborhood, and their mom got Leon involved to keep him off the street. Fabian didn't catch the bug until he was in his early 20s.

"When everyone say, who was the guy you were watching before you came into MMA? It was Leon," said Fabian during his Bellator 296 postfight press conference. "Leon showed everyone, from Birmingham at least, that you can do this full time. You can make a good earning, you can make something of yourself. You can inspire people from it."

Fabian won his first nine pro fights in MMA, most by knockout or submission, but what impressed Lovell even more was what his fighter did after dropping two bouts in a row. "He got right back into the gym, worked to get better, then took out a couple of the top names in the game," the coach said, referring to Mousasi and former UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida, whom Edwards knocked out last year.

Edwards (12-2) has won three fights in a row, but he faces an uphill battle this weekend against an undefeated champion (13-0) in Eblen. At Caesars Sportsbook, Edwards is between a +320 and +340 betting underdog. But according to ESPN Stats & Information, those odds are nearly identical to the ones his brother faced the night he dethroned Usman.

"See what can happen?" Fabian said. "In my last fight, I was the underdog against Mousasi, and see how I took him apart? I put no man on a pedestal. I look at my opponent as just a man, like me."

Or a champion, just like what Fabian Edwards aspires to be.