It seemed so perfect for Leon Edwards just last week, when Khamzat Chimaev was forced to withdraw from their three-times scheduled bout and the UFC was talking about Colby Covington stepping in as a replacement.
It would finally give him the big name he had been desperate for and someone above him in the rankings, meaning a win would almost certainly guarantee him a title shot in his next fight. While the fight was never close to being official and was just an idea, it now won’t be happening.
Covington went on a radio show to confirm that he had no interest in the bout, especially on short notice. That meant that Edwards was without an opponent once again as he approaches two years without a fight in the octagon. Step forward Belal Muhammad.
Fresh off his win at UFC 258 over Dhiego Lima, ‘Remember the Name’ has stepped up for a quick turnaround and it is now official that he will face Edwards in the main event at UFC Vegas 21 on March 13th.
It’s an intriguing fight for Muhammad who following his win over Lima called out Li Jingliang for his next fight, claiming he was going to work his way up the rankings slowly having just broken into the top 15.
It seems now that he has abandoned that plan and decided to go for the jugular by accepting a bout with the number three ranked 170lbs fighter in the world.
For Edwards, the proposition put him in a position. He was desperate to fight, having seen four scheduled bouts fall through since March 2020 and not having fought since July 2019 when he defeated Rafael Dos Anjos with relative ease.
He has been pushing for a big name ever since and when a bout with Tyron Woodley fell through due to COVID-19 in March last year, he rallied for a fight with Covington or Jorge Masvidal. He was himself called out by Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, but said he only wanted to fight up in rankings because he deserved a title shot.
Fast forward 12 months and Edwards would’ve killed for any of those fights to come to fruition. Covington refused, Masvidal looks set for another title shot after being called out by the champion, ‘Wonderboy’ is recovering from two broken hands after outclassing Geoff Neal and nobody else would step up.
For Edwards, that meant he’d either have to wait even longer for a fight or just take what was available. He chose the latter.
He’ll now have all the pressure on his back in a fight against someone who wasn’t ranked until a win a month before the fight takes place, knowing that everything he has worked for in recent years could be thrown out with a defeat.
Nobody expects him to lose the fight, considering the stylistic match up of the fight and the level of performance we’ve seen in the cage prior to now. Edwards is a few levels above, but this is MMA. Anything can happen at any time, to anyone.
It’s a risk Edwards had to take to stay relevant, but he now needs to deliver spectacularly to show that he is as good as he’s been talking about being for the last two years.
A win doesn’t necessarily get him closer to a title shot but it makes him even harder to deny for the likes of Covington and that in turn can only be a good thing for what he wants.