What should be next for Leon Edwards?

It’s not often that a UFC card ends with an anti-climax in terms of what happens next, but that’s exactly what happened at UFC Vegas 21 between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad.

The two met in a welterweight main event after Muhammad agreed to step in on short-notice following the withdrawal of Khamzat Chimaev due to complications with COVID-19. It was short-lived though, and not in a spectacular finish type of way.

After a comfortable first round for Edwards, he poked Muhammad in the eye at the start of the second round accidentally when going for a head-kick and the fight was brought to a premature end by the ringside doctor.

After the fight Edwards was quick to state that he didn’t see a need for a rematch despite the bitter ending to the fight, especially considering it’s not a fight that was supposed to take place anyway.

Muhammad responded on social media after revealing that there was no permanent damage to the eye, calling Edwards out and saying he is ‘soft’ for claiming a rematch isn’t warranted.

While some agree with Muhammad the vast majority, including myself, agree with Edwards – a rematch isn’t necessary. The fight had no business taking place as it was and only happened because nobody else would step up. While it’s admirable that he did, that doesn’t mean he gets a permanent boost up the rankings with match ups.

It was an opportunity that was unfortunately taken away from him, but that same thing has happened to Chimaev. He’s lost his opportunity to jump the queue and will now have to have a new match up with someone closer to his ranking. It’s unfortunate, and maybe unfair, but it’s also unfair to make Edwards fight someone so far below a ranking he’s earned while he pursues a title shot.

Muhammad of course challenged Li Jingliang due to their ranking positions after his most recent win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258, so that is a match up that can be revisited.

As for Edwards, I don’t totally agree with his belief that he earned a title shot off the back of this one rounder. If he’d got the finish, then definitely, but you can’t award someone a title shot off the back of a no contest following a year and a half out – even if they were on an eight-fight win streak before that.

His best bet is a fight with Colby Covington in a title eliminator, or go up against the most recent number one contender in Gilbert Burns.

Burns challenged Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 but got KO’d in round three following an excellent stand-up display from the champion. Since then, he has claimed he wants to get back in quickly against a top contender to earn another shot – calling out Covington also.

Covington believes he’s due another shot at the belt already after destroying Tyron Woodley in his most recent fight at UFC Vegas 11, but the UFC champion disagrees. Usman has called out Jorge Masvidal for a rematch later this year after their UFC 251 bout in July last year happened on just six days’ notice.

With that fight confirmed to take place at UFC 261 in front of a full capacity crowd on April 24th, Covington holds the keys to the future of the division.

The fight was the UFC’s pick to fill in when Chimaev dropped out and it’s the fight that makes the most sense, but Covington has shown in the past that he is more than willing to turn fights down if he doesn’t want to take them.

That could open the door up for Burns to jump into the position and get himself in the reckoning once again.

Burns and Covington are the only fighters ranked above Edwards right now that aren’t the champion so one of those has to be his next opponent if any of this is to make sense. The obvious answer is Covington in a title eliminator, with the winner fighting against the winner of Usman vs Masvidal 2 (which doesn’t need to happen btw).

The welterweight division is finally opening up now and with a few correct decisions from the match-makers with some willing fighters could make this an absolutely belting years at 170lbs.

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