Scheduled to finally make his Octagon return this Saturday at UFC Vegas 21, perennial welterweight contender, Leon Edwards has claimed that in order to score a shot at past-opponent, Kamaru Usman’s championship, he must finish short-notice replacement, Belal Muhammad.
It’s been an extended period of inactivity for the Birmingham native, however, it’s not for the want of trying. Slated to headline a UFC Fight Night London event last March against former titleholder, Tyron Woodley, Edwards saw the entire matchup and event shelved amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Returning a positive novel coronavirus test result himself, The Team Renagade BJJ & MMA trainee was forced to withdraw from a UFC Vegas 19 matchup with Khamzat Chimaev on December 19th. last. Rescheduled a further two times, the pairing continued to fall to the wayside, with lingering health effects amid a later 2020 test result for Chimaev, resulting in the cancellation of a January ‘Fight Island’ headliner, as well as this weekend’s UFC Apex facility card, as he failed to obtain medical clearance to compete or prepare.
Finally drawing an opponent for the March 13th. showcase, Edwards stands opposite the #13 ranked Muhammad, who recently took home a February unanimous decision win over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258. Initially earmarked to possibly draw former interim champion, Colby Covington, the brash Clovis native claimed he wouldn’t do “charity” for Edwards by agreeing to face him on short notice.
Speaking with MMA News reporter, James Lynch in a recent interview, Edwards remained realistic about his championship aspirations, detailing that he can’t afford to let this weekend’s matchup with Muhammad fall into the hands of the judges if he wants to score a title shot
“This is my third five round main event, this is my third main event (in the UFC), so I’ve been (to) five rounds multiple times,” Edwards said. “This is Belal’s (Muhammad) first one, you know what I mean? I’m going in there to put him away. I don’t feel going in there and edging a decision would prove my case for a title shot. So I’m going in there aggressive, focused, and to put him away and to hurt him, and that’s it. I want to finish him.“
Given his experience over the course of a twenty-five-minute outing, Edwards has detailed how important of a factor that could play on Saturday, as Muhammad fields pastures new.
“I believe it plays a massive role in the fight,” Edwards explained. “Especially if he’s (Muhammad) is trying to push the pace, you have to be able to do that pace for five rounds. You can’t push if for one or two then slow down or three, four, and five. It’s a different-paced fight, it’s a different style of fight, and like I said, I’ve done it multiple times. I’ve trained for five rounds, six or seven times because I’ve been (in) the main event six or seven times. I’m focused and ready and we’ll see come Saturday.“
In the midst of an incredible eight-fight winning spree, the #3 ranked Edwards has been out of action since July of 2019 where he scored a unanimous decision win over former lightweight gold holder, Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of UFC Fight Night San Antonio.
The unanimous judging win followed prior high-profile triumphs over the likes of Gunnar Nelson, Donald Cerrone, Bryan Barberena, Vicente Luque, and Albert Tumenov.