No. 3 ranked welterweight contender Leon Edwards could move himself to the top of the division’s pecking order if he can get past No. 13 contender Belal Muhammad in the main event of UFC Fight Night 187 on Saturday.
UFC matchmakers originally intended Edwards to fight Khamzat Chimaev on Saturday, but had to push that fight back twice due to COVID-19 issues.
Edwards back in the octagon after nearly two years
Now, Edwards (18-3) takes on a somewhat less glamorous opponent in Muhammad (18-3). Edwards hasn’t stepped into the Octagon since beating Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision in July 2019, but the 29-year-old says the time off will serve him well.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs in the last year or so,” Edwards told Yahoo. “There have been a lot of frustrating times and I’d wonder what was going on. But I’m back in good spirits. I’m back in good health. I’m happy to be competing again.”
There’s plenty on the line for Edwards heading into Saturday’s bout. He’s won eight straight welterweight fights, and UFC president Dana White says Edwards is finally next in line for a title shot if he impresses against Muhammad.
But Muhammad isn’t planning to show up just to add to Edwards’ resume. The 32-year-old won his last four bouts and eight of his past nine. He’s stayed far more active than Edwards, last fighting in February against Dhiego Lima, and also beating Lyman Good in 2020, winning both bouts by unanimous decision.
Muhammad says that his activity will make the difference over what could be a rusty Edwards.
“That’s a huge part of why I’m so confident I’ll win,” Muhammad told Yahoo. “Being active is so important in this sport. The more active you are, the more comfortable you are in there, and the more reactive you are. I’ve been fighting and working, and I feel like this fight couldn’t have come at a better time.”
COVID-19 sidelines coach, cancels press conference
Edwards comes into the fight as a solid -265 favorite over Muhammad (+215) at DraftKings Sportsbook. Both fighters have gone the distance in three of their past four bouts, and DraftKings pegs Edwards to win by decision as the most likely outcome, at +100 odds.
Muhammad will fight without coach Louis Taylor, who tested positive for COVID-19. Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov stepped in on Tuesday to provide some advice to Muhammad.
“I got that chance to spend some time with Khabib, the GOAT, and he gave me some advice on what he thinks I should do,” Muhammad said. “To be in there and have a conversation with him, and hear how he approaches MMA, and for him to give me specific advice on my game, to me, that’s invaluable.”
|UFC Fight Night 187 Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)|
|Leon Edwards: -265||Belal Muhammad: +215|
|Misha Cirkunov: -137||Ryan Spann: +110|
|Dan Ige: -152||Gavin Tucker: +125|
|Jonathan Martinez: -335||Davey Grant: +250|
|Matheus Nicolau: +110||Manel Kape: -137|
|Eryk Anders: +150||Darren Stewart: -190|
The positive COVID-19 test led the UFC to be extra cautious this week, pulling both Muhammad and Edwards from a prefight news conference. Given that Edwards has already lost multiple fights because of the coronavirus, he’s been understandably nervous about whether this bout will go off.
“It’s a couple of days away, but I’m keeping my fingers cross,” Edwards said. “There’s not much I can do but hope things go ahead as planned.”