UFC Vegas 21: Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad – The Breakdown

The Breakdown
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

July 2019 at UFC Fight Night San Antonio; the last time #3 ranked welterweight contender, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards made an Octagon walk. It’s been an extended period of inactivity for the Birmingham challenger, almost twenty months, in fact, however, it’s not for the want of trying. 

The Team Renagade BJJ & MMA mainstay has seen matchups with former champion, Tyron Woodley, and surging prospect, Khamzat Chimaev fall to the wayside — the second of which, on three separate occasions. He now finally has a willing dance partner for his well overdue Octagon return, in the form of the somewhat similarly underrated, Belal ‘The Bully’ Muhammad. 

Slated to headline a UFC Fight Night London event in a homecoming last March, Edwards saw his return to the O2 Arena shelved amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with the entire event cancelled. Unable to travel to the United States, recent challenger, Gilbert Burns subsequently clashed with Woodley in May, earning a title challenge against common-foe, Kamaru Usman.

Attempting a return at UFC Vegas 17 in December, Edwards himself returned a positive test for the novel coronavirus, forcing him to withdraw from a matchup with Chimaev. In turn, the bout was then rescheduled for a January ‘Fight Island’ event, which was ultimately shelved after Chimaev failed to obtain medical clearance to compete after he tested positive for COVID-19. Further health issues amid his positive test resulted in Chimaev’s removal from this weekend’s showdown to boot.

In the time since Edwards’ last Octagon walk, Chicago native, Muhammad has featured three times — adding all three opponents to a winning streak which now consists of four on the trot. 
Whilst Muhammad currently sits at #13 in the official welterweight pile, he, like Edwards, has managed to score a whopping eight wins in his last nine Octagon walks, with the former managing those wins consecutively separating the two. Muhammad’s only defeat in that time came against talented kicker, Geoff Neal. 

There’s something to be said about the lack of acknowledgement and respect issued to the surging Edwards. Granted, he may not be the most engaging and brash contender on the promotion’s books at the moment — an aspect of anyone’s game that has become integral to success over the last five or so years. But Edwards has done right by himself along this stunning run through the welterweight ranks. 

With the confirmation from UFC president, Dana White that Edwards would “100%” earn a title shot with an impressive performance, the ball now remains in the court of the former. A victory over Muhammad would bring Edwards’ winning spree to nine consecutively, following on the heels of wins over the likes of former lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos, Gunnar Nelson, Donald Cerrone, Bryan Barberena, and Vicente Luque of note. Luque, of course, a common-opponent, where Muhammad faltered in a knockout loss. 

A lot has been made about proclaimed ‘ring rust’ over the last few years, and whether it actually exists or not. It’s been a prolonged period since Edwards has featured in active competition, and while the UFC Apex behind a closed gate plays host to this weekend’s event, it’ll prove interesting to see how quickly the Birmingham native will get his feet under him.

For Muhammad, this matchup appears to have come at an ideal time for the streaking contender. He’s fresh from an Octagon appearance just last month at UFC 248 — where he comfortably out worked Dhiego Lima over three rounds on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Expect an aggressive opening from Muhammad who’ll likely look to force Edwards to fight off the fence of this smaller scale Octagon.

I believe as far as contenders go at welterweight, and while probably not the most ideal description, but Edwards is arguably as well-rounded as they come. An adept striker, with an underrated kicking game. And a competent wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player. From eighteen professional victories, he’s scored nine stoppages — six via strikes and a further three via submission, meaning his other nine triumphs have come via decision, rounding out his record.

While Muhammad’s got this pressing, forward motion game, I believe Edwards comfortablly finds himself on the favoured side of the technical battle equation between these two, and if he can establish a groove and rhythm beyond the opening frame, which will be utilised to earn those reads, he could probably find himself removing the outcome of this fight from the judges hands with a flurry of strikes in the latter rounds of this curtain closer.

Prediction: Leon Edwards def. Belal Muhammad via strikes.

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