UFC Vegas 21 – The Fallout

UFC
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

Other than suffering a defeat at UFC Vegas 21 on Saturday night, I’m not entirely sure things could have played out much worse for Leon Edwards. Returning to the Octagon after a prolonged period of over six hundred days without an appearance in professional mixed martial arts — to the consensus, one more victory for the Brummie would almost guarantee him a shot at welterweight gold.

For Belal Muhammad, the winner of his previous eight of nine Octagon walks, despite his falling in the rankings at #13, his first promotional headliner would offer him the opportunity to leapfrog Edwards into title talk, with a short-notice victory.

Prior to the matchup, I questioned how his period of absense would effect Edwards’ overall start and if the often theorised ‘ring rust’ would take a foothold in his performance against Muhammad. Within the opening three minutes, my speculation was firmly put to bed. Measuring the Chicago native for the opening couple of exchanges, Edwards slinked in with a precise jab-straight combination, grabbing Muhammad’s attention. 

Following up with an even more impactful land, the Team Renagade BJJ & MMA mainstay wrapped a levelling left high-kick around Muhammad’s guard, this time drawing a notable wobble from the 32-year-old. 

Despite elapsing just one complete round on Saturday night, it appeared to me that Edwards was in a flow already, however, that flow was soon cut short. Landing his second eye poke of the night following an opening round miscue, Edwards, on this occasion drew a massive, and quite frankly, unsettling reaction from Muhammad who immediately fell to his back, wincing in agony.

Reeling as a result of the eye poke, Muhammad was ushered by referee, Herb Dean to compose himself in order for the Octagon-side doctor to examine his eye, and when questioned if he had double-vision, Muhammad worryingly replied, “I can’t see anything“. That was that according to referee, Dean, who after some pondering, declared the matchup officially as a ‘No Contest’ — deeming Edwards’ foul, whilst his second of the night, unintentional, and truthfully, rightly so. 

Edwards is now left in arguably, an even more precarious situation. Any sort of a win since July of 2019 would’ve seen him inserted into title contention, and whilst he’s brashly claimed “that’s nine in a row now” you can’t call for a title tilt off the back of a ‘No Contest’ result. I myself really fancy the recently targeted original matchup between Colby Covington and Edwards, however, removing Muhammad from the picture seems a tad erroneous. Below, join me as I play matchmaker for the headlining duo.

Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad II:

Belal Muhammad has offered an update, quite promising, in fact, on the condition of his eye — detailing how no permanent damage was sustained despite the worrying images circulating of the actual poke across social media over the weekend. 

It’s worth noting, the Illinois native has also criticised Edwards’ calls for a shot at 170-pound gold off the back of his ‘No Contest’ at UFC Vegas 21, and I’m imagining a large number would agree with Muhammad’s sentiment. 
Edwards simply can’t afford to sit out off the back of that result in the hope that he somehow secures a title shot, which I believe would be very unlikely, despite the fact we’ve become somewhat accustomed to recent challenger’s arriving to title fights off the back of losses, or a series of them no less. 

If Muhammad is cleared to return no later than the start of May, I’m not opposed to seeing a rematch between the two — in a similar scenario to featherweight rivals, Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez who themselves encountered a similar situation in their first matchup.

Colby Covington vs. Leon Edwards:

Granted, we’d be tossing Muhammad out of the title picture, through no fault of his own, however, I firmly believe this pairing should’ve taken main event honours on Saturday night in the first place — even instead of the promotion’s initial plans to pit Edwards with uber-prospect, Khamzat Chimaev.

Brash and outspoken as they come, Covington explained how he wouldn’t do “charity” for Edwards by matching with him on short-notice for the weekends’ event, but if we’re being realistic, he himself can’t afford to sit on the sidelines for much longer if he wants to challenge for undisputed welterweight gold again. He’s got to get back in there at some stage.

This also makes perfect sense for Edwards. During fight week, the 29-year-old noted that if forced to fight beyond Muhammad to earn a title shot, then he would, rather than sit out through an entire summer for the second year running. If he can dislodge Covington from his #1 ranked perch at welterweight, well then, no more questions can be asked of him — he’s got his title opportunity firmly nailed down. 

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