The UFC welterweight division is a crowded place. Former champ Tyron Woodley would love another crack at Kamaru Usman, the man who dethroned him. An important fight between Colby Covington and Robbie Lawler is on the horizon. Jorge Masvidal stated his own case for contention with a flying knee to Ben Askren’s cranium that accounted for the quickest knockout in UFC history. Darren Till, Stephen Thompson, Anthony Pettis and Santiago Ponzinibbio are also hanging around in the top 10, as is the disgraced Askren. Rafael dos Anjos is also a part of this top tier. Then there’s the Brazilian’s upcoming UFC on ESPN 4 opponent, Leon Edwards.
You’d be forgiven for not including Edwards in the conversation for a welterweight title shot. There are a lot of names to remember in this division, and Edwards finds himself on the outside looking in from the No. 11 hole. That could change after his showdown with dos Anjos.
“Rocky” has fared well in his UFC tenure. In fact, his numbers stack up well against the fighters in the top 10. Edwards is 9-2 inside the Octagon. This is in the immediate ballpark of Woodley (9-3-1), Covington (9-1), Lawler’s current UFC stint (9-4), Thompson (9-4-1) and Ponzinibbio (9-2). Till has a weak 5-2-1 mark, and Askren is just 1-1 (and could be even worse if not for a favorable call in the Lawler fight). Veterans like Masvidal (11-6), Pettis (9-7, 1-0 welterweight) and dos Anjos (18-9, 4-2 welterweight) have worse overall winning percentages, but they’ve been at the top of the game for a very long time.
So, in simple numbers, the 27-year-old Jamaican-born, British-raised fighter is right in the thick of things. His resume, however, could hold him back. In this regard, Edwards is in a similar boat with the aforementioned Ponzinibbio. The Argentine fighter lost a couple of his earlier UFC fights, but he didn’t really receive much top-10 consideration until a recent stretch in which he topped Gunnar Nelson, Mike Perry and Neil Magny. Edwards is now working similar territory, with wins over high-profile fighters Donald Cerrone and the aforementioned Nelson through his last two fights. This lays the groundwork for his upcoming headlining turn opposite dos Anjos.
Dos Anjos, the former lightweight kingpin, came up short in an interim title fight against Covington and a subsequent outing against Usman, who was not yet the champ at the time. RDA would count as the third significant victory in a row for Edwards, who would then be assured a spot in the top 10.
Edwards, a finisher early in his career en route to a BAMMA title reign, has become something of a decision machine with the UFC. He does have two finish via strikes (Peter Sobotta and Seth Baczynski) and one by way of submission (Albert Tumenov), but he has typically gone the distance, even against the likes of Dominic Waters and Paweł Pawlak. He also failed to get past Claudio Silva in a split verdict for his Octagon debut.
Yet, Edwards has put together quite the run. UFC debut losses are excusable, and the Brit’s only other Octagon defeat came against a man who has risen to the top of the welterweight mountain. He was able to squeak past Nelson on the scorecards and earned a clearer decision against the always-tough Cerrone.
The up-and-comer could also argue that his past performance against Usman is a plus. That’s debatable, though. Edwards did last three rounds with the future champ, but Usman hasn’t exactly been a finisher in his time with the UFC. Edwards held his own in the first round of their fight, but he was toast by the third frame, with Usman just barely failing to score a ground-and-pound TKO in the final seconds of the contest. Both men have had more than three years to grow and develop, but it’s difficult to envision a different outcome in a rematch, unless Edwards managed to score a surprise knockdown or knockout.
Still, Edwards comes into Saturday’s fight as a deserving contender. He’s matched or exceeded the records of those ahead of him in the welterweight rankings, and all he needs is an impressive showing against dos Anjos to cement his own stake in the crowded 170-pound field.