With the recent news that Belal Muhammad has stepped in and taken the place of Khamzat Chimaev to fight Leon Edwards on March 13, it’s important to remember the long road Edwards has taken to get here.
Edwards last fought in July 2019 when he secured a unanimous-decision victory over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. He landed a takedown early in the first round and was able to maintain top control throughout most of the frame. He also briefly took dos Anjos’ back, though he was unable to progress any further before his opponent was able to get back to his feet.
Dos Anjos attacked Edwards’ legs in the second round, but the Brit was able to defend the takedown and control the clinch well with his back to the cage. After breaking the clinch, Edwards was able to catch the Brazilian with a sneaky elbow, a strategy he utilized well throughout the fight. He caught the former champ with unexpected strikes in their scuffles.
Though dos Anjos put in a great performance and landed multiple heavy blows, it wasn’t to anyone’s surprise when the decision was announced in Edwards’ favor after he controlled much of the fight. It was a good test for the Englishman that put him in the top contender spot for the welterweight crown and showed that he’s one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division.
Edwards was set to headline a UFC Fight Night event in London eight months later against the former welterweight kingpin Tyron Woodley. It would have been Woodley’s first fight since his title loss to Kamaru Usman after an impressive run at the top of the division with victories over Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Darren Till. Unfortunately, Edwards never got the opportunity, as the event had to be scrapped as the COVID-19 crisis in the United Kingdom escalated and the country went into a national lockdown.
Despite calling out numerous other fighters online throughout the summer, Edwards, much to his frustration, struggled to get another fight booked. He seemed to take it in his stride though when it was announced that he was going to be removed from the UFC official rankings. This was perhaps what motivated him to take a fight with Chimaev.
Chimaev is one of the hottest newcomers in the UFC. The hype he’s been able to build around himself in the space of only a few months is perhaps unmatched in the sport. There was a lot of debate online at the time as to who he should be paired up with next. After knocking out Gerald Meerschaert within 30 seconds of the first round, it was argued that Chimaev, due to his performances, was already worthy of a shot at a top-10 name.
Although there was a lot of chatter on Twitter and plenty of call-outs on both sides, no opponent seemed to materialize for Chimaev. That is, until it was announced that Edwards would step up to fight him at the end of 2020. This wouldn’t be the first time the fight was announced, though, as it unfortunately had to be canceled when Edwards tested positive for COVID-19. The fight was shuffled to the second UFC card of 2021, with the pair headlining the middle event of the UFCs tripleheader at Fight Island.
The fight was nixed for the second time, though. This time it was Chimaev who was suffering from the physical effects of COVID. UFC President Dana White, obviously determined to keep the pair matched up, shifted the fight once again, settling this time on a March 13 date.
Last week, to the disappointment of many fans, the fight was once again called off. The third time turned out not to be the charm, as Chimaev was still not fully recovered from his brush with the virus.
After three setbacks, the UFC was keen to move on. Edwards, too, was ready to try something different. He wasted no time calling out the welterweight division on Twitter, and the UFC announced on Thursday that only Muhammad was able to step up last minute to take on the Birmingham star.
Just this past weekend, Muhammad notched a victory against Dhiego Lima where he put constant pressure on his opponent with smooth combinations for three rounds. Muhammad now has nine victories inside the UFC’s Octagon. He worked his way into the welterweight rankings the hard way after suffering defeats at the hands of Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. He’s always had tough competition, but he’s now on a four-fight winning streak. His eyes looking toward the top of the division, and this is a great opportunity for him to shine.
Edwards is one of the most well-rounded mixed martial artists in the division. His time away is nearly over after what must have been a frustrating break. Now, with Muhammad named as his new foe, Edwards has a chance to re-establish his place among the world’s best.
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