Kamaru Usman (L) and Leon Edwards (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

UFC 286: Edwards vs. Usman 3 Preview and Predictions

After a shocking fifth-round knockout that completely turned the welterweight division on its head, Leon Edwards earned a home game for his third showdown with former champion Kamaru Usman. The rivalry stands at one win apiece, with Usman taking the first fight by unanimous decision, and the aforementioned knockout evened the score for Edwards in the rematch.

Usman is looking to reclaim the belt that he held for over three years and defended five times. That loss was only the second in his career, the first coming in just his second professional fight back in 2013. If Edwards can successfully defend his belt, he will immediately vault himself into the conversation as one of the pound-for-pound best, having twice defeated the former pound-for-pound king.

In the co-main event, former interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje takes on hard-charging contender Rafael Fiziev. Gaethje fought just once in 2022, falling to former champion, and promotional finishes leader, Charles Oliveira. “The Highlight” will look to hold off Fiziev’s hopes for a championship run and mount one last push for gold before the sun sets on his illustrious career. Fiziev will try and make it seven straight victories, and three straight knockouts, with a win over Gaethje. It would also be the second win in a row over a former champion as he took out Rafael dos Anjos in the fifth round of their main event back in Jul. 2022.


Also on the main card is an interesting battle in the women’s flyweight division as former title challenger Jennifer Maia squares off against Casey O’Neill. The undefeated O’Neill can improve to 10-0 in her professional career and prove that she is a legitimate contender at 125 pounds, noww that Alexa Grasso shook up the division by toppling long-reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko.

Leon Edwards shocked the MMA world with his stunning fifth-round knockout to claim the welterweight title back in Salt Lake City; can he make a first successful title defense in his home country?

Sumian: No. Plain and simple. People want to talk about Kamaru Usman’s knees, age, and many other factors that should play a huge factor in this fight. Quite frankly, none of it matters. Usman is the significantly better mixed martial artist, and there is no debate about it. Usman has firmly established himself as the second greatest welterweight of all time, and he will be extremely hungry to reclaim his belt. This fight has two outcomes.

The first is Edwards proving to all the doubters that he is truly the best in the world with a formidable title defense performance, similar to what T.J. Dillishaw did to Renan Barao in their second bout. The other outcome is a dominant reclaiming of the title that will look very similar to what Amanda Nunes did to Juliana Pena in their second meeting. Either way, sign me up.

It was apparent that Usman had the ability to become a special talent during his time on The Ultimate Fighter. He was undoubtedly the most athletically talented fighter of the season, and he continued to showcase his ability fight after fight. Usman is one of the few champions who truly earned a title shot by compiling a lengthy winning streak, before destroying Tyron Woodley by a dominant unanimous decision. Usman is truly the best welterweight in the world, and was on his way to defeating Edwards by unanimous decision with no questions asked. Expect the former champ to be ready and willing to rise to the occasion.

Edwards is a tough combatant to figure out. The fact that he is the UFC welterweight champion, given his abilities, is somewhat puzzling. He is absolutely not the best welterweight in the world. This is not a knock on him and his winning of the title, but, looking just how good the rest of the top of the division is, Usman, Colby Covington, and Gilbert Burns are superior fighters. That is not up for debate. The only reason he is champion is because of a well-timed, but lucky, head kick that earned him the biggest knockout in welterweight history. It was an absolutely stunning victory, but not something that is easy to repeat. Unless Edwards can find a way to land that power punch or kick again, he is in for a rude awakening.

Sorry folks, there is really is not much to say here. Usman wins by dominant – and I mean dominant – decision or late stoppage. This is going to be exactly what happened to Pena in the second fight with Nunes. Edwards is awesome, but he is nowhere near the caliber of fighter that Usman is. Saturday will reiterate that fact.

Petela: There’s not many things I like more in this world than pointing out when Andrew is wrong. In this case, he did most of the hard work for me.

Kamaru Usman does have bad knees, so much so, that he can’t do any road work because of the pain that it causes due to arthritis. Surely, there are other ways of conditioning outside of running outside, but it isn’t like arthritis goes away on its own. The longer he waits to have surgery, the worse the pain is going to get, and that will undoubtedly hamper him in this fight.

He’s also not a spring chicken at, almost, 36 years old. That is right about the time that fighters start slowing down significantly, outside of the higher weight classes. He may not be too far past his prime, but he is certainly not the best version of himself. That makes a difference at the highest level of mixed martial arts.

The one major factor that hasn’t been addressed yet is that Usman is coming off of his first career knockout loss. We have seen in the past what that can do to a, seemingly, invincible champion, perhaps most notably with Ronda Rousey. There have definitely been champions like Georges St-Pierre, who have come back from knockout losses to reclaim gold, but, the older they get, the less likely it is to happen.

The combination of those three things – on top of a prime Leon Edwards being buoyed by the home crowd in London – will be more than enough for him to, once again, stop Usman and retain the welterweight championship.

Justin Gaethje always brings the heat when he steps in the cage; does “The Highlight” have what it takes to stop the surging Rafael Fiziev?

Petela: There is no fight that Justin Gaethje can’t win – simply because he has the power in his hands to end a fight in an instant, and he always has a chance when he bites down on his mouthpiece and throws caution to the wind. He also has some of the most devastating leg kicks in the sport. Though, it has become somewhat of a joke among some MMA pundits, he was probably only one or two leg kicks away from seriously damaging Khabib Nurmagomedov, before being submitted in their title fight.

Skill-for-skill, at this point in their careers, Rafael Fiziev is the better fighter in this showdown. I expect him to establish himself as the superior striker early in the fight, and remain relatively composed throughout. Despite being an All-American wrestler, Gaethje hardly ever uses his wrestling as an offensive weapon. While he is getting picked apart on the feet, Gaethje won’t break stride and just keeps looking to land heavy punches to go along with a smattering of leg kicks. By the third round, Fiziev will be clearly ahead on the scorecards, but he won’t have put away Gaethje. At that point, the leg kicks of Gaethje will have taken effect, and Fiziev will be noticeably slower than he was at the start of the fight. That opens the door for Gaethje to land one big right hand and end the fight late, showing that he isn’t quite done as one of the lightweight elites.

Sumian: I really like the breakdown that my colleague provided, and, honestly, it is very possible. However, I think the lightweight division is evolving beyond the talents of Rocky Balboa brawlers, such as Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier. I wish it were not the case, but lightweight is truly the best division in all of mixed martial arts. Fiziev is going utterly demolish the reach-deprived, yet always-game, Gaethje. He will finish him in the third round, possibly sooner, and declare his very well-deserved shot to the title. This is one of the best lightweights in the world and he is only getting better. Steer clear.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 286?

Sumian: Rafael Fiziev. People will realize what his ceiling is when he defeats Justin Gaethje in impressive fashion. Gaethje is as game as they come, but this is the next level of elite lightweights. Be ready for a passing of the torch.

Petela: Leon Edwards. A championship victory in front of a home crowd where he ends his rivalry against one of the division’s greatest fighters. It’s a story that fans wouldn’t even believe if it were a movie script.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 286?

Petela: Marvin Vettori. Losing to Roman Dolidze will be a major setback for the former title challenger. As he has matured into an elite middleweight fighter, Vettori has only lost to the absolute best of the best in the division – Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker. That keeps him right on the cusp of a title shot with a victory or two. However, with a loss to the ninth-ranked fighter in the division, that will send him down the rankings a few places, and he will find himself looking at a long road back to the top of the division. All respect to Vettori for taking this fight, because the upside isn’t nearly as dynamic as the downside, but, unfortunately, he will come out on the losing end of this showdown with rising star Roman Dolidze.

Sumian: Bryan Barberena. He is always a game fighter, capable of putting on a stellar performance. However, I believe he falls victim to Gunnar Nelson and loses by submission. We have not seen Nelson return to his former self for quite some time. Expect it to happen this weekend, when submits Barberena in impressive fashion.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Sumian: The loser of Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze is going to be in a very bad position. I truly hate this fight for Vettori. There is no risk and no reward. If he loses this fight, which I think he might, it is going to be very difficult to ever climb to relevance. Let’s see what happens.

Petela: Joanne Wood. She’s entering this fight on a three-fight losing streak, and she’s 37 years old. The Scottish fighter is nearing the end of her career, and, if she wants to round it out in the UFC, she’s going to need to defeat Luana Carolina. A loss likely bounces her from the promotion, which is interestingly significant, because Wood holds the distinction of being the first woman to ever win a flyweight fight in the UFC, when she defeated Valerie Letourneau back in 2016, before the division even formally existed.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Jai Herbert vs. Ludovit Klein. Herbert should get a big pop from the home crowd, and he is a fun fighter to watch, win or lose. Just look back at his fight with Ilia Topuria, where he came up short, but had Topuria hurt early on in the fight. Paired up with Ludovit Klein, this one is a can’t-miss. Klein can’t help but entertain fans, and he is a proven finisher with eight wins by knockout and eight wins by submission. This prelim will get the show going early and set the tone for the rest of the night.

Sumian: It is the co-main event. It is definitely not a sleeper, but it is arguably one of the best lightweight fights in recent memory. Whatever happens, tune in. This fight is worthy of a pay-per-view headline, and you will see why.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Sumian: Kamaru Usman. I cannot wait for him to take back his throne and put an end to Edwards’s false title reign. Nobody gets lucky twice in a row.

Petela: Gunnar Nelson. He’s been quite inactive recently, but the Icelandic fighter will get a thrilling win over Bryan Barberena this weekend. After avoiding the heavy, wild punches of Barberena, Nelson will get the fight to the canvas and do what he does best. I expect him to snatch a submission before the first round comes to a close.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Fish and chips. It’s London, so lean into the culture a little bit, but keep it simple, because this fight card is going to be too good to have any friends or family blabbering about how good the spread is at your fight-night party. You can’t go wrong with a simple fish and chips, and it isn’t that difficult to whip up if you’re challenged in the kitchen.

Sumian: English breakfast. One of the best. Load up on some early breakfast and enjoy a card that is sure to deliver in the main card. This is a star-packed card, and the London crowd will only make it better with their undying fandom.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 5 p.m. ET)
WW Championship: Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman Usman Edwards
LW: Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev Fiziev Gaethje
WW: Gunnar Nelson vs. Byan Barberena Nelson Nelson
Women’s FlyW: Jennifer Maia vs. Casey O’Neill O’Neill O’Neill
MW: Marvin Vettori vs. Roman Dolidze Dolidze Dolidze
Preliminary Card (ESPNEWS/ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
FW: Jack Shore vs. Makwan Amirkhani Shore Shore
LW: Chris Duncan vs. Omar Morales Morales Duncan
LW: Sam Patterson vs. Yanal Ashmoz Patterson Patterson
FlyW: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Jafel Filho Mokaev Mokaev
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
FW: Lerone Murphy vs. Gabriel Santos Murphy Murphy
MW: Christian Leroy Duncan vs. Dusko Todorovic Duncan Todorovic
FlyW: Jake Hadley vs. Malcolm Gordn Gordon Hadley
Women’s FlyW: Joanne Wood vs. Luana Carolina Wood Wood
LW: Jai Herbert vs. Ludovit Klein Klein Herbert
Women’s FlyW: Juliana Miller vs. Veronica Macedo Miller Miller