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UFC Vegas 21 in-depth: Leon Edwards risks it all

Looking passed the usual ranking implications, predictions and week-to-week momentum shifts.

UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos v Edwards Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Leon Edwards is not a fan favorite nor does he appear particularly well-loved by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). There are a couple highlight reel-worthy finishes on his record inside the Octagon, but for the most part, Edwards is a man quite content just to win.

If Edwards can cruise to victory, he will. When he picked apart Donald Cerrone, for example, Edwards was several steps ahead of “Cowboy” from the first bell. However, once Edwards was confident that he had secured the decision victory, he was more than willing to coast, coughing up a late round or two in the process.

Same case against Gunnar Nelson, whom Edwards pummeled for two rounds ... before looking thoroughly untroubled as Nelson rallied to take mount, the third round, and a decision loss.

If we’re talking objective matchmaking, that shouldn’t really matter. Edwards has won eight straight bouts in one of the toughest division’s in the sport. He has continually showed elite-level skill in all areas, as well as a genuine in-cage brilliance — stupid fighters cannot successfully calculate when they can begin to coast. Oh, and those infamous clinch elbows are sublime.

Unfortunately, it does matter, as Edwards has not (and will not) receive much push toward the title mix ... unless something “spectacular” happens this weekend (Sat., March 6, 2021) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Worse still, circumstances beyond his control continue to disrupt Edwards’ would-be title run. Gilbert Burns’ title shot almost certainly would’ve been Edwards’ had “Rocky” actually been able to fight Tyron Woodley before COVID-19 shut down Englandat the last second. If a top contender like Colby Covington or Jorge Masvidal actually agreed to fight him, at least Edwards would know a title shot is on the line.

Instead, he’s been forced to the sidelines of the title picture.

Belal Muhammad is not an opponent who offers anything to gain for Leon Edwards aside from his paycheck. Defeating the veteran does not move him closer to a title shot — he’s still stuck behind Masvidal and Covington, who offer more high-profile rematch options for Usman. Neither man would be anywhere close to a nine-fight win streak like Edwards is looking to score, but when fans and the promotion alike are disinterested, it doesn’t make a difference.

Even more problematic, Muhammad is really damn good. “Remember The Name” has won eight of his last nine bouts to earn a spot in the rankings the hard way. Not only does he have a legitimate chance against just about any Welterweight in the world thanks to his grit and conditioning, but it’s nearly impossible to look good in victory against Muhammad.

Muhammad has an iron jaw and never stops coming. Even if Edwards pulverizes him on the counter, scores takedowns and lands those devastating clinch elbows — all quite likely — Muhammad will not quit. He likely won’t win either, but he’ll certainly do enough to remove some shine from the Englishman.

That’s the most likely outcome: a clear-cut win that does absolutely nothing for Edwards. Meanwhile, if he gets caught — or Muhammad really lives up to his first main event moment — or any of the other million insane ways to lose in mixed martial arts (MMA) happen ... that’s it. Edwards is no longer on the side of the title picture, he’s back at the bottom of the ladder.

He’ll have to put together another multi-year win streak to make up for it, and even then, that true title contender fight may remain elusive.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 21 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 21: “Edwards vs. Muhammad” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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