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UFC Vegas 21 preview, ‘Edwards vs Muhammad’ predictions

UFC Workout Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will give longtime 170-pound contender Leon Edwards one last hurdle to clear in his quest for the division title, courtesy of welterweight gamer Belal Muhammad in the UFC Vegas 21 main event tomorrow night (Sat., March 13, 2021) inside APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, streaming on ESPN+.

In the UFC Vegas 21 co-main event, hot-and-cold light heavyweight bruiser Misha Cirkunov goes to war against Ryan Spann. The Latvian slugger is looking to win two in a row for the first time in over four years while “Superman” is hoping to bounce back from a recent knockout loss to Johnny Walker.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the UFC Vegas 21 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by Patrick Stumberg here and here. In addition, resident MMA champ Andrew Richardson did a special preview on “Rocky” right here. For the latest “Edwards vs. Muhammad” odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get to work ...

170 lbs.: Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad

Leon “Rocky” Edwards

Record: 18-3 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -260
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 9 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC, 1 DQ
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 74” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.53 | Striking accuracy: 47%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.05 | Striking Defense: 55%
Takedown Average: 1.39 (31% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 70%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Rafael dos Anjos

Belal “Remember the Name” Muhammad

Record: 18-3 | Age: 32 | Betting line: +220
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 13 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 72” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.86 | Striking accuracy: 43%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.03 | Striking Defense: 60%
Takedown Average: 2.03 (28% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 84%
Current Ranking: No. 13 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Dhiego Lima

Leon Edwards has won eight straight fights and proved to be one of the toughest outs in the entire 170-pound division. But the way “Rocky” complains about his place among the welterweight elite would make it seem like the promotion has gone out of its way to screw him. Without taking anything away from the work he’s put in, the numbers don’t support his case. Edwards doesn’t hold a win over anybody ranked inside the Top 10 and he’s already been defeated by reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. In addition, “Rocky” only scored two finishes in those eight wins and nearly lost his place in line against the venerable Gunnar Nelson. I think a victory over a ranked contender like Stephen Thompson or Jorge Masvidal — two opponents Edwards has tried (unsuccessfully) to fight — would have gotten him to the title much sooner. To be quite honest, his No. 3 ranking is fairly generous.

You can make many of the same arguments against Belal Muhammad, who wants to you “Remember the Name” but turns in fairly forgettable performances. Muhammad has won four straight and eight of his last nine, but only secured one finish along the way. Like Edwards, the Chicagoan hasn’t faced elite competition en route to this weekend’s main event, though he’s in a position to raise his stock considerably with an upset win over “Rocky.” Muhammad is good everywhere but great nowhere and considering he turns 33 in July, I’m not sure we’re going to get much more than what we’ve already seen. That might be good enough to carve out a respectable career in the middle of the 170-pound pack, but I don’t think it will end with a championship title, especially when you consider what’s been happening in the ultra-competitive Top 5 (see it here).

Edwards is coming off a victory over former 155-pound champion Rafael dos Anjos and while that used to mean something in both divisions, the Brazilian is 36 years old, no longer a Top 5 lightweight, and lost four of his last six. A win is a win, I get that, but we are trying to make a case for the next championship contender and those sorts of details matter. It’s also why I’m picking Edwards to defeat Muhammad. “Remember the Name” is a less refined version of “Rocky” and has taken a similar path, outworking his opponents and using the entire toolbox to score points when needed. That said, everything Muhammad has done, Edwards has done just a little bit better. Now comes the bad news: we have to watch a 25-minute fight between two welterweights who combined, have gone to the judges’ scorecards 26 times. At least the main card starts at 8 p.m. ET.

Prediction: Edwards def. Muhammad by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Misha Cirkunov vs. Ryan Spann

Misha Cirkunov

Record: 15-5 | Age: 34 | Betting line: -135
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 77” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.18 | Striking accuracy: 52%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.89 | Striking Defense: 62%
Takedown Average: 4.42 (57% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 71%
Current Ranking: No. 11 | Last fight: Submission win over Jimmy Crute

Ryan “Superman” Spann

Record: 18-6 | Age: 29 | Betting line: +115
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 11 SUB, 3 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’5“ | Reach: 79” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.27 | Striking accuracy: 44%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.43 | Striking Defense: 46%
Takedown Average: 1.76 (41% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 60%
Current Ranking: No. 13 | Last fight: Knockout loss to Johnny Walker

Misha Cirkunov was supposed to be the next big thing at light heavyweight. In fact, even 205-pound bruiser Anthony Johnson — one of the most fearsome strikers in any division — was forced to sit up and take notice of the Latvian powerhouse, who jumped out to a 4-0 start for UFC with four nasty finishes. Then came a knockout loss to fellow division slugger Volkan Oezdemir and I’m not sure if that fight ruined his career or what, but Cirkunov has dropped three of his last five and got stopped in all three losses. He did manage to work in a pair of submissions during that span, I just can’t break out the party hats for victories over Patrick Cummins and Jimmy Crute. The former was recently cut by UFC and the latter is not ranked in the light heavyweight Top 10.

Also sitting outside the 10 best 205-pound fighters is Ryan Spann at No. 13. “Superman” was obliterated by Karl Roberson in the very first season of Dana White’s “Contender Series,” but then won three straight fights on the regional circuit — two knockouts and one submission — to earn another shot on Season 2. The result was a submission victory over Emiliano Sordi, followed by four straight wins inside the Octagon. Unfortunately for Spann, his meteoric rise was grounded by 205-pound wild man Johnny Walker. Prior to his misstep against the Brazilian, Spann won eight in a row so it’s a little early to pull the cape off “Superman.” I think his performance against Cirkunov tomorrow night will go a long way in telling us whether or not Spann belongs among the cream of the crop.

I’ve been wavering back and forth on this fight, mostly because I’ve been trying to talk myself out of 2016, when Cirkunov was seemingly a lock in each fight. At this stage, he’s been way too inconsistent to pick here, even with his nasty submission game. Spann has performed admirably over the last couple of years and demonstrated a nice blend of knockouts and submissions. Simply put, he’s been the more consistent — and more well-rounded fighter — during the same years Cirkunov was struggling to stay afloat at 205 pounds. A competitive first round would not surprise me, but I do think Cirkunov makes a critical mistake at some point during the fight, allowing Spann to capitalize and seal the deal.

Prediction: Spann def. Cirkunov by knockout will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 21 fight card tomorrow night, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 21 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete “Edwards vs. Muhammad” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.

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