Leon Edwards hasn’t stepped foot inside of the Octagon in over 600 days. That dry spell will end later tonight (Sat., Mar. 13, 2021) at UFC Vegas 21 live on ESPN+ from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, when “Rocky” takes on Belal Muhammad in the main event.
Edwards, 31, last competed at UFC on ESPN 4 back in July 2019 when he defeated Rafael dos Anjos via unanimous decision. That victory left Edwards on a eight-fight win streak in the UFC’s talent-rich welterweight division. “Rocky” was expecting to use that momentum to push his way into a title shot, but bad scheduling, COVID-19, and a lack of top-level opponents to fight has sidelined Edwards for nearly two years.
“The last year and a half has been frustrating,” Edwards told UFC.com. “You’ve got to keep your main goal in mind. My main goal is to be a world champion.”
Edwards’ original opponent for this weekend’s UFC Vegas 21 main event was undefeated phenom Khamzat Chimaev. Unfortunately, Chimaev has been battling symptoms from COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the event roughly one month ago. The promotion scrambled to keep Edwards on the card and were able to bring Muhammad in as a late replacement.
While Muhammad isn’t the household name Edwards envisioned fighting on his way to a UFC title shot it’s still an opportunity for “Rocky” to finally get back in the cage and end his long hiatus from competition.
“Obviously you’re pissed off and you’re upset… It wasn’t about the opponent, it was about keeping the same date,” said Edwards regarding his fight with Chimaev being canceled a second time.. “Once the UFC said ‘We want to keep you on the card, we’re looking for a new opponent,’ it kind of eased the blow a little bit.”
Since his last fight over 600 days ago Edwards has been linked to a handful of fights with top names in the division, including Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, and Tyron Woodley. For one reason or another those fights never materialized. That’s why Edwards is willing to fight just about anybody to claw his way back into title talks and prove he’s still one of the best fighters at 170 pounds today.
“I’m willing to fight anybody. I’m not here to just hold my number and not compete,” Edwards explained. “I’ve been pushing over the last year to fight any of these top guys, I’ve proven it by offering to fight Khamzat.
“He wasn’t even ranked at the time and everyone was ducking him so I said ‘Okay, I’ll step in, I’ll do it.’ He fell out, and Belal Muhammad fell in. I said ‘I’ll do it.’ I’ve proven to the UFC and to myself that I believe I’m number one so I couldn’t give two shits who’s number two or three, so that’s what it is. Put them all in.”
Having not competed in so long Edwards has had ample time to work on his game and plot his long-awaited return to the Octagon. In fact, Edwards has experienced four different fight camps in the past year alone and believes now is the time to jump back in and prove what he has. Luckily, “Rocky” doesn’t believe ring rust will play a factor in his matchup with Muhammad.
“This is my fourth camp that I’ve had in the last year,” Edwards said with a chuckle. “If I’m not ready now, I’m never going to be ready. It’s all in your preparation. If you prepare correctly, if your mindset is in the right place, I don’t believe in [ring rust].”
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 21 fight card RIGHT HERE, 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.