If good things come to those who wait, both of the welterweights headlining UFC Fight Night on Saturday have a lot to look forward to.
This weekend, the often-overlooked Leon Edwards (18-3) will take on the often-overshadowed Belal Muhammad (also 18-3) in the main event inside the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas. Collectively, Edwards and Muhammad own a 19-5 record in the UFC, but both have struggled to attract the division spotlight.
In a twist of irony, one or both of them could end up breaking out by fighting each other.
Edwards has been on the cusp of his first title shot for years — his eight-fight win streak is second longest in the division, behind only the 13 wins in a row of champion Kamaru Usman — and UFC president Dana White has indicated Edwards could fight for the title next with a win.
And for Muhammad, Saturday will mark his first main event in the UFC, where he has fought exclusively since mid-2016. The appeal of this matchup and main event opportunity was so great to Muhammad that he accepted the fight just five days after defeating Dhiego Lima at UFC 257 on Feb. 13 — making it the quickest turnaround of his career.
The UFC’s welterweight division is in a unique time, in that the top names have spent a lot of time recently posturing over positions. Usman is calling out Jorge Masvidal (presumably, because of his name value), despite the fact he beat Masvidal convincingly just last July. Former interim champ Colby Covington fought only once in 2020 and currently has nothing booked.
Originally, Edwards was supposed to face 2020 breakout Khamzat Chimaev in this main event, but Chimaev was forced to withdraw due to lingering effects of COVID-19. Edwards responded to that news by offering to fight anyone in the weight class, saying he just needed to compete.
It will be interesting to see how things develop at 170 pounds, as different fighters apply different strategies. While the biggest names are obviously keen on being selective in whom they fight, Saturday’s contest will feature two welterweights who have decided to attack the problem by fighting just about anyone.
By the numbers
2.05: Strikes absorbed by Edwards per minute in the UFC, tying him with Neil Magny for the second fewest among active welterweights (behind Ramazan Emeev’s 1.99). Edwards has not been outlanded in his past four fights.
129: Significant strikes landed by Muhammad in his most recent fight, a win over Dhiego Lima on Feb. 13. It was a UFC career high for Muhammad.
28: Days it will have been, on fight night, since Muhammad’s win over Lima. Muhammad is the eighth fighter in the UFC’s modern era to compete in a main event off a turnaround of 28 days or less. The previous seven to do so went 2-3-2 in their returns.
602: Days it will have been, on fight night, since Edwards last competed, in a win over Rafael dos Anjos on July 20, 2019.
12: Combined win streak of the two main event fighters. Edwards has won eight in a row, Muhammad four.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Leon Edwards’ most recent results
Win: Rafael dos Anjos (UD, July 20, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Gunnar Nelson (SD, March 16, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Donald Cerrone (UD, June 23, 2018)
Win: Peter Sobotta (TKO3, March 17, 2018)
Win: Bryan Barberena (UD, Sept. 2, 2017)
Belal Muhammad’s most recent results
Win: Dhiego Lima (UD, Feb. 13, 2021; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Lyman Good (UD, June 20, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Takashi Sato (Sub3, Sept. 7, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Curtis Millender (UD, April 13, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Geoff Neal (UD, Jan. 19, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
And the winner is …
“What a fun fight for both of these guys,” Erick Nicksick, coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, told ESPN. “Edwards is that steady-as-you-go guy. He’s efficient. I feel like he’s just always there in your face, always putting on that constant pressure. … Belal Muhammad gets better every fight you see him. He’s a problem. You’re looking at a guy constantly winning these hard-fought decisions. Can he keep that same pace for five rounds?”
Check out how Nicksick and other experts break down the main event.
How to watch the fights
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday’s fight card
ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad | Welterweight
Misha Cirkunov vs. Ryan Spann | Light heavyweight
Dan Ige vs. Gavin Tucker | Men’s featherweight
Jonathan Martinez vs. Davey Grant | Men’s bantamweight
Manel Kape vs. Matheus Nicolau | Men’s flyweight
Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart | Middleweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Angela Hill vs. Ashley Yoder | Strawweight
Charles Jourdain vs. Marcelo Rojo | Men’s featherweight
Rani Yahya vs. Ray Rodriguez | Men’s bantamweight
Nasrat Haqparast vs. Rafa Garcia | Lightweight
Cortney Casey vs. JJ Aldrich | Women’s flyweight
Gloria de Paula vs. Jinh Yu Frey | Strawweight
Matthew Semelsberger vs. Jason Witt | Welterweight
Three more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Misha Cirkunov, who fights Ryan Spann in the co-main event, apparently (and wisely) does not trust MMA judges. Since Cirkunov entered the UFC in 2015, every one of his nine fights has ended in a stoppage, with the Latvian-born Canadian light heavyweight going 6-3. Only five modern-era fighters have started their UFC careers with 10 straight fights ending in stoppage (Luke Rockhold, Nikita Krylov, Gabriel Gonzaga, Andrei Arlovski and DaMarques Johnson).
2. Angela Hill competes in her 17th UFC fight when she faces strawweight Ashley Yoder. The only woman fighter with more appearances than Hill is Jessica Andrade (18).
3. Dan Ige returns to the Octagon for the first time since his five-fight win streak was snapped by Calvin Kattar in July. The 29-year-old Hawaiian faces Canadian Gavin Tucker. Ige has six wins since debuting in the UFC in 2018, tied with Alexander Volkanovski for the most among featherweights.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.