Leon Edwards has not fought since July 2019. Some of that time off is because of COVID-19. Some of it was Edwards’ unwillingness to fight an unranked opponent. However, if he had his way, Edwards, who is the No. 3 ranked UFC welterweight, would face either Neil Magny or Michael Chiesa on January 20 in Abu Dhabi. He isn’t.
The UFC’s refusal to grant Edwards his wish is another display of how UFC contracts are one-sided in favor of the promotion.
First, a look at how Edwards, who is in the midst of the third longest winning streak in UFC welterweight history with eight straight victories, has spent nearly two years away from the octagon.
On July 20, 2019, Edwards scored a decision win over former UFC lightweight champ, Rafael dos Anjos. In March 2020 the UFC booked Edwards against former UFC welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley. Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 kept Edwards from making that fight. The UFC later canceled the entire event.
In September 2020, Edwards told ESPN he was frustrated with his inability to get a fight. He added that he was hopeful he would fight before the end of 2020. Some names he offered as potential opponents were Nick Diaz, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. Edwards also said he wasn’t interested in matchups opposite Stephen Thompson or the unranked Khamzat Chimaev.
“He has to at least beat somebody in the top f—king 25 before you go straight to f—king fight No. 3,” Edwards said in an interview with MMA Fighting in early October regarding Chimaev. “At least fight somebody in the top-25 or 30 first.”
In October the UFC dropped Edwards from the official rankings because of inactivity. He then asked the UFC for the Chimaev fight, which the UFC quickly booked. The promotion then restored Edwards to the rankings at No. 3.
In November, Edwards dropped out of the Chimaev fight after he tested positive for COVID-19. That matchup had been scheduled for December 19. The rematch, booked for January 20, was also scratched when Chimaev had not recovered from his own bout with COVID-19.
According to Edwards, he wanted to remain on the January 20 fight card and face Magny or Chiesa. Instead, the UFC kept the scheduled matchup between Magny and Chiesa intact and pulled Edwards from the card.
Today, UFC president Dana White spoke to ESPN about Edwards and Chimaev. “That’s the fight to make. I love that fight,” White said. “They both already agreed to it, so we’ll get it figured out. We’ll turn that around as quick as we can. Just want to make sure both guys are healthy; both guys had COVID.”
The entire situation is ugly.
First, the UFC removed Edwards from the rankings, which was nothing but an arbitrary power play. With no written policy on why or when a fighter can be removed from the “official” rankings, the UFC is free to push the fighters around and influence matchmaking by removing them under the pretense of “inactivity,” something Santiago Ponzinibbio recently labeled as “bullshit.” Had Edwards not agreed to face Chimaev, there’s little doubt his name would have remained absent from the rankings until he agreed to a fight.
Further, had Edwards officially turned down the Chimaev fight, the UFC would have added time to his contract. According to a UFC contract, when a fighter turns down an opponent, the promotion can extend that contract for six months. However, if Edwards — or any fighter — is willing and able to fight on a card the UFC had booked them on, but the UFC does not make a fight despite having plenty of time to book another opponent, what does that fighter get? Do they get six months off their contract? Do they get paid? Do they get a stipend to hold them over? That’s not likely and no language of that type can be found in a UFC contract.
So, where does that leave Edwards? Right now he’s sitting and waiting for his next paycheck even though he is wiling and ready to work and the UFC is holding him out for its own gain. And if Chimaev does not recover from COVID-19, then what? Will the UFC compensate Edwards for the fight(s) he could have taken? Again, not likely.
The UFC contracts are one-sided and they benefit no one but the UFC. The promotion should have kept Edwards on the January 20 card. If the UFC didn’t want to do that, it should compensate his contracted money or reduce his contract by six months. To keep him out of action for an undisclosed amount of time is keeping Leon Edwards from earning a living and after all, isn’t that one thing Dana White has been bragging about during the pandemic, providing “his” fighters with an opportunity to earn money?