“Deserves” isn’t a word that always comes into play when the UFC brass sits down to discuss matchmaking. If there is a current UFC fighter who deserves to fight for a title as soon as a fight can be booked though, it’s Leon Edwards.
Edwards, who is the No. 3 fighter in the official UFC welterweight rankings, was slated to face Jorge Masvidal at UFC 269 in December, until an injury knocked Masvidal from that event. Edwards, who has not lost a fight since he dropped a decision to Kamaru Usman on the early prelims of a UFC on FOX 17 card in 2015, doesn’t think anything but a title shot makes sense for him at this point in his career.
“There’s no one left that makes sense,” Edwards told ESPN when asked if he was going to stay on the UFC 269 card and face a replacement opponent. “I’m the only guy that’s doing what I’m doing. Everyone else, they’re winning one and losing one. There’s no one else. The only reason I was making a stop off was because of George and the history we have.”
That “history” was the run in Masvidal and Edwards had in March 2019 when both men fought on a UFC on ESPN+ 5 Fight Night Card in London. The two exchanged words while Masvidal was doing an on-camera interview with ESPN. That confrontation escalated and turned physical and spawned Masvidal’s now infamous “three-piece with a soda” quip.
With Masvidal out of the equation, Edwards believes he deserves a title shot and he thinks the UFC agrees.
“I feel (the UFC) sees it,” Edwards said. “They now believe I am well-deserving. There is no one else for Usman to fight. I’m the guy saying ‘yes’ all the time. I’m the guy fighting. I feel the promotion and I am on the same page, let’s say that.”
One of the things working against Edwards is his not so busy schedule, but that criticism largely crumbles under examination.
Edwards joined the UFC in late 2014. He fought three times in 2015. During 2016 and 2019, Edwards fought twice per year. In 2020, with an 8-fight winning streak on his record, things went sideways for the rising welterweight.
In January 2020, Edwards was booked to face former 170-pound champ Tyron Woodley. That card was “postponed” five days before it would have happened because of the pandemic.
Woodley ended up facing Gilbert Burns in Vegas. Burns’ next fight was against Usman for the title.
In June 2020 the UFC offered Edwards a July fight against Usman in Abu Dhabi. It made the offer four-and-a-half weeks out from fight night. Edwards was unable to get a good training camp in with the UK being locked down and turned the fight down rather than fight someone who had already defeated him, at a deficit.
The UFC then played some dirty pool with Edwards, dropping him from the welterweight rankings, seemingly pressuring him to take a fight against Khamzat Chimaev. As soon as Edwards accepted the fight against the unranked Chimaev, Edwards went back into the rankings.
Three weeks before he was to face Chimaev, Edwards tested positive for COVID-19. The fight was postponed, and Chimaev withdrew from that date with COVID-19. The UFC, assuming it could just change the date and that Chimaev would recover, just moved the date back again. Chimaev did not recover and had long term covid complications, so the UFC scratched the fight.
The UFC then booked Edwards against Belal Muhammad. That fight ended 18 seconds into the second round because of an eye poke. The fight was ruled a no contest.
Edwards got a fight in June. He defeated Nate Diaz by unanimous decision. But as Edwards’ luck would go, that fight is remembered more for the fifth round, which Diaz won, rather than for the four rounds that Edwards had banked.
Say what you want about Edwards, but bad luck has more to do with his inactivity than anything else.
Yes, Edwards has sometimes been reluctant to take fights against opponents ranked lower than him, but that’s not an unreasonable stance for a man ranked at the top of the division and riding the second longest unbeaten streak in the weight class. But that’s just smart business and as Edwards said in October, not entirely true.
“I’m the only one that’s taking all these risks,” Edwards told Ariel Helwani during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour. “Khamzat [Chimaev], Masvidal, [Nate] Diaz, I’m the only one that’s fighting and taking all these lower ranked guys. Like what the f*ck is going on?
“Like I said, it is what it is. I keep doing my thing. I keep making my moves, keep making my money and eventually I’ll be a world champion.”
Before the Edwards vs. Masvidal fight fell apart, Kamaru Usman offered his thoughts on his former foe.
“Looking at the division, there are some match-ups there. Leon Edwards goes out and gets the job done (against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 269), if he goes out and starches Masvidal, Leon Edwards is a bona fide star,” Usman told Daniel Cormier. “He hasn’t lost since he fought me the first time and that’s what people are gonna want to see.”
Even without a win over Masvidal, Usman vs Edwards is a fight fans want to see. It makes sense. Edwards deserves it and with Usman coming off a second win over Colby Covington, the timing is perfect to book that fight. And that’s what the UFC should do, book a rematch between Edwards and the champ and give both men the time to put a proper training camp in to prepare for that scrap.