UFC Vegas 21: A Battle of Good Guys with Edwards and Muhammad

Leon Edwards and Belal muhammad, UFC Vegas 21 face-off
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 12: (L-R) Opponents Leon Edwards of Jamaica and Bulal Muhammad face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Leon Edwards has taken the long road back to action and Belal Muhammad has taken the long road to his first major fight.  Only one can prevail at UFC Vegas 21.

Where do we begin with Leon Edwards journey back to action?  Set to headline in his home country of England last March, Edwards’ fight against Tyron Woodley was the first event to be cancelled at the onset of the global pandemic.  Citing an inability to train properly, Edwards passed on an opportunity to fight for the world title in July.  Briefly removed from the rankings at the end of 2020, Edwards was booked for a fight with Khamzat Chimaev that was later cancelled twice due to both men dealing with COVID-19.  In all, it will be close to two years since Edwards last fought and one week shy of a year to the date that his original fight with Woodley was scrapped.

It’s easy to forget that “Rocky” had been on a collision course with the division’s elite leading up to the event, with the fight with Woodley seen as his title eliminator in the eyes of many. His eight fight win-streak is behind only champion Kamaru Usman in the division and he has dispatched such competition as Donald Cerrone, Vicente Luque and Gunnar Nelson.  His last appearance in July of 2019 saw him record his greatest career victory in overcoming former champion Rafael dos Anjos in a five round contest.  Despite this, Saturday’s contest is a precarious one.  High profile names like Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal appear to have the champion’s attention, and a loss for Edwards would virtually remove him from the title picture for the near future with so many contenders currently moving forward.

By the numbers, Belal Muhammad may be one of the most underrated fighters on the entire UFC roster.  Ranked just 13th in the division, “Remember the Name” has been a consistent performer who has accumulated an 18-3 record overall and has gone 9-1 in the UFC since 2017.  While he has victories over Jordan Mein, Tim Means, and Curtis Millender, he has yet to have that signature victory that propels him into the upper-echelon where he can compete with the group that is currently looking to get into title contention.

Stylistically, the fight pits two of the most consistent and multi-faceted fighters in the division against one another.  Edwards has been largely successful due to his defense and being able to dictate where the fight goes.  “Rocky” should look to use his height and reach to keep Muhammad at the end of his strikes.  By comparison, the more physical Muhammad should look to work his way to the inside where he can use his stockier frame to wear on Edwards.  Both men have displayed their ability to keep a high work rate in later rounds, so Muhammad should look to force Edwards into the fence as often as possible where he can control the pace of the fight and slow down the Englishman.

A victory would poise both men to leap into title contention, if not a championship fight outright.  However, with the champion Kamaru Usman seemingly locked into a clash with pay-per-view star Jorge Masvidal after coaching The Ultimate Fighter later this year, a title fight is unlikely to materialize for Edwards or Muhammad in 2021.  With contenders such as Colby Covington, Michael Chiesa, and Stephen Thompson all jockeying for position, it stands to reason that Saturday’s winner will likely have one more fight before possibly fighting for gold. Although in the case of Edwards, UFC President Dana White has suggested otherwise.