UFC 263: Edwards Looks to Steal Diaz Shine in High Stakes Bout

Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad, UFC Vegas 21
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 13: (L-R) Leon Edwards of Jamaica kicks Bulal Muhammad in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Top welterweight contender Leon Edwards will be looking to notch his career breakthrough against the returning Nate Diaz at UFC 263.

After an eight fight win-streak and five years without a loss, the road to championship glory for Leon Edwards can only end with either an incredible triumph or shattering heartbreak.  Since losing to future champion Kamaru Usman in 2015, “Rocky” has steadily climbed the ranks to become one of the most consistent and battle-tested contenders in the welterweight division.  In most any other division, a title shot would be his outright.  Instead, his 2020 saw the coronavirus cancel multiple bouts and his decision to pass on a short notice title fight in July.

Going into 2021, it felt as if his great run was being under appreciated.  Rather than talking about a rematch with Kamaru Usman for gold, Edwards was presented with rising contender Khamzat Chimaev who has only three UFC fights to his credit.  Illness struck Chimaev several times, with the latest in March leading to Edwards facing short-notice replacement Belal Muhammad.  Unfortunately, an impressive first round for Edwards was erased after an accidental eye poke ended the night for Muhammad.  While at first it seemed that Edwards would be lost in the conversation of surging contenders, he now finds himself with exactly the high profile matchup he’s needed to secure that elusive title shot.

It is a testament to the enduring popularity of Nate Diaz that he enters Saturday’s contest as arguably the biggest draw on a card that already features two title fights.  Like his brother before him, his eagerness to put on a show at the cost of implementing a more effective game plan has endeared him to fans as he represents the type of throwback fighter that seems in shorter supply in today’s day and age.  Furthermore, his all-time great upset of superstar Conor McGregor when “The Notorious” was at the peak of his powers in 2016 gave him the household recognition that roughly a decade in the UFC had not up to that point.

The return of Diaz is easy to understand from a marketing standpoint.  A title shot would generate big business if he gets past Edwards, and rematches with the likes of McGregor or Jorge Masvidal still generate big numbers if he loses.  However, a big part of his drawing power is likely to be determined by how he performs.  The younger Diaz brother is now 36 and is coming off a two year layoff following a one-sided loss to Masvidal in 2019.  The multifaceted Edwards at 29 years old is a tall order, and another non-competitive bout could see his time as a pay-per-view draw come to an end.

Stylistically, the boxing of Diaz must deal with the multi-faceted attack of Edwards.  Despite his vast experience, Diaz’s biggest drawback competitively has been that he has never raised the level of the other parts of his game to that of his boxing and jiu-jitsu.  While a boxing match could see him prevail, Edwards will be looking use his full arsenal of punches and kicks, which has historically given Diaz problems when taking on opponents his size.  A Diaz victory will come down to his ability to get in the face of Edwards to either smother him with his boxing or force the fight to the ground where his grappling from the top position should give him the advantage.  For Edwards, maintaining his attack at mid-range and chopping away at Diaz’s gas tank with kicks and other tools will be key to prevailing over the Stockton native.

It would be difficult to deny the winner of this bout a title shot.  For Edwards, his run without a loss would speak for itself should he be healthy and ready whenever the champion is available.  The same is true for Diaz, who’s star power and by virtue taking out one of the most consistent top contenders after nearly two years out would be enough to sell a fight with either Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington easily.


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