UFC 286: Past or Present in Rubber Match Between Edwards and Usman?

Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, UFC 286 ceremonial weigh-in
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: (L-R) Opponents Leon Edwards of Jamaica and Kamaru Usman of Nigeria face off during the UFC 286 ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on March 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Leon Edwards will be the crowd favorite in his first title defense, but can he overcome the challenge of the legendary Kamaru Usman again at UFC 286?

It all seems so poetic now.

One minute left. The MMA world moving past the challenger to discuss what could be next for the dominant champion.  The conclusion foregone as the night was coming to a close.  Then Leon Edwards did the unthinkable, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in epic fashion and ending an all-time historic run to avenge his loss to a former foe.  In the process, he put a capstone on his own journey.  His road to UFC gold was a long one that saw him lost in the shuffle despite a nine fight win-streak that is on par with most active fighters today.

But Saturday’s matchup is one of pivotal proportions as well.  “Rocky” will be the most famous English star by far in the UFC’s return to London and he is sure to receive a hero’s welcome.  But the welterweight division remains a competitive shark tank with a new title threat seemingly every month. Edwards will live the rest of his life with the title of champion attached to him, but it is now on him to hold on to the belt and have a reign that leaves a deeper impact beyond that night last August.

On the other side of the coin, Kamaru Usman was one minute away from history.  The longstanding and seemingly untouchable sixteen fight win-streak in the UFC held by Anderson Silva was within reach, as was the chance to be the first champion to complete one of the plates on the promotion’s legacy belt.  He has defeated Edwards once before, and the result last year does not change the multitude of other nights where his hand was raised.  He is still held in the highest regard as one of the best the sport has ever seen.  But for now at least, the chance to stand alone in the history book remains out of reach.

The question now, how much more does “The Nigerian Nightmare” see himself competing?  He flirted with an impending retirement before, acknowledging he had accomplished most of anything a UFC fighter could hope for already.  Outside the cage, he made a vocal push for bout with superstar Canelo in the squared circle in the same vein as Conor McGregor’s life-changing bout with Floyd Mayweather.  He’s also dabbled in Hollywood, with a brief but visible (and vocal) role in the blockbuster Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever.  Is he eager to finish the job he was so close to completing in August? Undoubtedly.  But as for what lies beyond this bout, win or lose, only he knows for sure.

Whoever wins the bout will likely determine who is next for a title shot, and which matchups get made in the division.  Surging contender Belal Muhammad is the most logical choice for a title shot, but an Edwards victory may see the door open for Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, or Gilbert Burns to get back into the conversation.  An Usman victory would seemingly secure Muhammad as the next challenger, but one can never rule out the possibility that Khamzat Chimaev, with all of his star power, might attempt to return to welterweight if it meant a shot at championship gold.