UFC 286 was a big night for U.K. MMA, and by the end of it, British fans had plenty to cheer about, with Leon Edwards successfully defending his welterweight title against Kamaru Usman.
Now 2-1 in their career series, Edwards has seemingly closed the door on the rivalry. So where does he go from here? That is a very, very interesting question at this point.
There is a controversy brewing in the welterweight division and it is muddying the already murky waters of the title picture. Dana White has now said that Colby Covington is the next opponent for Leon Edwards after his massive trilogy victory over Kamaru Usman. The problem with that is that most seem to believe that Covington has not yet earned another title shot — he is 2-2 in his last four and has already had two shots at the belt — while Belal Muhammad and Shavkat Rahkmanov are on lengthy win streaks against top competition. Shavkat is the more fan-friendly fighter and is more marketable, his undefeated record and perfect finishing rate are the stuff of a promoter’s wildest dreams, but Belal is currently ranked higher and has beaten more ranked opponents, including Sean Brady, Vicente Luque, and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in his last three.
Be that as it may, Dana’s word is law more often than not due to a lack of an Ali Act or similar legislation governing mixed martial arts. It seems likely that Colby will end up with the next title shot, though the pot is further stirred by champion Leon Edwards saying that if he gets a contract with Covington’s name on it, he will not sign it.
Edwards’ Next Fight: Colby Covington
Now is the time. There will never be a better opportunity than this. Justin Gaethje just upset Rafael Fiziev to maintain his number three ranking at lightweight. Sitting at number two is a familiar face, Dustin Poirier. These two legends of lightweight violence met once before in one of the best fights in MMA history and a rematch (ideally as a five round fight) could have no other outcome but an all-out war. Dustin and Justin know no other way.
Both have fought many of the guys near them in the rankings. Both are coming off of a win, but are not yet deserving of a title shot. The winner may get one last chance to push for a title shot though, as their careers stretch on.
Gaethje’s Next Fight: Dustin Poirier
Gunni got his second win in as many fights since returning from a lengthy layoff last year as he finished Bryan Barbarena by submission. Nelson was once a staple of the welterweight top 15, and could be again soon. Now, with a winning streak in hand, it’s time to give him either a ranked opponent or one just outside the top 15. Nelson was originally booked to fight Daniel Rodriguez at UFC 286, but D-Rod had to pull out. It makes perfect sense to just put that fight back together, and have the winner fight a ranked fighter next.
Nelson’s Next Fight: Daniel Rodriguez
Former title challenger Maia got a second win in a row, her first winning streak since 2019, at UFC 286 over rising, undefeated prospect Casey O’Neill. The Brazilian sits at eighth in the UFC women’s flyweight rankings but will likely move up when the rankings are updated. For now, right next to her sits Lauren Murphy. Both Maia and Murphy have been staples of the flyweight division since its inception essentially, and a match between these two well-rounded vets in the middle of the rankings makes perfect sense for both athletes next (sorry, Jojo).
Maia’s Next Fight: Lauren Murphy
Vettori beat surging contender Roman Dolidze in a razor-thin, and somewhat controversial, decision in the main card opener in London on Saturday. Vettori has established himself firmly as a top-five fighter at middleweight but has already faced most of his peers nearby in the rankings. One name ‘The Italian Dream’ has not fought is knockout artist Jared Cannonier. Vettori and Cannonier seem to have styles that will give each other pause; Vettori has the chin to withstand Cannonier’s power but Dolidze had success lobbing bombs at Vettori, perhaps Jared can do it better. With Vettori ranked fourth and Cannonier ranked third, it only makes sense for these to rankings neighbors to face off next in a top bout at 185lbs. Even Vettori suggested this booking made sense following UFC 286.
Vettori’s Next Fight: Jared Cannonier