Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad is set to headline UFC Vegas 21 this weekend. Edwards was due to face upcoming prospect Khamzat Chimaev, but the bout was cancelled for the third time. Five days after beating Dhiego Lima at UFC 258, Muhammad stepped in to replace Chimaev.
The co-main event will see an exciting light heavyweight contest between Misha Cirkunov and Ryan Spann. This bout was scheduled for December but got rescheduled due to Cirkunov pulling out because of injury. It’s been 18 months since Cirkunov stepped into the octagon, with his last win coming against Jimmy Crute. Spann looks to get back to winning ways after being knocked out to Johnny Walker inside the first round last September.
We have a whole range of interesting scraps to come this weekend, with Dan Ige facing Gavin Tucker, Angela Hill’s rescheduled rematch against Ashley Yoder, and Edwards’ fellow Brit Darren Stewart comes up against Eryk Anders.
The Long-Awaited Return: Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad
Leon “Rocky” Edwards (18-3, 10-2 UFC) FINALLY makes his return to the octagon this weekend, after 20 months without competing.
Since his last fight against Rafael Dos Anjos in July 2019, Edwards has had disaster after disaster trying to find a fight. He offered out pretty much everyone in the welterweight division, including the likes of Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Burns, and the champion Kamaru Usman.
After not fighting for 425 days, the UFC removed Edwards from the UFC rankings due to inactivity on the 22nd of October 2020. He claimed on his social media, “the only reason I haven’t fought because all these so-called top guys turned me down. Khamzat want to fight then?” The next day, he had been scheduled to face Chimaev in the main event of UFC Vegas 17 on December 19th, 2020. Edwards was given his #3 spot back in the UFC rankings.
On November 29th, Chimaev tested positive for COVID-19, which put the bout in danger. On 1st December, Edwards tested positive and allegedly lost twelve pounds. The bout was cancelled due to the severity of his case.
It was again rescheduled for UFC Vegas 19 in January, however Chimaev pulled out due to problems with his recovery from COVID-19. Again, the bout was rescheduled for the third time, however lingering effects from COVID-19 for Chimaev led to the bout being cancelled again.
So, where did it all start for Edwards? He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and raised in Birmingham, England, after moving there when he was nine. It’s been said Edwards grew up in a life of crime, being involved in criminal activity from a young age, but his mother dragged him out of that lifestyle when she got him to join an MMA club at the age of 17.
He made his professional debut at the age of 19, after winning his first two bouts, he lost his third fight due to an illegal knee. In his eighth professional bout, he fought for the BAMMA Welterweight Championship. He submitted Wayne Murrie inside the first round to earn his first championship belt.
After defending his belt against Shaun Taylor, Edwards was signed by the UFC in 2014. He introduced himself with an absolute brawl against Claudio Silva, unfortunately for Edwards, he lost his debut fight via split decision.
He returned with the joint fifth quickest knockout in UFC history over Seth Bacyznski. All it needed was a quick left jab from Edwards to knock his opponent out cold.
His third and final loss in his career leading up to this fight happened in 2015, against Usman of all people. Edwards was Usman’s first fight after the Nigerian was victorious in season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter. Usman came out on top in this one by controlling the fight, stopping Edwards from bringing his A-game, and by sitting on top of Edwards for the majority of the fight.
Since then, Edwards has become a completely different fighter. As he goes into the fight with Muhammad on an eight-fight win-streak. Along the way, he’s put in some quality performances worthy of a title fight.
In his last three fights, he’s come up against three UFC veterans starting with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. He showed how slick he could be with his signature move the “clinch elbow” which puts serious damage on the opponent’s faces. He was victorious after winning by unanimous decision.
Another smart performance came against Gunnar Nelson, as you could see how he controlled the arms of Nelson by coming in with the underhook to knock him down. Even when he came in with the jab, it opened up the body so he could raise a low body kick. He was awarded a split decision victory in this one.
And his best performance yet came in his last fight against Dos Anjos. He dominated from start to finish and was absolutely ruthless with his elbow. Dos Anjos was dripping with blood from the second round. A performance that was champion-worthy, after being awarded the unanimous decision victory.
Belal “Remember the Name” Muhammad (18-3, 9-3 UFC) holds the same MMA record as his opponent, as they look to both better each other this weekend.
Muhammad was 9-0 before being signed to the UFC in 2016, after competing in the likes of Titan FC and Bellator. He knocked out Steve Carl in his final fight before joining the UFC, where he won the Titan FC Welterweight Championship.
It was a disaster start for both of these fighters, as Muhammad fell short in his debut fight also. He put in a Fight of the Night performance, even though he lost on a unanimous decision.
Belal fought two months later and earned his first victory in the promotion by knocking out Augusto Montano in the third round. A first-round knockout loss to Vicente Luque in his next bout meant Muhammad had to prove himself against his next opponents after starting 1-2 in the UFC.
Another loss came for Muhammad in January 2019, after again he battled for three rounds against Geoff Neal, with the judges awarding a unanimous victory to Neal.
The next fight was the start of his journey towards a potential title-fight in the near future if he’s victorious on Saturday. Muhammad returned at UFC 236, defeating Curtis Millender on a unanimous decision.
After a three-fight win-streak, Muhammad faced Lima at UFC 258 in February. A dominant performance over Lima proved Muhammad deserved a fight against one of the ranked opponents.
Five days after this bout, he stepped up to the plate and replaced Chimaev to face Edwards, with the Brit showing his respect towards his future opponent on social media.
Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad: The Breakdown
With Edwards being out for so long, and Muhammad fighting only four weeks ago, this could certainly make a difference on fight night. But, it could also benefit Edwards, with him having so much time to prepare, and Muhammad taking the fight on short notice could be a weakness.
These guys are both extremely tough, and it’s interesting to see whether this fight stays on the feet or goes to the ground.
Edwards is an all-round fighter, wonderful on the feet, and can grapple. His southpaw stance is a delight to watch, with his quick jabs, moving into his signature move the clinch elbow.
Muhammad shows similar characteristics to Edwards. They both are complete battlers, and it shows in Muhammad’s record with 15 of his 21 fights going the distance. He enjoys standing up, but when he comes up against Edwards he may try to test the ground-game.
Edwards is going to look to stay on the feet and start hammering Muhammad with the jabs from the off. It depends how much Muhammad can take but it would be wise for him to try and take Edwards down, test his takedown defence early, look for his back and see how good his grappling is!
Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad Prediction
As a fellow Brit, I am having to back Edwards on this occasion. All allegiances aside though, Edwards’ ability is just too strong for Muhammad.
No disrespect to Muhammad, but Edwards should’ve had a title shot a long time ago. If Edwards wins this one he will without a doubt get that shot. In Muhammad’s case, it’s a fight too early. It will be the biggest win of his career, but he hasn’t beat enough names to face Usman and fight for the title.
Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad prediction: Edwards unanimous decision
Who do you see winning between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad? Let us know your prediction in the comments below!