A title trilogy struggle tops the marquee because the UFC returns to London on Saturday for a much-anticipated UFC 286 pay-per-view card contained in the O2 Arena.
Seven months faraway from his dramatic fifth-round knockout of Kamaru Usman of their rematch, Leon Edwards nonetheless finds himself the betting underdog as he makes an attempt to make the primary protection of his UFC welterweight title within the rubber match towards Usman.
Former interim light-weight champion Justin Gaethje returns within the co-feature when he welcomes a streaking Rafael Fiziev in a pivotal matchup within the 155-pound title rankings.
Let’s take a better have a look at the largest storylines coming into this weekend.
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1. Can lightning strike twice for Leon Edwards?
Largely missed and/or dismissed by critics all through a 10-fight unbeaten streak that led him to his first title shot at UFC 278, Edwards made probably the most of his career-defining second final August. Despite being down on the scorecards within the remaining spherical, Edwards delivered the final word “Rocky” second with a “head kick heard ‘around the world” to complete Usman. It was the end result of an unimaginable journey for the Jamaican-born resident of the U.Okay, whose quite a few accidents and setbacks had prevented him from maximizing his true potential. Not solely had Usman soundly defeated Edwards of their first assembly again in 2015, he was rated the pound-for-pound greatest in all of MMA coming into their rematch and was one win away from tying Anderson Silva for the UFC document of 16 consecutive victories. Yet for as actually inspirational as Edwards’ second was, he’ll have to do it a second time towards Usman in Saturday’s trilogy to be thought-about something however a historic footnote or one-hit surprise. It’s a actuality that sounds harsh, particularly contemplating how a lot Edwards has already overcome from these claiming he is not marketable or thrilling sufficient. But that is the street Edwards is used to and this time he can have his residence crowd behind him to assist him in his first title protection, much like the homecoming Hall of Famer Michael Bisping obtained in his rematch with Dan Henderson at UFC 204 following his personal upset title win.
2. This is Kamaru Usman’s second of fact
The 19-fight win streak (together with 15-0 within the UFC) Usman introduced with him into final August’s rematch cannot be missed. Outside of some temporary moments of battle, together with being dropped by Gilbert Burns within the opening spherical of their 2021 title bout, the native of Nigeria had largely been dominant all the approach. His success, which incorporates 5 defenses of the 170-pound title he received from Tyron Woodley in 2019, even led Usman to brazenly marketing campaign for a boxing match towards Mexican famous person Canelo Alvarez. Usman had additionally constructed his crossover model sufficient to be supplied an performing position in final fall’s “Wakanda Forever” blockbuster, which was launched two months after his UFC 278. Everything Usman achieved all through his profession was already etched in stone, which means the upset loss to Edwards of their rematch is not sufficient to take any of it away from him, save for his momentum. But the loss does create just a few professional questions as to how Usman, who turns 36 in May, recovers from being knocked out chilly so violently, particularly when he appeared so near being on his approach to attaining MMA immortality by equaling Silva’s vaunted document.
One factor to recollect is that Edwards’ victory wasn’t merely blind luck. The head-kick KO was the end result of in depth movie examine from him and his staff relating to Usman’s tendency to dip his head to the precise whereas slipping a jab. Like Valentina Shevchenko’s current girls’s flyweight title loss to Alexa Grasso, Usman was partially a sufferer of his personal success contemplating simply how a lot tape there was on the market of his tendencies. No fighter can ever be totally excellent, particularly in a sport with so some ways to lose, particularly after making a single mistake. But though Usman’s welterweight title reign speaks for itself when it comes to being traditionally memorable, UFC 286 supplies him with a possibility to proper his personal incorrect — like Georges St-Pierre (towards Matt Serra) and Amanda Nunes (in her fast rematch with Julianna Pena) — whereas actually doubling down on his greatness.
3. Gaethje-Fiziev is a crossroads struggle with violent potential
In a gathering of two of the highest six ranked UFC fighters at 155 kilos, Saturday’s co-main occasion may go a good distance in shaking up the general light-weight title image. Can Gaethje, regardless of being completed in two title losses over his final three fights, carve out a path at age 34 to at least one extra title shot or will the red-hot Fiziev, using a six-fight win streak, firmly announce himself as the following light-weight risk? Either approach, UFC followers are prone to be the winner given the potential for motion on this matchup. If we’re being trustworthy, the final six years have produced nothing however memorable wars involving lots of the high stars within the light-weight division, together with Gaethje, Michael Chandler, Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira, Eddie Alvarez and Rafael dos Anjos. Fresh off a trio of knockouts over dos Anjos, Brad Riddell and Renato Moicano over a four-fight stretch, Fiziev has the potential to affix that group ought to he and Gaethje exceed expectations.
4. Roman Dolidze is a middleweight on a mission
Currently ranked ninth by the UFC at 185 kilos, the 34-year-old Georgian slugger seems poised to do injury on the highest 10 of the division. Riding a four-fight win streak, it is Dolidze’s final three fights, which all happened in 2022, that has struggle followers buzzing. Dolidze scored a trio of knockouts over the ultimate six months, dispatching Kyle Daukaus, Phil Hawes and Jack Hermansson. An alternative to struggle former title challenger and No. 4-ranked Marvin Vettori proves simply how excessive UFC brass is on Dolidze’s potential. With a 12-1 general document in simply six years as a professional, Dolidze stays an intriguing darkhorse risk to the title image at massive. A powerful grappler by commerce with loads of worldwide expertise, Dolidze has developed right into a terrifying knockout risk because of his thundering punching energy. Vettori, whose solely UFC defeats have come towards former champions Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya (twice), represents the right well-rounded problem to seek out out simply how for actual Dolidze is.
5. Women’s flyweight may have one more rising contender
Remember the not-too-distant previous the place Valentina Shevchenko dominated the UFC’s 125-pound weight division with an iron fist, dispatching one overwhelmed title challenger after one other? Those days are firmly behind us, not simply as a consequence of Shevchenko’s upset loss at UFC 285 to Alexa Grasso however the rising tide of intriguing new contenders together with Manon Fiorot, Taila Santos and Erin Blanchfield. Another attention-grabbing title that would quickly be a part of that checklist is “King” Casey O’Neill, a 25-year-old kickboxer from Scotland, who brings a 9-0 document into Saturday’s take a look at reverse former title challenger Jennifer Maia. A torn ACL final spring slowed O’Neill’s momentum, which she’ll have to show is totally behind her towards Maia. Yet ought to she survive and advance towards her hardest foe up to now, O’Neill will probably be yet one more title to observe as a future flyweight attraction geared up with the mindset and expertise essential to shake up the division.
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