Leon Edwards lived as much as his “Rocky” nickname at UFC 286, out-dueling Kamaru Usman to win their trilogy. It was a large achievement contemplating Usman is arguably the best welterweight the game has seen since Georges St-Pierre. But within the aftermath of the win, the title image is not fairly so settled.
UFC president Dana White remained steadfast on the post-fight press convention that Colby Covington is subsequent in line for a title shot. Edwards has rejected the thought, exhibiting extra curiosity within the winner of Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287. Belal Muhammad is having a tricky time chopping by means of the chatter regardless of his sturdy resume. The presence of Khamzat Chimaev is fading from welterweight however the echoes are nonetheless there. And whereas they struggle for consideration and alternatives, the oncoming storm of Shavkat Rakhamonov looms over the division.
Let’s break down the validity of every fighter’s declare at current to a welterweight title shot in a sport that does not at all times reward what’s truthful.
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Covington is the most important benefactor of the mess at welterweight. Covington weighed in at UFC 286 as a shock backup opponent for Edwards vs. Usman 3. His companies weren’t wanted that night, however the UFC usually rewards fighters who efficiently make weight with no assure of competing. Covington additionally has the next profile than a few of his contemporaries on this listing. He goes straight into struggle promotion together with his trash speak and has expertise headlining pay-per-views. He’s ranked No. 2, behind solely Usman, within the official UFC welterweight rankings however that may be a consequence of how little the rankings shift.
Covington’s credibility as a title challenger falls aside whenever you dig into the precise resume. He doesn’t have an lively profitable streak and is coming off a win in opposition to Masvidal, the latter of whom is at the moment on a three-fight skid. We’re at 14 months and counting since Covington’s final in-cage look. Sure, he gave Usman two robust fights, however Edwards’ takedown protection and superior placing at UFC 286 ought to concern Covington supporters. Covington is 14-3 total within the UFC. Not a single one of many 14 fighters he is crushed has an lively UFC win streak. In truth, most of them are not with the promotion, some are on dropping streaks and others have retired.
Covington has achieved nothing contained in the cage these days to justify a world title struggle. Yet his standing with the corporate, dedication to promoting a struggle and the division’s lack of total path have him positioned as the highest contender within the promotion’s eyes.
There might not be a welterweight on the planet that may maintain Chimaev from being a UFC champion. Fortunately for the division, Chimaev did a exceptional job of eradicating himself from the dialog. Chimaev was handed the lay-up of all lay-ups in opposition to departing veteran Nate Diaz in the primary occasion of UFC 279. Chimaev was so chubby, lacking by 7.5 kilos, that UFC was compelled to shuffle round three fights to maintain the primary card intact. White confirmed on the UFC 286 post-fight presser that Chimaev would subsequent compete at middleweight.
It’s a significant disgrace for Chimaev, who probably has a more durable path at 185-pounds with the likes of Robert Whittaker within the combine. Chimaev’s early dominance throughout middleweight and welterweight is almost unfathomable. Chimaev absorbed only one strike whereas allotting 112 of them in his 4 UFC appearances. He then battled to a call over Gilbert Burns earlier than submitting Kevin Holland in his most up-to-date outing.
Chimaev has the profitable mixture of resume, expertise, star energy and long-term potential dominance to be subsequent in line, however circumstances have compelled him out of the operating.
It actually says so much in regards to the nature of the enterprise that Masvidal, somebody at the moment on a three-fight dropping streak, is on the thoughts of the UFC welterweight champ. It will surely reinvigorate Masvidal if he might beat betting favourite Burns, however a win over the No. 5 ranked welterweight contender wouldn’t justify a title shot in a meritocratic course of. The struggle sport is barely often a meritocracy. It’s at all times prizefighting.
Masvidal arguably has essentially the most mainstream attraction of anybody on this listing and a built-in rivalry with Edwards. In truth, Masvidal’s rise from stable veteran to PPV headliner began the identical night that he first crossed paths with Edwards. After shockingly knocking out Darren Till following an prolonged absence, Masvidal walked away from his personal backstage interview to confront Edwards. Masvidal rattled off a multi-punch mixture — famously dubbed the “three-piece and a soda” — that brought on a lower below Edwards’ eye. Both males have traded barbs within the 4 years because the incident.
Edwards introduced that he would make the journey to Miami to see how Burns vs. Masvidal performs out. It is sensible why Edwards needs the Masvidal struggle: it is an opportunity for comeuppance and sure a straightforward payday in comparison with the choice. But let’s be sincere, it is a cash seize. Plain and easy.
Meet the only most deserving lively contender within the UFC welterweight division. Muhammad has not seen defeat in his final 9 UFC fights. In specific, the standard of his wins over Sean Brady, Vicente Luque and Stephen Thompson is proof that Muhammad is in uncommon kind. The win over Brady is especially helpful, a much-needed stoppage through strikes after 5 consecutive resolution wins. He’s additionally one of many few recent faces within the welterweight contender pool. An intriguing part of his case is that Muhammad fought Edwards to a no-contest in 2021. Muhammad was unable to proceed after struggling a watch poke. Pair that with the quite a few fouls Edwards caught Usman with at UFC 286 and there’s a story to be informed. On paper, there’s no one with a greater resume proper now than Muhammad.
There are some things holding Muhammad again within the grand scheme. He is charismatic, however it feels as if it is but to translate to a wider viewers. His exhibiting in opposition to Brady was a step in the correct path, however it didn’t utterly treatment the notion that he is a boring fighter. Muhammad can also be the sufferer of an arduous journey to the highest. Muhammad has handed so many tough exams, however he has but to finish a struggle in opposition to an opponent at the moment ranked within the high 5. Almost everybody else featured on this story can at the least say they’ve fought somebody who the UFC rankings panel deems to be the perfect.
White recommended that UFC is trying to e-book Muhammad in opposition to Shavkat Rakhmanov subsequent. It’s an amazing struggle between two of the division’s most profitable current fighters, however it’s a horrible disservice to Muhammad. If not a title shot, Muhammad at the least deserves to struggle somebody like Usman.
Burns is neither sizzling nor chilly as a welterweight title challenger. Losses to Usman and Chimaev took off steam, however sturdy showings in each fights guarantee that he is very a lot within the combine. Burns stormed by means of Neil Magny with some extent to show and he can additional his standing with a dominant efficiency in opposition to Masvidal. An completed grappler earlier than diving into MMA, Burns has discovered dependable energy in his fingers to change into a multi-faceted risk. Burns very properly might current Edwards with essentially the most strong problem of any fighter on this listing.
Beating Magny and Masvidal in succession provides Burns a lead over Covington on paper, however not by a sufficiently big margin to beat UFC’s infatuation with the American fighter. It additionally would not fairly stack as much as Muhammad’s current stretch. Burns finds himself in the course of the pack with neither the enterprise nor sports activities deserves to get the title shot over his contemporaries.
Rakhmonov is among the most enjoyable contenders to emerge in recent times. His late third-round submission in opposition to Geoff Neal in March added to his good 17-0 file with 17 stoppages (9 submissions and eight KOs). Against Neal, Rakhmonov confirmed sturdiness and toughness whereas dwelling as much as his popularity for ending fights. His Fight of the Night on the primary card of UFC 285 was an necessary step in introducing him to a wider market.
Rakhmonov nonetheless wants just a little extra time within the oven earlier than he is prepared for to cement himself as one of the best. There have been defensive gaps within the Neal struggle that Rakhmonov can treatment with extra high-level reps. Furthermore, the language barrier calls for extra time to reveal Rakhmonov to the mainstream fanbase. A win over Muhammad would do good issues for Rakhmonov even when it is an insulting proposition for Muhammad. Alternatively, giving Rakhmonov the winner of Burns vs. Masvidal will surely produce a future title challenger.
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