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Leon Edwards’ Saturday night win over Kamaru Usman marked the beginning of a new chapter for the UFC welterweight division—and not just because it cemented him as the division’s true king.
England’s Edwards (21-3, one no-contest) defended the promotion’s welterweight belt against the Nigerian-American Usman (20-3) in the main event of UFC 286 on Saturday night in London. After five competitive and entertaining rounds—and a handful of fouls that ultimately led to an Edwards point deduction—the Brit was named the winner by majority decision.
It was the third time the two welterweight stars met in the Octagon. Usman won their first encounter by unanimous decision in 2015, and Edwards claimed the title with a stunning fifth-round knockout of Usman last August—easily one of the biggest upsets of the year.
The pair’s 1-1 score, along with Usman’s previous dominance as the champion, made an immediate tiebreaker a near certainty from the moment Edwards won their second fight.
Rematches are nothing new at the top of the welterweight division. In fact, over the last few years, they’ve been routine. Case in point: In his eight fights for the UFC welterweight title, Usman fought just five opponents.
Now that Edwards has emerged the victor in their three-fight rivalry, that trend should finally subside. In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when there were so many exciting matchup options for the UFC welterweight champion.
From here, the most deserving contenders for a crack at Edwards’ title are probably Kazakhstan’s Shavkat Rakhmonov and Chicago’s Belal Muhammad. Rakhmonov is 17-0 as a pro and 5-0 in the UFC, with wins over the likes of Neil Magny and Geoff Neal.
Muhammad, meanwhile, is on an eight-fight streak with wins over a number of top fighters and actually has some unfinished business with Edwards after their first attempt at fighting ended with a no-contest due to an eye poke.
While Rakhmonov and Muhammad are probably the most deserving contenders at the moment, they’re certainly not the only options.
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The next shot could also go to former interim welterweight champ Colby Covington who, despite going 0-2 in fights with Usman, has remained one of the division’s best fighters and was in the building for Saturday night’s welterweight title fight, talking plenty of trash from Octagon-side in the process.
Then there’s Jorge Masvidal. He’s clearly in no position to call for a title shot after two losses to Usman and a loss to Covington. Yet he is arguably Edwards’ greatest nemesis thanks to an infamous backstage brawl at a UFC card in London in 2019, and if he can defeat Gilbert Burns at UFC 287 next month, he’ll be right back in the mix.
Rising star Khamzat Chimaev is also in the conversation for a title shot despite a grotesque scale fail the last time he tried to make the welterweight limit. The fact is that he is undefeated as a pro, with most of his best wins occurring in the welterweight division. And like Muhammad and Masvidal, he has some history with Edwards, having been slated to fight the Brit on three separate occasions to no avail.
Then, of course, there is Conor McGregor, who is always in the mix for a title shot at both lightweight and welterweight on the basis of his massive star power alone. The Irishman is set to fight Michael Chandler at 170 pounds sometime later this year—and a victory would be his first since 2020—but he recently expressed interest in fighting for the welterweight title, and both Edwards and Usman reciprocated that interest. Dollars make sense, after all.
Even UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev wants a piece of the welterweight king.
“I want Leon next, October in Abu Dhabi,” he wrote on Twitter after the UFC 286 main event concluded.
There is no question that Usman’s reign atop the welterweight division was incredible, but if there is one knock against him, it’s that he didn’t have much variety in terms of opponents. That’s not his fault, but it is a fact.
Whether Edwards keeps the title for another six months, another year, or another few years, it seems that will not be a problem for him.
Throw a dart at the welterweight Top 15, and you will most likely hit a fresh and compelling opponent for the champion.