Is Leon Edwards right to dodge Khamzat Chimaev and Co for Kamaru Usman rematch?


Leon Edwards has been cursed with some rotten luck over the years but perhaps Jorge Masvidal’s withdrawal from UFC 269 is a blessing in disguise. 

The British fighter, on the face of it, has been denied a bumper payday in a winnable fight against one of the organisation’s biggest names. 

But Edwards’ motivation has always been fixed squarely on one prize, the welterweight title. 

Kamaru Usman remains the welterweight champion

Leon Edwards (left) signalled his intent to wait for a title shot against Kamaru Usman 

The 30-year-old has already stated his intention to wait for the call to face Kamaru Usman rather than hold off for Masvidal to heal from his injury, blasting the American as a ‘fraud’. 

Edwards has set his stall out. He is willing to wait, just as Colby Covington did for a rematch with Usman, despite only fighting once between both defeats. 

The problem is, Edwards does not command the same amount of pay-per-view lure that Covington adds to a card. 

On paper, he is by far the most deserving challenger, but the MMA world is unpredictable at the best of times and there are no guarantees. 

Edwards was called out by Belal Muhammad and they fought to a no contest due to this eye poke back in March in Las Vegas

Edwards was called out by Belal Muhammad and they fought to a no contest due to this eye poke back in March in Las Vegas  

Usman knows it should be Edwards or Vicente Luque next, telling ESPN: ‘Looking at the division, there are some match-ups there. Leon Edwards goes out and gets the job done [against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 269], if he goes out and starches Masvidal, Leon Edwards is a bona fide star.

‘Also, you can’t forget Vicente Luque. Vicente is as battle-tested as anybody. He’s as fun of a fighter as anybody. 

‘With the way that I fight now and where I’m at, Vicente Luque is another exciting prospect, exciting contender I should say. I’m waiting for these guys to step up and say, ‘hey, I’m the next guy’.’

Edwards no longer has the possibility of ‘starching Masvidal to become a bona fide star’. 

He’s gambling that either Luque will take a fight and lose or Khamzat Chimaev does not accelerate his already rapid rise to the top. 

So other than wait by the phone for the title shot call, what options does Edwards have? 

Three fighters called out ‘Rocky’ as soon as Masvidal pulled out. 

Belal Muhammad, who’s clash with the Brit back in March ended as a no-contest due to an unfortunate eye poke, wrote: ‘Took it on 2 weeks last time give me 4 this time I’m ready.’

This one makes absolutely no sense for Edwards to take. He would expect to win but gain almost nothing in terms of clout for doing so. 

Muhammad is ranked No 9, Edwards No 3, it was worth an ask for the American but has no hope of landing. 

Gilbert Burns, who was KO’d by Usman earlier this year, also chipped in. He posted: ‘What’s up Leon Edwards, you already on training camp! Let me know.’

Gilbert Burns lost against Kamaru Usman earlier this year and wants to step in with Edwards

Gilbert Burns lost against Kamaru Usman earlier this year and wants to step in with Edwards

Burns is ranked one slot higher than ‘Rocky’ at the time of writing but as he botched his shot at the belt relatively recently, is further behind in the queue. 

It is also a fight that clearly fails to offer the same kind of profile as Masvidal. 

So what of Chimaev? The most high-profile of the three, the UFC’s blue-eyed boy and a man he already agreed to fight last year. 

An injury and then Covid scuppered that one but Chimaev is on the hunt for a top 5 opponent and Edwards perfectly fits the bill for him. 

Even though there would be money, profile and bags of respect if Edwards could tame the Cechen-born phenomenon, he should want nothing to do with Chimaev at this point. 

The 27-year-old is a freakish prospect and having worked so hard to compile a nine-fight winning streak, Edwards’ next fight deserves to be for a title rather than against a monster in the making. 

Edwards came through his fight with Nate Diaz with a decision win despite a late scare

Edwards came through his fight with Nate Diaz with a decision win despite a late scare 

Usman defeated Colby Covington for a second time in the headline act of UFC 268

Usman defeated Colby Covington for a second time in the headline act of UFC 268

And yet, much of this equation changes if Usman plays the waiting game too. 

He is the pound-for-pound No 1 and his management team won’t want him to get out of bed for anything other than a clear No 1 contender or big money fight. 

Chimaev could string together two more impressive wins in the space of two months if anyone is willing to fight him and that could force Edwards’ hand. 

Even though Muhammad, Burns and Chimaev all look like banana skins to Edwards right now, there are also risks in playing the waiting game. 

He was previously removed from the UFC rankings temporarily after a long period of inactivity and the organisation are known for rewarding fighters who take an ‘anyone, anywhere’ approach. 

Edwards has made the right call in waiting for Usman for the time being, but he needs to be aware that the wind can change direction at any moment.