Belal Muhammad had a mix of emotions sitting cageside at UFC 278 when Leon Edwards knocked out Kamaru Usman to become welterweight champion.
While admittedly not the biggest fan of Edwards after their fight ended in a no contest due to an eye poke back in 2021, Muhammad still gave credit to “Rocky” for a job well done after being down on the scorecards heading into the fifth round. But the downside of Edwards’ win meant Muhammad’s own desire for a title shot will likely get pushed back even further, because with the way the division is set up now, the chances Muhammad gets the next crack at the belt are slim even if he beats Sean Brady at UFC 280 in October.
All signs are pointing towards Edwards facing Usman in a trilogy match after they first met back in 2015. With the series tied at 1-1 and Usman serving as a long-reigning champion prior to his shocking defeat, Muhammad believes Usman deserves that opportunity — although he’s not certain Edwards will be racing to sign a contract for that fight.
“There is anxiety about the future,” Muhammad stated on The Fighter. The Writer. Because Usman was an active champion. He would fight up to three times per year. Leon, a guy that fights one time a year — now that he’s champion, it took him this long to get here, I just have this gut feeling that he’s going to drag this out.
” He’s just going to be there. Especially with how the fight was progressing, I don’t believe he is going to rush to a rematch against Usman, or any other guys that need to be next to him [Chimaev], Colby [Covington], Gilbert [Burns].. All of us have that fighting style that we will strike you and knock you down. The way Usman did it was so easy to him I believe [Edwards] will avoid those fights .”
To his credit, Edwards has said repeatedly that he will face Usman for a third time, but Muhammad knows there’s another fight out there that could certainly interest the new UFC welterweight champion even more.
“His title defense. I believe he will try to push a [Jorge] Masvidal narrative. It would be something like, “We have unfinished business in Masvidal. Three piece and a soda. I must get that one back.” Muhammad stated. He’s planning to make that story. If you are the UFC you would be like “Masvidal, [Conor] McGregor is the UFC’s biggest star, so let’s tell the story. Let’s do the Leon vs. Masvidal fight at London.” They know that it will bring in pay-per view sales. It’s all about money.
“The UFC wanted that big fight with Kamaru and Khamzat because Kamaru had that untouchableness to him and Khamzat has that untouchableness to him and they just lost that. So I feel like they’re going to try to substitute that with the bad blood between Masvidal and Leon. I just have that bad feeling.”
The disdain shared between Edwards and Masvidal is well known after they got into a backstage altercation at a UFC event in London in 2019.
On that night after both fighters were victorious, Edwards began shouting at Masvidal while he was in the middle of an interview, which then led to the fighters coming face-to-face. A split-second later, Masvidal threw a number of punches before security intervened and dragged them apart.
Masvidal referred to this incident as the “three-piece and a soda” night that Edwards received. This sparked an intense rivalry which has continued even though both fighters have moved on to new endeavors.
Now three years later, Muhammad knows the potential matchup will still sell to audiences despite Masvidal currently riding a three-fight losing streak and Usman being a more deserving contender.
“There should be nothing else but Usman next. He’s earned it,” Muhammad said. “He was in the pound-for-pound talk, he was in the GOAT talk, and the same way you gave Amanda Nunes her rematch automatically [against Julianna Peña], I think Usman deserves the rematch for sure.
“But if I’m Leon, and I’m just trying to think the way Leon thinks, the same way he didn’t give me my rematch because, ‘oh, he didn’t earn it,’ he’s probably going to play that narrative of, ‘I finished him and I want to fight Masvidal first in London.’ I think they’re going to try to push it first that way. That’s just the way that I think it’s going to go.”
In an ideal world, Muhammad could focus fully on his fight in October knowing that a win would secure him a title shot opportunity. This is not the reality.
His mission is to keep winning, but Muhammad doesn’t have the luxury of being able to think about what’s next. He’s nearly certain that it won’t involve Edwards and that he will not be a UFC champion.
“Obviously, I want to be next when I walk through Sean Brady, and I think I’ve earned it too,” Muhammad said. “I understand that Usman should be the next person before mine or anyone else.
” I just feel bad that it will be the whole “Masvidal had this huge history” thing. It’s terrible. It’s terrible, but I am certain it will happen .”