Leon Edwards knows the stakes ahead of his return at UFC Vegas 21.
Riding an eight-fight win streak has put the British welterweight in a possible do-or-die situation as he prepares for a main event clash against Belal Muhammad on Saturday night.
Securing a ninth consecutive victory would almost certainly put Edwards at the top of the list when it comes to title contenders at 170 pounds. On the other hand, a loss would be devastating, especially after Edwards has been quite vocal about already deserving a shot at gold after building such an impressive resume in one of the UFC’s toughest divisions.
That’s why despite facing a lower ranked opponent in Muhammad this weekend, Edwards is treating the fight like it’s the biggest moment of his entire career.
“If I go out there and f**king lose to this kid, then all these title fights and all these big fights goes away,” Edwards said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I have to go out there and make a statement and show there’s levels to this and I deserve in the top tier of the promotion and that’s it really.
“’[I’m] taking him serious, I am focused 100 percent on Belal Muhammad cause if I go out there and lose, all them f**king title fights and No. 1 contender fight goes away. So that’s my priority. I’m focused fully on him and we’ll go from there after that.”
While Edwards appreciates that Muhammad was willing to step up on short notice to face him after his original opponent Khamzat Chimaev was forced off the card due to lingering issues from COVID-19, he still believes this should ultimately play out like a mismatch.
For the better part of the past year, Edwards has been touting himself as the true No. 1 contender at welterweight, which means he’s set the bar high for himself when it comes to the kind of performance he needs to deliver against an opponent ranked outside the top 10 in the division.
“He’s a good, durable opponent. He pushes the pace to the fight. He’s an all right opponent,” Edwards said about Muhammad. “Every time he stepped up though, from what I’ve seen of his career, he’s always failed.
“He’s a mid-tier fighter, I would say for the UFC. This is a whole different level to what he’s used to and what he’s been against. That’s it really. I’m just levels above him and I can’t wait to go out there and show him. There’s levels to this sh*t.”
Of course even with a win over Muhammad at UFC Vegas 21, Edwards is savvy enough to understand nothing is guaranteed in this sport even if UFC president Dana White said he would be “100 percent” next in line for a title shot.
Just after finishing Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman started calling for a rematch against Jorge Masvidal — an opponent he had already defeated by unanimous decision less than a year ago.
“I was frustrated,” Edwards said about Usman’s call out. “I truly believe I deserve the shot at the title and to have him call out Masvidal, I was like f**k’s sake.
“But looking at it from his point of view, he’s working for a high payday so for him it’s a good strategy for fight. Whoever knows, I deserve a title shot. Everyone knows that. Hopefully after this fight, I can prove my case and we can get a fight with him.”
The last time Edwards tasted defeat was in a fight against Usman back in 2015 but that only furthers his cause to get a rematch with the title on the line.
Six years have passed since that initial fight and since that time Edwards has gone undefeated while a long list of welterweight contenders have continued to face and fall to the champion.
Now he wants his chance to avenge a past defeat but more importantly earn the opportunity to become UFC champion.
“After this fight, that’s nine fights in a row,” Edwards said. “That’s the third most [wins] in the welterweight history of the promotion. I truly believe so. Everyone else had their go, had their chance to fight for a title and they all came up short. Colby [Covington] got stopped. [Gilbert] Burns got stopped. [Jorge] Masvidal got grounded out. So I feel I’ve worked my way back up. I’ve earned this spot and I truly believe I deserve the next shot at the title.
“When I go out there and look good and put Belal away and call out Kamaru Usman, like you said, I’m in the perfect position to jump the line and give me what I deserve. What I’ve been deserving. It’s not like I’ve only got one or two wins. This is my ninth win in a row. So I truly believe I deserve it and hopefully after this fight, we got to the UFC and see what’s on the table.”