If he had it his way, Leon Edwards would probably prefer to forget 2020 ever happened.
Originally scheduled to compete in a main event in his home country of England against former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley this past March, Edwards instead saw a global pandemic wipe out that fight card and just about every other opportunity he had the rest of the year.
Even when he finally booked a fight against rising star Khamzat Chimaev in December, Edwards suffered the ill effects from a personal battle with COVID-19 that forced him to cancel the fight. Sadly, Edwards’ plans to return in early 2021 were also dashed after Chimaev then contracted the coronavirus.
A third attempt to book the fight in March was also scrapped because Chimaev was still suffering lingering effects from the respiratory disease. That set off a mad scramble to find Edwards a new opponent after he made it clear to the UFC that he was done waiting and wanted to fight as originally scheduled.
Based on rankings and availability, UFC president Dana White said Edwards taking on former title challenger Colby Covington to determine the next No. 1 contender at welterweight made the most sense. Edwards definitely agreed and when the UFC came calling with that offer, he was more than happy to accept.
Unfortunately, Covington didn’t feel the same way as he publicly scoffed at the matchup and shot down any possibility that he would return to face Edwards on March 13.
“I kind of expected it,” Edwards said about Covington when speaking to MMA Fighting. “This man’s been running since forever. Every time my name gets mentioned, he runs and makes excuses. I expect nothing more from a coward. I expect this is the way he would approach it.
“The UFC wanted the fight. They went to him, came to me and said ‘would you fight Colby?’ I said yes. They went to him and he just says no. So I suspect that’s what he’s going to do. You cannot force a man to fight. It would have been great to have him in there, to put him in there to smash his head in but now here we are with Belal Muhammad.”
Fresh off a win over Dhiego Lima just a few weeks ago, Muhammad ended up being the person selected to face Edwards in his first fight since 2019.
While he would have loved the chance to secure a win over another top five ranked opponent, Edwards accepted the fight with Muhammad to prove to the UFC he was willing to do what Covington wouldn’t and face whoever the promotion threw at him.
“I’m sure that I am willing to fight anybody,” Edwards said. “Khamzat for example, there’s no reason for me to fight him. He’s a new guy in the UFC. Up and coming. I didn’t need to fight him but I stepped up and I was willing to fight him. Now Belal Muhammad. I didn’t need to fight him either. I could have waited out and waited for one of these top guys. I’m not in the waiting game. I’m a young man and I need to be active.
“So yeah, I think all this showing the UFC I am willing to compete, willing to fight any of these guys. It doesn’t matter who’s first or who’s next. If I believe I am No. 1, then who gives a sh*t who’s next? That’s it really. Showing the UFC I am willing to go and hopefully put me in the good books and get me to where I want to get to.”
Edwards hopes a win over Muhammad on Saturday night, which would be his ninth victory in a row overall, will propel him into title contention and he can move past any more offers that involve lower ranked opponents.
That includes revisiting the fight with Chimaev, who posted and later deleted a statement on Twitter that sounded suspiciously like an announcement of his retirement as he continued to battle with symptoms from COVID-19.
More than anything, Edwards just wants Chimaev to get healthy again because he also dealt with the deadly disease and he knows it can be brutal to get past.
“Obviously, No.1 is his health, making sure he can recover and hopefully get to compete again. He’s a young man. When I seen that post about him retiring, I thought that’s f**ked up. Obviously, he’s not in my rearview right now to compete against but No. 1 is his health, him recovering and getting back to his family well and doing well really. That’s my thoughts really, just making sure he’s in a good place and recovering.”
“I went through it in November/December. Same thing, I lost a lot of weight, my lungs was messed up. I kind of understand what he’s going through. Not as bad from what I’m hearing from him but I had it really bad and I couldn’t compete. I feel for the man. I wish him well.”
That said, Edwards is now putting all of his attention on Muhammad and then hopefully a rematch against UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who is the last person to hand him a defeat back in 2015.
He certainly hopes Chimaev can get healthy again and return to fight but Edwards is putting that matchup behind him now.
“He’s nowhere in my plans for the future at the moment,” Edwards said about Chimaev. “When he does get healthy, No. 1, then he should work his way up. I seen they put him No. 15 now or No. 14. Let him fight one of them guys in the [top] 15 and work his way up. Cause his first three wins is no one ranked in the top 30 in the UFC.
“At the moment, he’s nowhere in my vision for a future fight. I didn’t need to fight him. I did it out of a willingness to show the company that I was willing to compete and that’s it really. I’m looking ahead and looking towards a title shot.”