After a win over perennial contender Demian Maia, Belal Muhammad is ready for a five-round fight this fall, and he believes a rematch with Leon Edwards makes more sense than ever.
In Muhammad’s estimation, Edwards squandered a shot at the UFC welterweight title in the last minute of his UFC 263 fight against Nate Diaz, and a fight with him is the most logical answer.
“It was the UFC handing him something, where they wanted him to blow up,” Muhammad told MMA Fighting. “They wanted to steal Nate Diaz’s fans. They wanted him to do what [Jorge] Masvidal did to him, but he couldn’t do it.
“I feel like he lost more in that fight than he gained, because he’s calling for the title fight, he thinks he deserves this, he thinks he deserves that. Just seeing what Masvidal did to Nate Diaz and you see what Leon did to Nate Diaz, yeah, he dominated it, but that last 30 seconds was the worst thing that could have happened to him.
“It just gave [UFC President] Dana White and the UFC a reason not to give you the title fight. You sat there, you think you’re one of the best in the world, but you couldn’t finish Nate Diaz, who has one win in the last 10 years. I feel like he blew it in that fight.”
Muhammad hoped to jump the rankings when he took a short-notice headliner against Edwards in March at UFC Vegas 21. Edwards won the first round of the fight, but both fighters were denied a conclusive ending when an accidental eye poke to Muhammad resulted in a no-contest. Edwards was then booked opposite Diaz, while Muhammad defeated Maia one bout earlier on the card at UFC 263.
Edwards, whose return against Muhammad followed a year-plus layoff due to multiple delays, was nearly stopped by a last-second punch from Diaz. Afterward, he said he would wait for the winner of an expected title rematch between champ Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington.
But unless the British standout wants another long sit on the bench, Muhammad said he’s a better choice. The reason? Other top welterweights are either booked or angling for different fights, and it could be a while before the winner of the next title fight to be ready. No. 2 ranked Gilbert Burns is set to face No. 4 Stephen Thompson at UFC 264, and No. 5 Vicente Luque will fight No. 6 Michael Chiesa at UFC 265. Muhammad believes welterweight star Jorge Masvidal will try to get a fight with the returning Nick Diaz.
Muhammad vs. Edwards 2 makes the most practical sense.
“I’ll say that to people, and people will be like, ‘Oh, you’re just butthurt,’” he said. “But I’m like, think about it.”
If fans take a closer look at Edwards resume, Muhammad said, they’d see a fighter less deserving of a title shot than someone like Thompson. Even Covington lacks in that department.
“[Edwards] hasn’t fought anybody that’s ranked right now, except for Luque about 10 years ago,” Muhammad said. “He beat dos Anjos, who’s a 55er. He beat Cerrone, who’s a 55er. He beat Nate Diaz, who’s a 55er. Yeah, he has a huge winning streak. He hasn’t really beat a real 170-pounder.
“I don’t even think he should be top-three, if you’re really thinking about it. That’s not even me hating. Dude’s on a 10-fight winning streak. I would give him a title fight. But honestly, for me, the person who deserves the title fight most is ‘Wonderboy’ if Wonderboy wins. If Wonderboy wins, I’d rather see that than Colby.
“Because yeah, it was a great fight, but Colby literally sat on the sidelines; he only beat Woodley. So I don’t think he really deserves it. And Colby is not a big draw. Colby thinks that, ‘Oh, me and Usman is going to sell 1 million pay-per-views.’ But the first one really sold 200,000 PPVs.
“If I’m Usman, what do I gain from Colby? There’s a high chance of me losing that fight, and I’m not going to get a big payday off that. If I’m Usman, Wonderboy is a good style matchup. Fans love Wonderboy. If Wonderboy can beat Gilbert, Wonderboy should get the title shot.”
UFC President White has said Covington is the next challenger for Usman, but the rematch has yet to be officially booked. Edwards could cut the line, Muhammad said, “if he was more of a personality.”
“He just doesn’t know how to get that fight in general,” Muhammad said. “If you’re on a 10-fight winning streak, you should be all over social media posting about it. You have a country behind you. You should be having people screaming your name to get that title fight. But in general, when you think of him, you think, ‘Eh, who cares.’”
Right now, Muhammad that someone who cares very much. Backstage at UFC 263, he delayed post-fight photos and media obligations so he could watch Edwards fight Diaz. His understanding of the U.K. standout’s choice to fight Diaz after their ill-fated first meeting was undercut by a post-fight explanation that he was losing their first scheduled fight. Ever since then, Edwards has been a target.
Based on what he saw against Diaz, Muhammad is more certain he’d come out ahead.
“I would be very confident, especially that fight,” he said. “It was literally three weeks, and the UFC had to do so much media, so really it wasn’t training – it was just cutting weight to get to that fight. But after seeing [him], I thought he was going to gas in the later rounds, and then seeing how he was acting in the Diaz fight, he’s one of those guys who’s looking at the clock at the end of every round.
“I’m one of those guys, I’m not going to let you waste any rounds. You’re going to be working every single round, every single minute, and you’re going to be gassing out a lot quicker than you did in that fight.”