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Leon Edwards: The Next King

At UFC 296, Leon Edwards rounded out a year of UFC action with a dominant win over Colby Covington.  The win marks his second title defense and firmly establishes his status at the top of the division.  Although he still has several challenges ahead of him, the once young upstart has blossomed in his reign.  

Image – San Diego Union-Tribune

Leon’s performance drew some pointed criticism despite winning a unanimous decision.  The fight had low output overall, with Covington’s reserved approach confusing viewers.  Many simply attribute the result to Covington’s ring rust and inability to back up his talk.  In all likelihood, however, it was Leon’s deadly accuracy which seemed to mute Covington’s famous offensive volume.  

From the beginning, Leon proved the far superior striker.  Edwards was faster, more accurate, and more complex in his attacks.  Whenever Covington threw, Edwards would easily evade and land sharp counters.  Colby seemed reluctant to clinch, likely fearing Leon’s dangerous knees and elbows.  The death knell for Covington came in round 3 when he finally scored a takedown, only for Edwards to easily get up and land a headkick.  Edwards even scored takedowns of his own, cementing his victory.  Although Colby ended the fight on top, this only occurred because Edwards attempted a submission.  Already up on the scorecards, Edwards was content to avoid risk, which did not sit well with fans.  

Image – Tapology

Like Israel Adesanya, Leon’s style will often slow a fight down if his opponent lacks an answer to Leon’s game.  Leon himself can score from the outside, while his opponent must  remain wary of his close range attacks.  Still, true fans of the sport can appreciate his technical mastery both on the feet and the ground.  Cardio remains the only notable weakness in his game, but he has now gone the distance against both Usman and Covington.  

 Belal Muhammad should be the rightful next challenger for Leon.  The two have history, as they briefly fought before an accidental eyepoke ended the fight.  Belal brings a similarly wrestling-heavy approach as both Usman and Covington, so Leon should be comfortable in this matchup.  Still, Belal’s recent improvement on the feet makes him a dangerous opponent for Leon.  

Image – KSL Sports

Shavkat Rakhmanov may present the scariest challenge to Leon.  Still undefeated, this prospect almost seems destined to become a champion at some point.  That said, he has at times shown some vulnerabilities on the feet.  Leon has also proven exceptionally difficult for even the best grapplers to take down and control.  Although holding onto a UFC belt is never easy, Leon may just have the skills to become the next great welterweight champion.

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