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Welter-Wait: Leon Edwards’s Next Defense?

More than likely, UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards will defend his belt against top contender Colby “Chaos” Covington.  Edwards captured the belt in stunning fashion against the seemingly unstoppable Kamaru Usman.  He then solidified his reign in a third fight against “The Nigerian Nightmare.”  Covington, on the other hand, has remained relatively inactive.  After a decision loss to Usman at UFC 268, Covington has only fought once since then.  He scored an impressive decision win against the now retired Jorge Masvidal.  However, Covington will have to bring an even more impressive showing to stand a chance against Edwards.

As usual, Covington has talked a big game to the media.  Interestingly, however, many fans and fighters also seem to fancy Covington’s chances.  Certainly, Colby is one of the best fighters in the world.  He has high level wrestling and has greatly improved his striking.  Most importantly, he brings an incredibly high volume over five rounds.  Thus, regardless of the victor, neither fighter should have an easy night out against one another.  

Leon Edwards. Image – Complex

The consensus opinion considers Covington a dangerous stylistic matchup for Edwards.  Leon prefers to strike, so in theory Covington’s wrestling can pose problems.  Furthermore, Leon has shown a tendency to slow down in the later rounds, which Covington could exploit.  However, Edwards’s latest win against Kamaru Usman. cannot be overstated.  Leon defeated Usman in a relatively convincing decision.  He out-struck Usman handily on the feet.  Kamaru struggled to secure takedowns, and failed to control Edwards for significant periods of time.  Although Leon slowed down slightly, he never appeared to be in significant danger over the course of the fight.  Usman and Covington have very similar styles, so that fight likely boosts Edwards’s confidence heading into this matchup.

Leon Edwards, image – LowKick MMA

Some may argue that Usman had declined heading into the trilogy against Edwards.  Usman has a long injury history, and has reigned for several years now.  Time will tell whether this narrative holds any weight.  From the eye test, however, Usman did not appear to look significantly different.  Edwards has been the better striker throughout their trilogy.  Many claimed that Usman looked slow and flat footed, but Kamaru has almost always fought that way.  Rather than using fluidity or speed, Usman has relentlessly marched down and pressured his opponents throughout his career. 

Usman has always used his combination of wrestling, conditioning, strength, and strike selection to break opponents.  He attempted to do the same against Edwards in the trilogy.  However, unlike in previous fights, Edwards consistently stopped Usman from locking his hands during his takedown attempts.  Leon used energy more efficiently by stopping takedowns in their early stages, rather than repeatedly getting up from grounded positions.  

It’s true that Covington poses some problems that Usman did not.  Colby is faster and shoots more often, which may cause difficulties for Edwards.  However, Usman also brought key strengths that Colby does not have.  Usman has significantly more power, which undoubtedly put more pressure on Edwards in the striking exchanges.  Furthermore, Usman has an incredible chin, and continued to pressure despite all the strikes Edwards landed.  Although Colby is durable in his own right, he has been dropped in his last two outings.  In particular, the knee that Edwards landed on Usman’s head could end the night if Leon lands it on Covington. 

Finally, consider that Leon himself has impressive grappling skills, despite his striking background.  Edwards scored a clean takedown in the second Usman fight.  Furthermore, he himself is incredibly large and strong for the division.  Covington will have his hands full trying to take Edwards down, and even more so trying to hold him down.  Additionally, Colby will be in constant danger whenever he closes the distance.  Edwards’s striking prowess is worlds apart from anything Covington brings in that department.

Both fighters are top contenders for a reason, and Leon will have to be on top of his game once again to retain his belt.  However, the public appears to be overlooking Leon’s strengths.  The delayed fight has undoubtedly frustrated fans and many question Leon’s apparent reluctance to fight Covington.  Regardless of any behind the scenes confusion, however, the eye test favors Leon.  The pressure is on Covington to show that he has made the most of the time since his last fight.  Otherwise, the belt will remain on English soil.

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