Belal Muhammad had a mix of emotions sitting cageside at UFC 278 when Leon Edwards knocked out Kamaru Usman to become welterweight champion.
While admittedly not the biggest fan of Edwards after their fight ended in a no contest due to an eye poke back in 2021, Muhammad still gave credit to “Rocky” for a job well done after being down on the scorecards heading into the fifth round. But the downside of Edwards’ win meant Muhammad’s own desire for a title shot will likely get pushed back even further, because with the way the division is set up now, the chances Muhammad gets the next crack at the belt are slim even if he beats Sean Brady at UFC 280 in October.
All signs are pointing towards Edwards facing Usman in a trilogy match after they first met back in 2015. With the series tied at 1-1 and Usman serving as a long-reigning champion prior to his shocking defeat, Muhammad believes Usman deserves that opportunity — although he’s not certain Edwards will be racing to sign a contract for that fight.
“There’s anxiety about what’s going to happen next,” Muhammad said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “Because Usman was a very active champion. He was a guy who was willing to fight three times a year. Leon, a guy that fights one time a year — now that he’s champion, it took him this long to get here, I just have this gut feeling that he’s going to drag this out.
“He’s going to sit there — especially with the way the fight was going, I don’t think he’s going to rush into a rematch with Usman or any of the guys that should be next, whether it’s me, Khamzat [Chimaev], Colby [Covington], Gilbert [Burns]. We all have that style where we’ll strike you and take you down, and the way that Usman was doing it so easily to him, I think [Edwards] is going to avoid any of those fights.”
To his credit, Edwards has said repeatedly that he will face Usman for a third time, but Muhammad knows there’s another fight out there that could certainly interest the new UFC welterweight champion even more.
“His first title defense, I think he’s going to try and push a [Jorge] Masvidal narrative of, ‘We’ve got unfinished business with Masvidal, three piece and a soda, I need to get that one back.’” Muhammad said. “He’s going to try to create that narrative, and if you’re the UFC, you’re like, ‘Masvidal is the biggest star in the UFC next to [Conor] McGregor, so there’s the story, let’s try to do that Leon vs. Masvidal fight in London or something like that,’ because they know it will sell pay-per-views and for them. It’s all about money.
“The UFC wanted that big fight with Kamaru and Khamzat because Kamaru had that untouchableness to him and Khamzat has that untouchableness to him and they just lost that. So I feel like they’re going to try to substitute that with the bad blood between Masvidal and Leon. I just have that bad feeling.”
The disdain shared between Edwards and Masvidal is well known after they got into a backstage altercation at a UFC event in London in 2019.
On that night after both fighters were victorious, Edwards began shouting at Masvidal while he was in the middle of an interview, which then led to the fighters coming face-to-face. A split-second later, Masvidal threw a number of punches before security intervened and dragged them apart.
Masvidal famously referred to the incident as the night he gave Edwards a “three piece and a soda,” and that sparked a heated rivalry that has continued to simmer even as both fighters moved on to other endeavors.
Now three years later, Muhammad knows the potential matchup will still sell to audiences despite Masvidal currently riding a three-fight losing streak and Usman being a more deserving contender.
“There should be nothing else but Usman next. He’s earned it,” Muhammad said. “He was in the pound-for-pound talk, he was in the GOAT talk, and the same way you gave Amanda Nunes her rematch automatically [against Julianna Peña], I think Usman deserves the rematch for sure.
“But if I’m Leon, and I’m just trying to think the way Leon thinks, the same way he didn’t give me my rematch because, ‘oh, he didn’t earn it,’ he’s probably going to play that narrative of, ‘I finished him and I want to fight Masvidal first in London.’ I think they’re going to try to push it first that way. That’s just the way that I think it’s going to go.”
In an ideal world, Muhammad could focus fully on his fight in October knowing that a win would secure him a title shot opportunity. But that’s just no longer the case.
His personal mission to continue winning doesn’t change, but now Muhammad can’t really contemplate about what comes next because he’s almost certain it won’t be Edwards or a chance to become UFC champion.
“Obviously, I want to be next when I walk through Sean Brady, and I think I’ve earned it too,” Muhammad said. “But I understand that Usman should be next before me or anybody else.
“I just have this bad feeling it’s going to be this whole ‘Masvidal and him had this big history’ and it’s going to be that thing. It’s terrible. But I know it’s going to happen.”