There are several meaningful fights on the UFC 280 preliminary card. However, none are more significant than the welterweight tilt between Belal Muhammad and Sean Brady.
The winner of the matchup between Muhammad, who is the No. 5 ranked fighter in the official UFC rankings and Brady, who checks in at No. 8, might put the victor in line for a shot at the UFC welterweight title — or at the very least — a title eliminator opposite (possibly) Khamzat Chimaev.
To be fair, this fight is more immediately crucial for Muhammad and his career than it is for Brady.
Muhammad is unbeaten in his past three fights and undefeated in his past eight. The no-contest result in his March 2021 matchup with Leon Edwards is the only imperfection on his resume since Geoff Neal defeated him in 2019.
One of the reasons Muhammad could elevate himself to title challenger with a win on Saturday is that he has unfinished business with Edwards, who is the current champion. Their matchup ended when an eye poke from Edwards left Muhammad unable to continue. Another reason to think the 34-year-old could earn himself a shot at UFC gold is his lengthy run of fights without a loss.
However, the biggest reason to move Muhammad to title challenger or place him in a title eliminator is that it will fall in line with the UFC’s persistent messaging. That message is the promotion does not want its fighters to sit and wait for opportunities to come their way based on their accomplishments or what they believe the promotion owes them.
That type of thinking is something UFC president Dana White often rails against.
“I never like when guys say, ‘I just wanna wait around.’ That’s the patented, worst move of all time,” White said in August. “Look back throughout history for guys that said, ‘I just wanna wait around’ and see how that plays out for you. That story ends the same every way.”
The timing is right for the UFC to use Muhammad to send that message.
Over the past few days, Jorge Masvidal has been vocal about how Edwards owes him a title shot based on something that happened outside the octagon more than three years ago. What Masvidal is not doing is winning fights or telling the UFC to book him a matchup against an opponent who might earn him a chance to fight Edwards.
Masvidal and Muhammad provide a ready-made storyline for the UFC. That storyline is stay active, be willing to fight down in the rankings if need be to keep your name in the mix, win fights and you’ll get opportunities.
By no means is Muhammad a lock to face the winner of the as-yet unscheduled trilogy fight between Edwards and the man he took the title from, Kamaru Usman, but he’s not to be dismissed from that conversation if he defeats Brady at UFC 280.
Brady is still relatively green with the UFC. The 29-year-old is 15-0 overall and 5-0 in the UFC, but he is still developing as a UFC talent and as a recognizable name with the promotion. Therefore, a win at UFC 280 won’t move him into title contention as it will a veteran like Muhammad, who has been with the UFC since 2016.
The more likely outcome of this fight — no matter who is the winner — is that the UFC matchmakers will book the victor in a title eliminator opposite Chimaev.
Chimaev, had he made weight at UFC 279, was all but penciled in as the fighter who would face the victor of the trilogy bout between Edwards and Usman. But Chimaev missed championship weight by 4.5 pounds and forced the reshuffling of the top three fights on the card. The odds the UFC will trust him to headline another pay-per-view event, especially one with a title on the line before he shows he can make the welterweight limit aren’t zero, but they are only percentage points above that.
UFC 280 takes place at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The event’s main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNEWS. The Muhammad vs. Brady fight is the featured prelim.
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