Methinks the tea party should probably be called off…

It wasn’t a surprise that Colby Covington chose to embrace a Revolutionary War-styled “US vs. UK” narrative in his UFC 296 title shot against UFC Welterweight Champion Leon Edwards. There weren’t any surprises in the way “Chaos” built up the fight, from the way he dressed to the awful things he said about Edwards’ family to how he conducted himself after losing a unanimous decision.

What was surprising was the fight itself, as well as why it was even taking place to begin with.

There’s no questioning Leon Edwards’ undisputed status as champion. He’s the man who not only knocked Kamaru Usman out but spent an additional 25 minutes locked inside The Octagon with him just to prove to everyone that he is the new top dog at 170. It took Leon Edwards seven years to get a chance to redeem that initial loss and he did so in both dramatic and then dominant fashion.

There’s no better way to start a reign as champion than by taking down the nightmare that wreaked havoc on the weight class for the 3 years previous. The only downside was that, while Leon Edwards walked away with a title win and a successful defense, his career up to that point was still firmly tied to one man. If he wanted to create his own legacy, it wasn’t going to start until he began defending against the other hopefuls looking for a shot now that the boogeyman had been chased away.

And when Leon Edwards finally got the chance to start building that legacy, I don’t think he intended to do so with Colby Covington.

Leon Edwards wanted to fight anyone other than Colby

Nobody did, considering that, at the time Edwards-Usman 3 took place, Covington was a year removed from his last fight and hadn’t made much of a peep in the time since. That was until he showed up in London to serve as the backup to the UFC 286 main event.

Following the conclusion of that fight, Dana White made countless headlines by doing what he says he never does and made a match at the post-fight presser. That’s right: Leon Edwards’ first defense would be against Colby, the man who did nothing to earn the shot other than stand on a scale.

After a long wait, we finally made it to fight night, and what a night it was. We saw Paddy Pimblett put Tony Ferguson through 15 minutes of hell after he’d already spent a week there, Shavkat Rakhmonov “pick” his own destiny by submitting Stephen Thompson, and Alexandre Pantoja wrap himself around Brandon Royvval as if the man was sitting three rows behind him.

And let’s not forget about Josh Emmett’s sickening knockout of Bryce Mitchell. I think that was the closest anyone has had to a “come to Jesus” moment inside The Octagon. That was worse than Jake Paul knocking Andre August back into June. Good to see Modelo left just enough “fighting spirit” lying around for what might be the Knockout of the Year.

Also, as easy as it’d be to make fun of Ian Garry in light of all the things that have been said about him that were followed by him pulling out of his scheduled fight against Vincente Luque, I will refrain from doing so. Besides, there’s nothing I could say that hasn’t already been said louder and with less shirt.

It was a tense week to say the least, made even tenser by the method that Colby employed to get under Leon’s skin before entering the cage, namely making jokes about Leon’s father. 

There were quite a few attacks on fathers this week and, as a father, I resented them. Besides, if Colby wants to be a good Christian, he’s doing it wrong.

MMA: UFC 286 - Edwards vs Usman Mar 18, 2023; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Leon Edwards (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Kamaru Usman (not pictured) during UFC 286 at O2 Arena. London O2 Arena UNITED KINGDOM, EDITORIAL USE ONLY PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY 20230318_kab_bk4_277
Leon Edwards celebrates his UFC win. | Per Haljestam / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

Leon Edwards’ gameplan went (mostly) to perfection

As emotional as Leon Edwards became before the fight, it didn’t seem to phase him during the fight, successfully using his striking advantage to keep the fight at the distance that best allowed him to pepper Colby with punches and kicks throughout the 5 round affair.

It seemed like there weren’t any concerns with how Leon performed but plenty with the way Colby did. His advantages have typically been his wrestling and the intense amount of pressure he exerts on opponents, picking them apart because they can’t hope to match his level of conditioning.

At 296, though, Colby didn’t fight like he usually does. He seemed hesitant to engage and spent more time letting Leon dictate the pace than he should have. That was most likely due to not having fought in 20 months. The only action he had seen in that entire time was inside a courtroom.

And Leon was excellent with his grappling, stuffing the majority of Leon’s takedowns. The only meaningful one he scored on was in Round 5 at a point where nothing short of a finish was going to be enough to secure a victory, which ultimately didn’t come for the American. The third shot at the undisputed championship was not the charm.

The night went as well as it could have for the Jamaican-born Brit. Now he can forge ahead and continue building his legacy, although, in doing so, we might be about to get another test of whether the UFC has any intention of pretending that merit-based competition still exists within the company.

May 6, 2023, Newark, NJ, Newark, NJ, United States: Newark, NJ - May 6: (R-L) Belal Muhammed kicks Gilbert Burns in a Welterweight bout at UFC 288: Sterling v Cejudo at Prudential CEnter on May 6, 2023 in Newark, NJ Newark, NJ United States - ZUMAp175 20230506_zsa_p175_200
Does Belal Muhammad get the next title shot? | LouisxGrasse / ZUMA Wire, IMAGO

Is there a name I should be remembering?

The obvious next opponent for Leon Edwards would be Belal Muhammad, who is the highest ranked contender in the division (after Usman) and has been waiting since defeating Gilbert Burns at UFC 289 in what was billed as a top contender’s match.

But who knows if that will actually happen. Maybe Dana will deem Rakhmonov more deserving due to his fighting style and finish rate (and the fact that fans don’t actively hate him), or because the company is concerned that featuring a fighter of Palestinian descent right now won’t send the right kind of message about the company’s politics (we all know where those lie).

Maybe something out of left field will happen, like UFC booking Leon against Conor McGregor at UFC 300. You know they would do it if it made sense to. Stay strong, Mike.

Or, for all we know, they’ll give Colby another shot since he *obviously* didn’t lose and the decision and championship were clearly stolen from him… *WINK*

Hey, if Nevada isn’t willing to go along with it, I bet California is…

Either way, whatever happens, there should no longer be any doubts about Edwards’ legitimacy. He is the best welterweight in the world. He was deemed the Fighter of the Year for 2023 and, if he keeps this up, 2024 may very well be his year as well.

Viva la revolución and a happy new year to all!

About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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