Thursday, October 29, 2020

Leon Edwards Has Joined The Welterweight Elite

Rafael dos Anjos was supposed to be the toughest fight of Leon Edwards’ career to date, but “Rocky” made a tough fight look easy. The 27-year-old Brit bested the former lightweight champ dos Anjos via lopsided unanimous decision in the main event of UFC San Antonio, giving him the biggest win of his MMA career thus far. The judges scored the fight 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46 for Edwards.

It was the breakthrough win that Edwards needed to jump ahead of the pack in the deep and loaded UFC welterweight division. In many ways, dos Anjos was the gatekeeper to the elite. In his last fight, dos Anjos stopped Kevin Lee from making it to the top of the heap at 170lbs. But Edwards proved to be a far superior fighter than Lee was. Instead of gassing out like Lee did, Edwards kept pushing a hard pace for 25 minutes. By beating RDA soundly for five rounds, Edwards did what he needed to do to prove that he’s an elite welterweight in the UFC. He’s easily one of the top-five 170-pounders in the world right now.

At this point, the UFC welterweight division’s elite goes like this: Kamaru Usman, the champ; and then Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington and Leon Edwards in the tier right below, with a bunch of other fighters right below them. That’s a good place to be for Edwards, who moved to 10-2 overall in the UFC with the win over dos Anjos. Now riding an eight-fight win streak, Edwards actually has a good argument to be the No. 1 contender at this point.

But let’s face it, the fact that Masvidal finished Ben Askren in just five seconds at UFC 239 means he’s likely going to be Usman’s next opponent. Of course, that’s barring a spectacular performance by Covington when he takes on Robbie Lawler two weeks from now at UFC on ESPN 5. If Covington wins that fight in dominant fashion, he could potentially sneak past Masvidal and get his long-overdue title shot. But with the way Masvidal finished Askren, he’d seem to have the inside track.

Beating dos Anjos puts Edwards in a great position either way, though, because it means he’ll fight either Masvidal or Covington next, with Usman getting the other man. Either Edwards gets the grudge match he wants badly against Masvidal, or he faces another tough test in Covington. Either way, the win over dos Anjos puts Edwards in line for a huge fight his next time out, and likely another main event slot. It’s a great place to be for Edwards, who has also shown some tremendous mic skills with his callout of Masvidal.

The UFC matchmakers were hoping that Edwards would beat dos Anjos when they booked this matchup. Dos Anjos is a great fighter, but he’s been at the top for a long time and it was time for some new blood in the division. The matchmakers have waited for a while for Edwards to really take that next step in his career. Even though he was unable to get the finish over dos Anjos, it was still a mostly-dominant showing by Edwards. It was the kind of win that the UFC brass wanted Edwards to get before they gave him that No. 1 contender’s bout, which seems likely for his next fight.

Beating a guy like dos Anjos who is so respected is a massive feather in the cap for Edwards. The UFC welterweight division needed new contenders for Usman’s belt and now Edwards is one of them. He might need one more win before he gets that title shot he wants, but beating dos Anjos proved that he’s clearly an elite fighter at 170lbs.

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