Leon Edwards finally returned to the Octagon at UFC Vegas 21 after staying out of action for almost 20 months. Facing him was Belal 'Remember The Name' Muhammad, who accepted the fight within five days of his victory over Dhiego Lima at UFC 257.
The welterweight headliner at UFC Vegas 21 was off to a promising start when Leon Edwards rocked Belal Muhammad with a head kick early in the first round. Edwards really looked to be gaining momentum as he started connecting more precisely in the exchanges.
Belal Muhammad got a breather as the fight was briefly stopped due to an accidental eye poke. Subsequently, Leon Edwards was issued a warning. Belal Muhammad managed to hang on and did not take any more serious damage before the second round. However, another accidental eye poke from Edwards 18 seconds into the second round left Muhammad unable to continue.
Belal Muhammad lay crying in the center of the octagon as the significance of the incident dawned on him. Leon Edwards, who was looking to make a statement with his return, was also dejected by the way the fight ended.
After the tragic end to the main event of UFC Vegas 21, let us look at three logical next fights for Leon Edwards and two for Belal Muhammad in the UFC.
#3 Logical fight for Leon Edwards: Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson
Currently placed at #5 in the welterweight rankings, Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson has previously expressed his interest in a matchup with Leon Edwards. Thompson even went as far as offering to step in for Khamzat Chimaev after the latter was pulled out of UFC Vegas 21.
While Leon Edwards has previously dismissed Stephen Thompson by citing his record in the past few fights, 'Rocky' might be interested in a chance to prove himself against 'Wonderboy' after Saturday night's fiasco.
#2 Logical fight for Belal Muhammad: Geoff Neal
Geoff Neal previously faced Belal Muhammad at UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs Dillashaw. Neal earned a unanimous decision victory with all three scorecards reading 30-27. Neal also snapped Muhammad's 4-fight win streak with the victory and would later go on to build a six-fight win streak of his own.
Belal Muhammad was riding another 4-fight win streak, going into his UFC Vegas 21 headliner against Leon Edwards. Muhammad could look to move up the rankings by correcting the wrong, in a potential rematch against Neal. Geoff Neal, meanwhile, would be looking to bounce back from his loss to Stephen Thompson in December last year.
#2 Logical fight for Leon Edwards: Gilbert Burns
Leon Edwards has been eyeing a matchup with one of the top contenders in the division for some time now. Ariel Helwani had even suggested a matchup between the two while Gibert Burns was waiting on the sidelines after the cancelation of his title shot against Kamaru Usman at UFC 251.
While Burns, who is now ranked #2, has previously refused the fight, it makes perfect sense for him after losing his title shot against Kamaru Usman at UFC 258. Currently ranked at #3, it could be a possible matchup for Leon Edwards to earn his long-awaited shot at the title.
#1 Logical fight for Belal Muhammad: Neil Magny
Also known as 'The Haitian Sensation', Neil Magny is currently placed at #9 in the welterweight rankings. While Magny won all three of his fights last year, his recent outing against Michael Chiesa ended in a loss via unanimous decision.
Belal Muhammad is currently on a four-fight win streak- not taking into account the NR against Leon Edwards on Saturday night- and deserves a shot at the top 10. Neil Magny vs Belal Muhammad would certainly make for a good matchup at welterweight.
#1 Logical fight for Leon Edwards: Colby Covington
Colby Covington has been victorious in eight of his last nine outings with his only loss coming in a title shot against Kamaru Usman at UFC 245. Since then, Covington has gone on to defeat former champion Tyron Woodley via TKO and cement himself as the #1 contender in the welterweight division.
With his 8-fight win streak, Leon Edwards should finally fight Colby Covington before the two have another go at the title. According to Brett Okamoto of ESPN, a matchup between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington makes the most sense. In the aftermath of the tragic end to the main event at UFC Vegas 21, Brett Okamoto said of Leon Edwards:
"Here's what I'll say, though. Give him the fight he deserved anyway. Let's just pretend like none of this happened and book the right fight. Edwards vs. Covington is the right fight. It makes sense on every level. This is where we probably should have been on Saturday anyway, so book it for a Saturday in the spring."