By Finn Vosvenieks
Top UFC welterweight contender Leon Edwards’ long-anticipated return to the octagon ended in an unceremonious fashion after an accidental eye-poke to opponent Belal Muhammad.
The Kingston-born, Birmingham-based fighter was competing for the first time in nearly 2 years since his unanimous decision win over Rafael dos Anjos in July 2019.
Despite the long lay-off, there appeared to be no signs of ring-rust as Leon Edwards set the pace in the opening round, closing the distance on Belal Muhammad and continuously out-striking him early on.
The speed difference between the two fighters was apparent from the first bell, with the rest of the first round won by Edwards on the feet whilst he also engaged in effective clinch-work. Perhaps the key moment of the round came in the form of a perfectly-timed Leon Edwards head-kick, with Muhammad doing well to stay in the fight after initially looking stunned by the kick.
The impressive first-round performance from Edwards counted for little in the end however, with the second round not even 20 seconds in when Edwards reached forward in an exchange and accidentally poked the right eye of Belal Muhammad. With the damage to Muhammad’s eye looking severe, the Palestinian-American was deemed unable to continue. The fight was declared a no-contest as the final decision.
The disappointing night for Edwards sums up the last couple of years of his career, with the Jamaican-Brit’s long run of inactivity, prior to last Saturday, continuing to be prolonged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leon Edwards was initially poised to fight former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley last March in London, with the bout called off within a week of its scheduled date after lockdown measures were implemented in England. Edwards was then booked to fight up-and-coming contender Khamzat Chimaev last December, with both fighters subsequently getting positive COVID tests in the lead-up to the fight.
Addressing Leon Edwards’ current position in the welterweight rankings, the latest no-contest outcome only stalls Edwards’ progress in obtaining a title shot against current champion Kamaru Usman.
There is a fair degree of uncertainty around what Edwards does next, with a rematch against Belal Muhammad appearing to be the most likely match-up, if not the most ideal one for the third-ranked UFC welterweight.