Leon Edwards is the new welterweight king, and he has no shortage of possible opponents he’s interested in for his first defense.
At UFC 278, Edwards authored one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history, knocking out Kamaru Usman in the fifth round to claim the UFC welterweight title. Now, as the champion, the world is Edwards’ oyster, and so as far as what comes next, he the main thing “Rocky” is concerned about is not who is his first title defense comes against, but where it takes place.
“I don’t know,” Edwards told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “Whoever, whenever. I’d love to run back Usman, but it has to be in London. Dana [White] came out and said Wembley, that would be amazing. To headline Wembley with Usman, that would be amazing. But if not, let [Jorge] Masvidal get a few wins. That would be a big fight as well. I’d love to f****** smack his head off him.
“But like I said, whoever, whenever. I’m top of the mountain now. There’s no doubting. [UFC President] Dana [White] came out before and said if Usman weren’t champion, Colby would be champion. When I heard that I was like, what? Colby had two shots, Masvidal had two shots, but little old Leon came in with one shot and head-kicked him. Pound-for-pound, head shot.”
Following Edwards’ win, Usman and Masvidal have emerged as front-runners for the next welterweight title shot. With Edwards and Usman now being 1-1 against each other, Dana White suggested in the UFC 278 post-fight press conference that a trilogy bout would be next, however, Edwards’ long-standing beef with Masvidal still could draw interest. It certainly has from Masvidal, who was quick to call for a title shot after Edwards won. But there is a potential third option available: Nate Diaz.
Edwards won a unanimous decision over Diaz at UFC 263 to cement his title shot, however, in the final minute of that fight, Diaz hurt Edwards badly and had him on the ropes. That near-finish laid the foundation for a possible rematch, and if Diaz is able to defeat Khamzat Chimaev when they face each other in the main event of UFC 279, Edwards says he’d be happy to run that one back as well.
“Imagine the scenes – the scenes!” Edwards said. “Imagine the scenes. I would 100 percent give Nate a shot as well. That would be — the scenes would be crazy. I would 100 percent give Nate a shot because Nate’s a G. I’ve always said it, even after the fight. He is who he is. The game never changed him. So it that does happen, then Nate’s definitely getting the shot.”
As for when any of this might take place, the answer appears to be not for some time. Regardless of who his first defense comes against, Edwards is looking to sit out for the remainder of the year, both to heal some injuries and because it lines up well with the UFC’s return to England in 2023. And with that much time to prepare, Edwards hopes the UFC goes all out to give the British fans something special.
“100 percent it will be next year,” Edwards said. “Obviously, I’ve got a few injuries I need to sort out. Early next year. I don’t want to be off too long, so early next year would be good. March, April. But they’re not going to London until like March, April, right? So around that time, we’re good to go.
“The stadium. Let’s go! Big stadium. That’s what Dana said. Let’s get it done. MMA now in the U.K. is booming, and to have a champion from the U.K., and all the other guys like Paddy [Pimblett], Darren [Till], put them on the card and let’s sell out Wembley. Now is the time to do it. Let’s do it.”