What next for Leon Edwards? Who will he face after outclassing Colby?

What next for Leon Edwards? British star has THREE top contenders pushing to face him after outclassing Colby Covington at UFC 296… and he wants a massive homecoming show in the UK

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The ‘Rocky era’, as Leon Edwards called it, is in full swing now after Colby Covington was put to the sword at UFC 296. 

The British star outclassed his American challenger both in and out of the cage to retain his dignity and welterweight title against a man he described as a ‘dirty human being’. 

Now that the toxicity of Covington and his vile onslaughts about Edwards’ murdered late father are in the rear-view mirror, what will come next for the champion?  

He was never even really forced to come out of third gear against a man many believed would be able to push a pace on him and severely test him over five round. 

Having overcome Kamaru Usman twice and now the man who Dana White said would be the greatest 170-pounder of his generation (if the Nigerian Nightmare didn’t exist), Edwards needs some new territory to conquer. 

Leon Edwards (left) defended his title against Colby Covington (right) at UFC 296

Edwards cruised to a comfortable victory on the scorecards over the American 

And the location of that mystery match-up could well be on home soil. 

With Tom Aspinall the interim heavyweight champion seeking to fight again before Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic meet, a double header in Britain is on the cards. 

In the post-fight press conference, Dana White said: ‘Obviously, it makes a lot of sense to have him fight in England, if you look at what the kid’s done.

‘He beat [Kamaru] Usman twice and just beat Colby. Colby’s the guy I was saying if Usman didn’t exist, he’d probably be the dominant champion in that weight class, and Leon beat them both. Much respect to him and he looked incredible.’

And Edwards himself also talked up the idea, adding on TNT Sports: ‘UK martial arts is popping right now, You have me, Tom Aspinall and it would be great to headline a card in the UK – have me and Tom headline it. 

‘That’s my dream and I know it’s Tom’s too to go back home and have a massive sold out stadium event.’

The early frontrunner to face Edwards is Belal Muhammad, a man who’s won nine fights and gone unbeaten in four years. 

He and Edwards previously clashed but it was cut short due to a horrendous eye poke resulting in a no-contest. Muhammad is another wrestling based fighter with a strong engine, not hugely dissimilar in style to the Brit’s last two opponents. 

Belal Muhammad weighed in as back-up, which could indicate he is next in line 

But Edwards is not particularly keen. 

‘There’s definitely other options, you know,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel like Belal should be next. I won 10 fights in a row and didn’t get a title shot. So what makes him different or more privileged?’

‘So, Colby’s (Covington) already skipped the line already, let’s see who’s next. But like I said, this is the ‘Rocky’ era, it’s my era now and I’ll keep reigning, whoever’s next. 

‘It doesn’t matter, they’re all similar styles anyways. All boxers and wrestlers, it’s what I’ve built my career on. So, whoever comes next, it’s whatever, you know.’ 

‘They’re all similar styles, all boxers, wrestlers. I’ve built my career on it.’

Muhammad weighed in last week as back up in case the main event fell off, which is usually a clear sign that the UFC have him positioned as the next contender. 

And he was scathing of the fight afterwards, claiming: ‘Honestly, it was a joke to the division. That’s what happens when you get a bum off the couch [Covington] who’s been out for two years, who didn’t deserve the shot, and he goes out there and he didn’t back up the talk. 

‘Rocky’ delivered a strong performance but it was not enough to impress Muhammad

‘For Leon Edwards, you should have backed up your talk too. For what Colby said, he deserved to have his jaw broken. I thought Leon should have went out there, he should have embarrassed him and put it on him, but he played that little game.

‘So I think the UFC knows who’s next. I need to get in there. I need to make the welterweight division great again because I’m going to come to fight every single fight. 

I’m going to be in your face non-stop, 100 percent. There’s not going to be no breathing at all for Leon Edwards.’

He went on: ‘I’m going to be in his face. I’m going to make him bleed. I’m going to make him breathe hard.

‘I’m going to make him look to his corner and his coach is going to repeat that same statement, ‘Don’t let him bully you, son!’ He’s going to say that every single round, and once the fight’s over, he’s [going to say], ‘You let him bully you, son.’ That’s what I’m going to do to him. I’m going to bully him.’

Muhammad has arguably the strongest case but there are other options. Islam Makhachev, the pound-for-pound No 1 wants to move up and attempt to become double champ. 

On Sunday, he Tweeted: ‘Leon [Edwards] has to be next, and also, this fight [Edwards vs. Colby Covington] was bulls**t, man. We have to change the champion.’

Makhachev has been a dominant force at lightweight and few would begrudge him the opportunity to join an elite club. 

Islam Makhachev (right) wants to move up in weight and try to become double champ

The Dagestani brutally knocked out Alexander Volkanovski with a head kick in his last outing and is likely to face Charles Oliveira in a rematch next. It is a fight he’ll be heavy favourite for and he may even open up as betting favourite against ‘Rocky’. 

But there are other compelling contenders at welterweight for the Birmingham fighter. 

Shavkat Rakhmonov went to 18 fights, 18 wins and 18 finishes by choking out Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson on the main card at the weekend. 

His remarkable run, undefeated status and seemingly unstoppable rise make him arguably the toughest next assignment for Edwards on paper. 

The Kazakh beat Wonderboy even after tearing his ankle in the build-up, showing what a ferocious competitor he is.     

Afterwards, he said: ‘I believe I’m worthy of a title shot. The winner of the title fight (at UFC 296), I’m ready to fight him.’ The problem for the UFC would be selling it to a casual audience. 

Both men have their die hard fans but Edwards is a quiet champion and Shavkat doesn’t speak England or engage whatsoever in hyping or promoting a fight. 

It would be a marketing nightmare so the UFC might keep their power dry and wait for Shavkat to achieve one more win over a top contender. 

One of the more unlikely options is an ambition Edwards talked up in the weeks prior to UFC 296 – a move up to middleweight and bid to claim a second belt. 

He said: ‘I feel especially with someone like [Sean] Strickland and [Dricus Du Plessis]…Any of them two would be great to fight. 

‘I’m big myself…I feel like that would be perfect. I feel like me going out there being double champ, first ever from the UK to do it. That’s definitely one of my goals, so that’s on the cards for sure.’ 

Shavkat Rakhmonov is arguably the most dangerous contender to Edwards at welterweight

Sean Strickland and Dricus du Plessis fight for the middleweight title next year

Plenty of champions now hold that ambition and want to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor, but the UFC tend to reserve those encounters for huge pay-per-view worthy contests or men who have cleaned out their own division. 

The general consensus is that Edwards needs to make a few more defences before he has earned that right and even said himself he is now targeting Georges St-Pierre’s record nine defences at welterweight.    

Of the options on the table, Muhammad appears most likely and arguably most winnable, with Edwards already listed as a strong favourite for it. 

It is a fool’s game to predict the next move the UFC will make but one thing is certain, 2024 will be a legacy defining year for the ‘Rocky era’. 

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