Riding an eight-fight winning streak and holding the No. 3 spot in the official UFC rankings, Leon Edwards feels like welterweight's invisible man. For nearly a year, seemingly every conversation about the 170-pound title picture has not included Edwards, instead focusing on champion Kamaru Usman and challengers like Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns.
Usman has already knocked out Covington and decisioned Masvidal, but rematches with either man are floated more often than the idea of Edwards standing across the Octagon from the champ. Now, with Burns' planned shot at Usman getting delayed a second time -- this time bumped from Dec. 12 to some time in 2021 -- Edwards is making a pitch to face Burns to determine a "true" No. 1 contender for Usman's title.
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It's a fight that Edwards has pursued before, but Burns got placed into a title shot at UFC 251, which led to a positive COVID-19 test and Masvidal's late-notice title shot. Edwards' callout has gotten him back in the headlines, but no closer to a title shot.
So what could the next step be for Edwards as he tries to build on one of the division's longest winning streaks and an already established spot near the top of the division? Let's take a look at some options.
The only fight more unlikely for Edwards than a shot at Usman is Burns. The Brazilian has secured a title shot and wouldn't risk that opportunity in a dangerous fight with Edwards. The UFC has made it clear that they are committed to following through on Burns' title shot after a six-fight winning streak that culminated in a dominant win over Tyron Woodley. The Woodley fight is an interesting footnote in this saga, with Edwards originally scheduled to face Woodley in March before the COVID-19 pandemic sank the event. Would a dominant Edwards performance have earned him the title shot Burns got for dominating Woodley in May?
This probably joins the "unlikely" pile of options for Edwards, but there's certainly a storyline to play off of here. Edwards was one of the men upset with Covington's comments following his win over Woodley in September and tweeted about his desire to "take out the racist scumbag." The UFC's desire seems to be to make a fight between Covington and Masvidal, but if that can't happen for whatever reason, a fight with Edwards suddenly becomes Covington's best option given a rematch with Usman could potentially be a year or more away.
Even if a fight between Covington and Masvidal is signed, Edwards' best course of action from here on is to stay ready to step in if any major fight gets derailed by injury or COVID-19 complications. That goes for Burns vs. Usman or Covington vs. Masvidal. Edwards doesn't have many opportunities to get the kind of fight he wants, so he may have to be willing to take on the role of willing late replacement fighter to get a shot.
Thompson has been calling for a fight with Edwards for some time, but Edwards has pushed the idea off as he's looked for bigger game. Thompson is a former title challenger and battled Woodley to a draw in his first shot at the title before a majority decision loss in the rematch. The problem is, Thompson is 1-2 since 2018 and a win over him doesn't carry the same weight it once did, something Edwards has made clear in recent heated Twitter exchanges.
The problem is, there aren't many better options out there for Edwards. Woodley has suffered three consecutive one-sided losses, so rebooking that fight no longer does Edwards any good. Thompson is the highest ranked welterweight contender available to Edwards in the official UFC rankings outside of the Covington, Burns and Masvidal, currently sitting at No. 5. Edwards may not be turned on by the idea of fighting Thompson, but the fight does make some sense to get him back in the cage for the first time since mid-2019.
I know you didn’t write this tweet so I’ll forgive you this time. I don’t get ring rust I’m a championship fighter that stays in the gym. You was knocked out cold one fight ago by a lightweight. fighting you right now does nothing for me. #respectfully— Leon 'Rocky' Edwards (@Leon_edwardsmma) October 6, 2020