Welterweight, one of the UFC’s premier divisions, could be facing another golden era over the course of the next few years. Since the reign of the great Georges St-Pierre, many have tried to cement their greatness in the division, all vying for the title of the welterweight division’s all-time great status. However there has been only one man in talks to even rival the Canadian. That man is Kamaru Usman.
“The Nigerian Nightmare,” since his defeat of then-champion Tyron Woodley, has been on a tear through the division’s top contenders with five title defences under his belt.
It is a lonely, vulnerable position at the top, with many of the division’s best either dusting themselves off from their battles with Usman, and others looking for their first-ever shot at the man at the top. Here are the next big fights to make in the UFC’s Welterweight division.
Kamaru Usman vs Leon Edwards
Usman’s first sign that he can rival GSP was his ability to not only clean out his division once, but twice. Whilst his reign at the top has been a tough one, it has been his activity as a champion which has led to him progressing his already-elite skill set. This combined with his move to current coach (coach of the year mind you) Trevor Wittman, has led to the Nigerian’s newfound love of boxing, a skill perfectly showcased against Jorge Masvidal.
His Jamaican-born British counterpart Leon Edwards has flown under the radar, letting his elite striking skills do the talking in the cage. Unfortunately for the battling Brummie, his time within the company has been an uphill struggle. Despite some great wins over Vincente Luque, Bryan Barberena, Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson, Rafael dos Anjos and Nate Diaz, Edwards has struggled at gaining the attention of the masses, unless he’s on the receiving end of a ‘three-piece and a soda.’
What makes this next big welterweight fight so interesting is this will be the second fight between the two. On the prelims of UFC on Fox: dos Anjos vs Cowboy 2, Usman vs Edwards 1 featured plenty of wall work with Usman attempting takedowns off the fence. Edwards did have some success but was fairly limited against Usman; who was determined to bring the fight to the ground. The inevitable occurred, as the Nigerian used his top control to dominate the contest and grinded out a unanimous decision victory.
However, Usman is a lot more willing to engage in the striking department than before. Will he be thinking to test himself against an elite striker like he did with Masvidal, or return to his dominant wrestling? Fortunately, the bout could be booked for UFC 276 on July 2, so the questions surrounding this welterweight rematch should be answered soon.
Khamzat Chimaev vs Colby Covington
As soon as Khamzat Chimaev‘s highly anticipated brawl against the acclaimed BJJ ace Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 was under wraps, the MMA community was in complete disagreement. One camp praised the hard-fought victory for what it was: a close fight at the very top-end of the UFC in one of its premier divisions. The other camp simply stated that Khamzat Chimaev was exposed.
Regardless, Chimaev brings attention to whatever he does; much like Colby Covington. With both men taking aim at each other over social media and within interviews, the likely match up will be fireworks long before they face off in the cage. Combining the PPV worthy press conferences and their unique skill sets, this potential bout may be the most exciting next big fight to make at welterweight.
Since his time in the UFC, Khamzat Chimaev has been a force of nature. Dispatching foes with relative ease, as his violent, relentless destruction of the lower levels, combined with his mystique, captured the imagination of the masses, thus prompting one of the fastest rises in the promotion’s history, taking on No. 2-ranked Gilbert Burns after only four wins in the UFC. The fight between Chimaev and Burns was an instant classic, with Chimaev the victor via unanimous decision. However, despite his valiant victory, the Chechen-born Swede showed some holes in his striking capabilities and, to an extent, his conditioning.
A great test would be in the form of the division’s second-best fighter, Colby Covington. The fight works well on many levels, not only would both men benefit from the bump in popularity to further their already high profiles, but it would give them a chance to improve their position within the division. Colby needs a few more wins after his two losses to current champ, Kamaru Usman. If he is able to gain the upper hand over Chimaev, he will be ever closer to potentially avenging his losses. It is a winnable fight for Covington, who will look to pressure Chimaev with his limitless gas tank and chip away at the Chechen to a decision victory.
Chimaev on the other hand, would greatly benefit from another venture into the elite pool. His defence was lacking in the Burns fight, who hurt the seemly invincible Chimaev on a few occasions. As Covington isn’t the most powerful of fighters, it gives Chimaev the opportunity to work on his striking and defence without the likelihood of being knocked out. He also possesses enough power to hurt the tenacious Colby “Chaos” Covington. Striking aside, the grappling exchanges would be fascinating, with both utilising a different style of wrestling. While it may be a stalemate in the wrestling department, it is an intriguing aspect of this potential match up.
Belal Muhammad vs Gilbert Burns
After avenging his KO loss to Vincente Luque at UFC Vegas 51 via decision, Muhammad looks to be in a good position to start jockeying for the number one contender’s position in the course of his next two fights, if victorious. Often considered boring or safe, Belal’s main weapon is his fight IQ and jack-of-all-trades fighting style. Not particularly powerful, but with a formidable gas tank and wrestling capabilities, the Chicago-born fighter racked up some impressive victories, with Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson and Vincente Luque being the most notable.
Gilbert Burns has always been an impressive addition to the welterweight division. Many even thought he won his close, gruelling war with Chimaev. Hence why he may not be far from another shot at title despite being 2-1 in his last three fights. Muhammad’s win over Luque may be a blessing in disguise for Burns, who would be reluctant to fight long time friend, Vincente Luque, if he was the victor at UFC Vegas 51. A win over Belal won’t necessarily boost him to #1 contender status but would allow him to pick up the pieces of either Chimaev vs Covington or Usman vs Edwards; (however Usman would likely get an immediate rematch if he were to lose).
Muhammad, while in a good position, faces three stylistically difficult matchups in Burns, Covington and Chimaev. However, due to Chimaev and Covington’s star power, it is unlikely Belal will face either of them in his next fight, leaving Burns or a lower-ranked fighter as the only option for Muhammad.
To reiterate, Burns is a powerhouse with elite level BJJ and the wrestling ability to make it difficult for Muhammad. Burns may not have a varied striking arsenal, but he does possess dynamite in his hands and is incredibly quick at closing the distance. Investing in leg kicks from the start would hinder Belal’s elusive side to side movement, as well as working on switch stepping to load up his power hand to catch him as he tries to escape to his left or right.
This is not to say Muhammad doesn’t have a chance. If he employs a stick and move game plan like he did against Luque in the rematch whilst feinting to draw out the Brazilian’s counter shots, he could definitely score often enough to win, especially if he mixes some takedown attempts to keep Burns thinking.
The Next Big Fights at Welterweight
Welterweight is in an interesting position thanks to the last two years. With great potential fights to make in the near future and some increasingly prominent prospects on the horizon of the welterweight landscape, MMA fans have much to look forward to.
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