Per the UFC’s president Dana White: “The winner of Gilbert Burns versus Belal Muhammed is next in line for a welterweight title opportunity.”
The proposed welterweight title-challenging eliminator was established just two weeks shy of UFC 288 as an originally planned bout between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush was scrapped.
Burns was fight-ready, having competed twice in 2023 already. But this wasn’t the case for Muhammad, who hadn’t fought since October of 2022 and had recently been involved with Ramadan’s fasting and spiritual growth.
However, in true Belal Muhammad fashion, the Chicago native couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. With a mere 14 days to prepare, he stepped into the octagon versus one of the division’s top-ranked contenders.
The Path to Welterweight Contention
Muhammad, 34, was already positioned as the No.4-ranked at 170 pounds, and with an 8-fight win streak in-tact, he put it all on the line.
Nicknamed “Remember The Name,” he ensured nobody would neglect this alias after tearing through Gilbert Burns for 25 minutes.
Absolutely, the winner of this 170-pound battle was “guaranteed” the next championship shot after the division’s titleholder, Leon Edwards, meets the controversial Colby Covington later this year. An unprepared and out-of-shape Muhammad – the most overlooked competitor at 170 lbs – fought against an in-shape Burns, a former title challenger, who had already claimed two wins this year and was still hungry for another chance at gold.
“During Ramadan, my mind is the strongest it’s ever been,” Muhammad said. “Spiritually, mentally, it just puts me on a different level. To know my mental game was hundred percent, I didn’t care what my [physical] game was.
“I didn’t care what the weight cut was. I didn’t care what the rounds were. Because I knew mentally, I could get through anything. I know that, for me, it’s all about God’s plan.”
In layman’s, it was an incredibly important fight that ultimately received an obligatory five-round stipulation, usually used in main events and title defenses. And when all was said and done, Muhammad stood tall with his hand raised, following yet another unstoppable performance that resulted in a unanimous decision from the judges’ scorecards.
Despite running through countless top-15 ranked contenders, doubt has often loomed throughout the UFC fan base regarding Muhammad’s potential. This isn’t the case with Illinois sportsbooks, as supporters of the Chicago, Illinois, born and raised Belal Muhammad know they have a hometown talent worthy of paying attention to.
Belal Muhammad vs. Leon Edwards II: When and where?
Before Leon Edwards removed the crown from Kamaru Usman and successfully defeated the Nigerian legend in a rematch, he fought Belal Muhammad at UFC Fight Night in 2021. The bout was cut short after 5 minutes and 18 seconds due to a mid-fight injury caused by an eye poke.
Muhammad has called for the rematch on multiple occasions. Still, it’s finally come full circle as the potential sequel to his rivalry with Edwards could hold title implications – should Edwards overcome the challenge of Colby Covington.
But can Muhammad overtake Covington in the runnings? Edwards stated last month that he’d like his second title defense to take place in Abu Dhabi, saying It would be a “perfect” scenario.
The UFC has confirmed I’s return to the UAE with UFC 294 on October 21. No bouts have been approved for the Etihad Arena event.
That said, having already fought twice in Abu Dhabi – most recently with a TKO dominance over the previously undefeated Sean Brady at UFC 267 – Muhammad believed a lopsided win over Burns would place him above Covington to challenge Edwards.
Before defeating Burns, Muhammad said: “I think if I put on a great performance this weekend, I’m next in line. They’re going to Abu Dhabi. Do you think they will have Leon fight Colby in Abu Dhabi?
“No, they’re going to have me fight in Abu Dhabi. It’ll be like a dream come true, and I think that’ll be how the story should be written. I’ve just got to do my work this weekend, and I don’t really care what nothing else is because I know my next fight will be for the belt.”
Whether or not Muhammad has done enough to be next in line is yet to be seen. Either way, his championship opportunity has finally arrived, and deservingly so.