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UFC Vegas 21: Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad preview and prediction

After a stacked night of action featuring three title fights at UFC 259, another deep card is coming up with UFC Vegas 21 and UFC bookmakers Odds are now available, featuring the return of welterweight contender Leon Edwards, as he takes on the rising Belal Muhammad in the main event.

UFC Vegas 21 was originally scheduled to be headlined by Edwards taking on Khamzat Chimaev, a bout that had already been delayed twice due to both men suffering from COVID-19. Chimaev, however, has still been dealing with the lingering effects of the illness, to the point where he even briefly seemed to retire. So, after fighting at UFC 258 last month, Muhammad gets the call on short notice.

In spite of starting his UFC run 2-2, Edwards is currently on an eight-fight win streak, having not lost a bout since dropping a decision to current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. His current run has seen him score victories over Vicente Luque, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and Rafael dos Anjos.

This will be Edwards’ first fight since 2019. Edwards was scheduled to meet Tyron Woodley last year but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented those plans from happening. After a lengthy negotiation process, the now-scrapped bout between Edwards and Chimaev was agreed to, which has now turned into this fight with Muhammad.

Muhammad lost two of his first three Octagon bouts, which included defeats to Luque and Alan Jouban, but he’s since won eight of nine and comes into this fight on a four-fight win streak. Muhammad’s current streak has seen him score a performance-bonus-earning submission of Takashi Sato, as well as decision victories over Curtis Millender, Lyman Good and Dhiego Lima, the latest of which came just last month at UFC 258.

Who will win at UFC Vegas 21: Leon Edwards or Belal Muhammad?

Checking out the Tale of the Tape, Edwards holds three inches in height and two inches in reach over Muhammad. Looking at the numbers of FightMetrics, Muhammad outpaces Edwards in terms of significant strikes landed but also absorbs more damage. That being said, while Edwards has the better striking accuracy by the numbers, Muhammad edges him out in striking defense — though those two percentages are quite close. Muhammad has a better takedowns-landed average than Edwards, but both don’t have the best accuracy, though good takedown defense percentages.

Whether or not you think Muhammad is a step up or down for Edwards from facing Chimaev doesn’t matter; it’s a big opportunity for Muhammad and still a high-risk scenario for Edwards. It remains to be seen how Edwards will look after no action in 2020 and a bout with COVID-19, but he’s still assumed to be the superior all-around fighter when stacked up with Muhammad. He’s also faced the better competition.

Muhammad’s main key to his successes has been his pace. He brings the pressure to his opponents with his striking and doesn’t like to let up, and it doesn’t change much when he tries to get the fight to the ground. That being said, Edwards does have crisp striking and he’s talented with not only scoring takedowns, but also making sure that he maintains control of the fight while the matchup is on the ground.

It’s also worth noting that while both men have great cardio, Edwards has competed in five-round main events before against Cerrone and RDA. Muhammad did compete in a five-round fight when he won the Titan FC welterweight title in Spring 2016, but he managed to get the job done late in the fourth round at that point.

This fight is also likely to end in a decision given both men’s lack of finishes during their strings of victories.

It’s a great opportunity for Muhammad and props to him for stepping up on short notice, but Edwards just seems to be the better fighter overall across all areas.

Prediction: Edwards via unanimous decision

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