Edwards, Covington and Muhammad are the top dogs at welterweight, but how will the rest of 2023 play out?

Marc RaimondiESPN Staff WriterMay 8, 2023 at 09:27 am ET9 minute read

Belal Muhammad scores crucial victory over Gilbert Burns

Belal Muhammad wins his highly anticipated co-main event against Gilbert Burns at UFC 288.

NEWARK, NJ — Belal Mohammed You no longer have to tell people to “Remember the name.” He is now the bona fide top contender for the UFC welterweight title after beating gilbert burns via unanimous decision in Saturday’s co-main event at UFC 288.

While Colby Covington will get the next title shot against the champion leon edwards, Muhammad will wait in the wings. Unless plans change drastically, Muhammad will get the winner of Edwards vs. Covington at some point in the future.

Welterweight continues to be one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC. There are a lot of great fighters near the top of the division: Edwards, Covington, former champion. kamaru usman and now Muhammad. On top of that, there’s a ton of depth. down in the rankings and a few top-tier promisers just a couple of wins away from that rarefied challenger air.

As we head into the summer, let’s look at what the weight class is, who the players are, what matchups are booked, and what fights are destined to happen.

What’s next for champion Edwards?

Leon Edwards extends unbeaten streak to 12 with win over Kamaru Usman

Leon Edwards wins via majority decision in his trilogy fight against Kamaru Usman in London at UFC 286.

Covington, sure. Muhammad and Burns said last week that they hoped their performances on Saturday would influence the UFC to make a change and place them in the next challenger slot. With all due respect to Muhammad’s terrific performance, that was an extremely long shot even before they stepped into the Octagon. Covington is the contender the UFC believes draws the most attention, and the promotion has been determined to get Edwards next.

The original hope was that Edwards v. Covington could take place in London at a second July pay-per-view. Edwards won’t be ready by then, so that idea was scrapped and the UFC won’t be going to England this summer. Now, the welterweight title fight could happen as soon as August, sources told ESPN. Boston is the favorite for UFC 292 that month, and Chicago is also on the list, sources said.

The only caveat is that the UFC likes the idea of ​​having aljamain sterlina defend his bantamweight title against Sean O’Malley in Boston that month. Sterling said Saturday night after hitting henry cejudo that I would prefer September. There are still some changes to make, for sure. But wait for Edwards vs. Covington will go down sometime in the next four months.

Who is the most worthy challenger to the Edwards throne?

Colby Covington appears to be next in line for a UFC welterweight title shot.Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The word “deserve” does not exist in MMA. It’s great that Muhammad is finally getting the recognition from the UFC that is his due. The man is undefeated in 10 straight fights and hasn’t lost since 2019, all while fighting some of the toughest foes in the division. But he took longer than he should have, mainly because the UFC believes that Covington is more profitable. The promotion may be correct. But Muhammad has the best résumé in the division after his win over Burns.

Covington is a great fighter. He just hasn’t been as active. Since April 2019, the start of Muhammad’s unbeaten streak, Covington has fought just five times. Two of those were title fight losses to Usman. What Covington has done is play the business game perfectly. He has only taken big fights or favorable matchups (or both) in recent years. And he can do that, again, because the UFC sees him as a star. As much as people may not like Covington, it’s hard to say he hasn’t expertly tuned it.

Another worthy title challenger is the man who just lost twice in a row to Edwards: Usman. But he himself is now in no man’s land. If Edwards does beat Covington, there may not be much appetite for a fourth fight between Edwards and Usman. However, if he wins Covington, Usman has beaten him twice. That rivalry could be reviewed. But one would suspect that Usman would need a win first. Shavkat Rakhmonov, one of the most promising fighters in the division, wants Usman next, according to sources. That would make a lot of sense and it would be a great fight.

Which fighter will emerge as a contender in 2023?

Within a year, we could be talking about Jack Della Magdalena be in the title conversation. He is 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes and has won Performance of the Night in his last three fights. Della Maddalena, 26, has the opportunity to be the next big australian star of the ufc. He’s booked for a fight with another prospect. Sean Brady at UFC 290 on July 8. The winner of that fight will enter the contenders conversation, although there will be several names above them.

Della Maddalena also brings a different look to the welterweight hierarchy. He has beautiful boxing skills in a division that fighters have possessed over the years. It will be interesting to see how she matches up with the elite at 170 pounds, but she has to get past Brady first. kevin holland He might as well jump into the conversation, especially since he’s such a fan favorite.

Another type to consider is Phil Rowe. He has won three in a row, all by TKO. The UFC is giving him a great opportunity against the perennial tough. Neil Magny on June 24 in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida is Rowe’s home state, and that fight could be quite the coming-out party for the 32-year-old slugger. ian garry and miguel morales They are also exciting and promising names, although they could be further away. Garry is taking a big step up from the competition. daniel rodriguez — this coming Saturday. Soon we will know much more about him.

michel pereira worth mentioning here, too. You have a chance against stephen thompson next month to go from action fighter to legitimate contender.

What does next year look like at welterweight?

Shavkat Rakhmonov knocks out Carlston Harris with the help of an incredible kick

Shavkat Rakhmonov makes quick work of Carlston Harris with an impressive roundhouse kick at UFC Fight Night.

Covington is next for Edwards, probably sometime in the late summer or early fall. Muhammad is waiting in the wings for the winner, probably very late this year or early 2024. The next group has names like Usman, Rakhmonov, Burns and Thompson. Depending on how those guys do in the coming months will determine how close they are to a title shot next year.

The UFC booked a big fight between vincent luke and Rafael dos Anjos for July of last week, and the winner could enter that level. The same goes for the winner of Della Maddalena vs. brady. Holland should have a big fight in no time – the guy doesn’t like to sit still. geoffneal is still available too, and he has the power in his hands that could lead to some exciting wins. Welterweight is one of the most fascinating divisions, especially after Usman’s dethronement. He feels very open about Edwards, who could end up having a long and dominant reign.

Where is Burns going after losing to Muhammad at UFC 288?

Gilbert Burns lost to Belal Muhammad via unanimous decision in the co-main event of UFC 288 on Saturday.Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Burns is an absolute warrior, but he could have worn his body down fighting so much earlier this year. He is 36 years old and has fought three times in less than five months, all against tough competition. Maybe turn around and fight Muhammad at UFC 288 after he beats jorge masvidal less than a month ago at UFC 287 was not the wisest decision. Burns was dealing with injuries prior to the fight and injured his left arm during the fight.

That being said, it’s hard not to respect a warrior like “Durinho.” The guy is a player and he takes on all comers. Hopefully Burns will take some time off and return later this year or early next year. He’s still one of the best in the division, only now he’s a win or two away from getting back into title contention.