Monday Mailbag: Predicting the Fighter to Dethrone King Leon Edwards

UFC 296 saw Leon Edwards defend his title, Colby Covington underperform, Alexandre Pantoja continue his winning streak, Shavkat Rakhmonov make an impact, and Josh Emmett deliver a frightening knockout, with discussions on potential next matchups and the future of various fighters.

Las Vegas lit up last Saturday with UFC 296, capping off the year with a bang. Leon Edwards stood his ground as champ, while Colby Covington’s performance fell flat. Alexandre Pantoja continued his winning streak, Shavkat Rakhmonov turned heads, and Josh Emmett? He nearly sent a guy to the afterlife. There’s a heap to unpack, so let’s dive in.

What’s next for the welterweight king? A month ago, I’d have bet against it, but now it’s crystal clear: Belal Muhammad is up. Surprising? Absolutely. Muhammad’s popularity isn’t sky-high, and Edwards seems to dismiss him—foolishly, I dare say. Yet, despite the odds and rising stars at UFC 296, Belal emerged as the clear frontrunner.

Edwards’ latest showing? Lackluster, to put it mildly. Any chatter about him moving up a weight class is now hushed. Ian Garry‘s illness led to a card withdrawal, and Shavkat’s stellar performance left folks irked for reasons we’ll get into. Plus, he’s nursing an ankle injury that screams surgery. By elimination, Muhammad’s spot is secured, and he’d better be ready for a UK fight date.

Shavkat’s injury might sideline him, but it’s a blessing in disguise. He’s earned his title shot. As Leon and Belal throw down, Shavkat can cool his heels, eyeing the victor. My money’s on Leon, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Shavkat’s got the chops to stand with Leon, and on the ground? He’s a beast. Edwards is solid, but Shavkat’s grappling is next-level.

And then there’s Colby Covington. At 35 and after a two-year hiatus, he looked rusty. Age and time away from the octagon take a toll. Covington’s style might age well, but not at the pinnacle of the sport. He’s heading toward the territory of seasoned fighters who can still snag wins, just not against the elite.

Is the Leon era waning? Maybe. Belal’s got a shot at the title, and Leon’s cautious approach is a double-edged sword. It’s risky business playing it safe in MMA. Leon’s been flawless for 25 minutes at a time, but that’s a tough act to keep up. If he doesn’t crank up the aggression, Shavkat might just be the one to topple him.

Covington’s lackluster showing? It’s part age, part ring rust. The older you get, the slower you react. His style might not rely on speed, but time is unforgiving. He’s likely to follow in the footsteps of fighters who maintain success into their 40s, albeit not against top-tier opponents.

Welterweight’s missing a star with a magnetic personality. Ian Garry could be that star, despite the current online flak. He’s got the charisma and the talent to elevate the division. Shavkat and Leon might be skilled, but they’re not exactly mic magnets. Garry’s the one to watch.

Alexandre Pantoja’s next bout? He’s eyeing the winner of Moreno vs. Albazi. If Moreno triumphs, it’s a rematch few will grumble about. Albazi’s victory would be well-deserved. And Tagir Ulanbekov? Not the real deal. At 32, he’s not a spring chicken in flyweight years, but he could make the top 10 with the right fights.

Bryce Mitchell‘s brutal knockout by Josh Emmett was chilling. It’s the kind of hit that changes lives. Mitchell doesn’t get paid enough for such risks. Retirement would be wise, but if he fights on, he should take a year off. Recovery is key.

Cody Garbrandt‘s comeback? He looked sharp against Brian Kelleher, but let’s not get carried away. The matchup was favorable for Garbrandt. If he faces Deiveson Figueiredo next, it could spell trouble. Garbrandt’s chin isn’t built for Figueiredo’s firepower.

Finally, a rapid-fire round. Casey O’Neill might have been exposed a bit, but there’s still potential. Chris Tognoni’s refereeing? Not the best, to put it mildly. Mitchell’s convulsions were terrifying, a stark reminder of the sport’s dangers. Paddy Pimblett‘s victory over Tony Ferguson? Significant, but not earth-shattering. He handled it well, though, and that’s commendable.

Thanks for sticking around! Got questions about combat sports or something loosely related? Shoot them my way on Twitter at @JedKMeshew. I’m all ears for the good, the bad, and the downright bizarre. Catch you next week.


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