LEON EDWARDS will have a close eye on UFC 251’s main event between Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman – sharing history with both men.
But he expects welterweight champion Usman, the only man to beat him in the UFC, to retain his belt against late replacement Masvidal.
Edwards told SunSport: “I think Masvidal’s got a puncher’s chance to win, and you have to respect that, but other than that I can’t see how he wins.
“I think Usman gets it done. He’s the bigger, stronger man, he’s been more active and he’s more well rounded.”
Masvidal steps in on just a week’s notice to face Usman, after Gilbert Burns was dramatically pulled from the PPV event on “Fight Island” after testing positive for coronavirus.
Burns was only given the fight after Masvidal initially failed to agree terms to face Usman and then Edwards was unable to accept amid the pandemic.
But the Birmingham star reckons the short notice switch suits the challenger more as Usman was preparing for a completely different style.
And veteran Masvidal kept prepared just in case with months of training under his belt.
Edwards explained: “Usman had to change up his game plan but then Burns gets corona and he’s fighting Masvidal again.
“It benefits Masvidal if anything as he’s been preparing for one person.
“He’s been preparing for Usman for the last three months anyway, he’s been in camp.”
Before the UFC again turned to Masvidal, Edwards was approached to rematch Usman in the Middle East.
But with gyms closed in the UK, the 28-year-old had to make the difficult decision to decline.
Edwards said: “It was difficult, but I didn’t really have anywhere to train martial arts but to get that opportunity offered to me and to turn it down it was hard.
“I spoke to my coaches to see if we could get something together to train but we wasn’t able to do that and it would have put my coaches at risk.”
Edwards faced prior frustration at the start of lockdown as his main-event against former champ Tyron Woodley at UFC London was axed.
Woodley would eventually lose to Burns, who in turn jumped ahead of Edwards in the welterweight rankings.
But on an eight-fight winning streak spanning over five years, Edwards argues he is still next in line for the belt – but will “smash” Burns if required.
He said: “Let’s say they do come and say you both want the title shot, fight for it, then I’ll also do that.
“If I have to go there and smash Gilbert then I’ll do that to.
“I haven’t competed in a year, but I do feel like I want the title shot straight away. But if there’s a guaranteed title shot after then I’ll do one more.”
Edwards was beaten by Usman in 2015, but has since remained undefeated with wins over Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos.
Despite being desperate to avenge his only UFC defeat, the lure of settling the score with Masvidal could prove greater.
The pair were involved in a backstage brawl after UFC London last March, with Masvidal punching the Brit – and Edwards has vowed the rivalry is still brewing.
He said: “My aim now is to get the title shot, I have history with both men, Usman and Masvidal.
“It would be a good storyline either way, so my aim is to fight for the world title.
“Usman is the last guy to beat me but with Masvidal it’s personal.
“I’d rather fight Masvidal, probably, because of what happened, it’s personal. With Usman it’s more competition.
“With Masvidal it’s not over at all, I’d rather fight him.”
Masvidal has already discussed rematches with Stephen Thompson and Nate Diaz after his title fight.
And to avoid a “gimmick” champion, Edwards feels his best chance of fighting for the belt would relies on Usman retaining the strap.
He explained: “Masvidal has said if he wins he’s going to call out Thompson and Diaz and people like that, who aren’t even in the top five.
“If he wins it will be an absolute gimmick.
“I’d prefer Usman to win as he’ll fight No1 contenders and Masvidal is calling out random people which makes no sense.”