Leon Edwards’ coach: Belal Muhammad ‘was looking for a way out’ in first fight

Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad have unfinished business, but it’s not personal according to Edwards’ coach Dave Lovell.

The first fight between Edwards and Muhammad took place in the main event of a March 2021 card at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the bout ended in a no-contest after an eye poke early in the second round left Muhammad unable to continue.

As rumors of a rematch continue to swirl, this time with Edwards entering the contest as UFC welterweight champion, Lovell recalled how his team viewed Muhammad bowing out from the foul.

“It’s not revenge for us,” Lovell told talkSPORT MMA. “For us, if that eye poke never happened, I believe Leon would have finished him in the second round the way the fight was going.

“To me, analyzing the fight looking back at it, Belal was looking for a way out. He was looking to steal a decision. Because that eye poke and the noise he made, literally crying and screaming, you’ve heard it for yourself, the world heard it. It’s funny that he didn’t have to go to the hospital. He didn’t have any eye damage, he didn’t have to go to the hospital to get his eye tested, so what does that tell you? If the medics clear him after the fight and say, ‘You’re alright,’ then what does that tell you? He tried to steal a decision, but you know, payback’s a b**** and we’ll see.”

Muhammad has already responded to a clip of the interview on social media, warning Lovell that he expects to dominate Edwards.

“Remember this statement after Round 4 and Leon is looking to you for your motivational speech after I’ve slapped him around for 20 minutes,” Muhammad wrote.

The severity of the damage to Muhammad’s eye was unclear in the immediate aftermath of his fight with Edwards, though he later announced that there was no permanent damage. An ensuing list of medical suspensions also confirmed that Muhammad did not suffer a major injury, but would require clearance from an ophthalmologist before his next fight.

Assuming a rematch is booked and proceeds without incident, Lovell already knows what to expect as far as Muhammad’s strategy.

“Belal, for me, can bring all his wrestling A-game,” Lovell said. “Leon’s proved to the world he can wrestle with the best. I don’t see Belal wanting to stand and strike with him at no time at all. He got his ass served to him for a round and a half in the last fight, so I don’t see him wanting to stand with Leon. So you’re looking to grind Leon to the cage, take him down, maul him when he’s down, and probably steal a decision that way. But Leon’s got all bases covered, as we always do.”

Excluding their no-contest, Edwards and Muhammad are both on lengthy win streaks, with Edwards having notched 12 straight and Muhammad nine. During this run, Edwards has also won and defended the UFC welterweight title, twice defeating Kamaru Usman and then authoring a one-sided defense over Colby Covington at UFC 296.

The English champion has plenty of options, with the likes of Shavkat Rakhmonov, Khamzat Chimaev, and Islam Makhachev all gunning for him, but Lovell expects Muhammad to get the call. The UFC just announced a return to Manchester, England, for on July 27, so the timing seems perfect for the Edwards vs. Muhammad grudge to be settled there.

“The UFC’s over here in, is it July?” Lovell said. “So no doubt Leon will be on that bill. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make this [UFC 300] bill for whatever reasons. The lads they would put to him, Shavkat, Khamzat, and Islam, they were all fasting. We were ready to go, but it is what it is.

“Because he wasn’t on the 300 bill, no doubt there’s a big Muslim contingency in England, in Manchester, so I think it will be Belal. It’s not written in stone, but 99.9 I think it will be Belal.”

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