“Well, let’s put it real — Belal’s earned his place, hasn’t he?” Lovell said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Even though he still hasn’t done what Leon did. He didn’t go through the tribulations Leon did. But you know what? He’s earned himself his contendership. To be honest, if I really had a choice, but I don’t think it will happen, I would like Leon to fight [Gilbert] Burns. But Burns had two bites at the cherry. I think maybe they’d want Burns maybe to have a couple more [wins] before [a title shot] if he was going to be a contender.
“But if I had a choice who would be next, I would prefer Burns over Belal, because I think Burns brings more to the table than Belal. Because Leon’s beaten [Muhammad] — well, I shouldn’t say that, he had the no-contest against Belal. It looked like, you can’t judge it by the first round totally, but it looked like Leon obviously had the first round locked down with Belal and he was going in for the kill the second until the eye poke occurred. But yeah, if I had I choice, overall, I would like Burns, but we’ll take whoever they throw at us.”
Edwards, 32, notched the second defense of his UFC welterweight title this past Saturday with a one-sided decision over Colby Covington at UFC 296. The Birmingham native has been an unbeatable force at 170 pounds, riding an undefeated streak in the UFC that stretches back to 2016 and includes victories over Kamaru Usman (x2), Vicente Luque, Nate Diaz, Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson, and Rafael dos Anjos. Edwards previously fought Muhammad in 2021, however the bout was stopped just 18 seconds into the second round after Muhammad suffered an inadvertent eye poke and was unable to continue.
Muhammad, 35, as well, has been on a tear. The Chicago native is unbeaten over his past 10 octagon appearances and has rattled off five consecutive victories over contenders since his no-contest with Edwards, defeating the likes of Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, Luque, Sean Brady, and most recently Burns.
Burns, 37, is just 3-3 over his past six bouts and lost a one-sided decision to Muhammad in his latest appearance, however he’s still Lovell’s top pick for Edwards’ next challenger.
UFC CEO Dana White declined to formally confirm that the next welterweight title shot belongs to Muhammad at Saturday night’s UFC 296 post-fight press conference.
“We don’t know [who’s next], do we? Because Dana didn’t announce that it would be Belal, so we’re just as bewildered as you. If it’s Belal, so be it,” Lovell said. “We’ve had a feel of him already, we know what he’s about. He has improved, but if it’s Belal, it’s Belal. But you never know with these people. Shavkat [Rakhmonov], he had the foot injury so I don’t think he’d be ready for April. And even that, Belal will be ready to go. But will Leon and Belal really be a big pay-per-view? You’ve got to look at it from the business point of view, from the UFC’s point of view.”
Lovell referenced April after revealing Monday on The MMA Hour that the UFC has already contacted Edwards’ team about a possible return bout on April 13 at UFC 300.
UFC 300 is expected to be one of the promotion’s biggest events of 2024, and while he has yet to discuss the possibility with Edwards, that timeline sounds perfect to Lovell.
“There’s word on that, but we’ll just see what the boss [Edwards] says and if he’s down for it,” Lovell said. “I think, personally, he just may want it, because now he’s just come out of camp, he’ll want to sort of jump back in [April]. He can have little one break over the Christmas and obviously back to the grindstone if he wants this piece of this pie in April. So he won’t have much to do in the sense of, all we need to know [is] what the opponent will be so we can set the game plan for that particular opponent. But as for cardio, fitness-wise, he ain’t coming from scratch to go into camp. He’ll be well ready to go into camp.”