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Belal Muhammad prepares to fight Gilbert Burns of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC 288 event at Prudential Center on May 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Belal Muhammad Prepared To Break Edwards In Manchester

Welterweight Title Challenger Belal Muhammad Talks UFC 304 Title Fight, Securing Rematch With Champ Leon Edwards

For the better part of the last year, Belal Muhammad has been waiting for the opportunity to challenge for the UFC welterweight title, and throughout the last 12 months, the surging contender’s faith and resolve has been tested.

After beating Gilbert Burns to extend his winning streak to five and his unbeaten run to 10, the 35-year-old Chicagoland standout has watched as Colby Covington challenged Leon Edwards for the title at UFC 296 and sat by as a host of names were thrown out as potential opponents for the British champion at UFC 300 without his name coming up.

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“You’re always like, ‘What’s gonna happen next? Something else is gonna happen,’ but I’ve got the right team around me, the right family around me,” Muhammad said with a smile, happy that all the questioning and waiting is now behind him after his championship clash with Edwards was officially announced as the main event for UFC 304 in Manchester, England on July 27. “We always push ourselves to just trust God’s plan; that God has a reason for everything.

“Being Muslim, I can’t just say those words — I’ve gotta believe them, I’ve gotta really live that life. It was hard, but I was doing it, I was saying it, I was living it, and I think it worked out perfectly because now I’m fighting in Manchester, now I’m fighting in enemy territory.

“Going out there to headline that card is another level.”

Over the first few months of the year, after Edwards dispatched Covington to retain his title, Muhammad was an ever-present face at UFC pay-per-views. Each time the camera panned to the affable, engaging contender, Muhammad would hold up his phone displaying a list of potential dates, constantly reminding Edwards that he was always at the ready.

He rolled with the punches as the rumor mill floated the possibility of Edwards facing lightweight champ Islam Makhachev, surging contender Shavkat Rakhmonov, or unbeaten boogeyman Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 300, seeing it more as a means of hyping up the quiet welterweight champion.

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“Leon doesn’t say a word,” began Muhammad. “He doesn’t get out there, doesn’t have social media, doesn’t ever say anything interesting in interviews. I think the UFC knows what they’ve got in Leon, and it’s not much. For myself, none of that really matters anymore; it’s all erased because we’ve got a date, we’ve got a time, and we’ve got a place.

“In the end, Dana (White) stuck to his word, Hunter (Campbell) stuck to his word, so all those other narratives and storylines mean nothing to me.”

And the way Muhammad sees it, the delays in making the fight happen have only worked in his favor, as he’s not only been able to spend more time in the gym honing his skills, but also developed a burning hatred for Edwards that is fueling his push to dethrone the champion in Manchester next month.

Belal Muhammad kicks Leon Edwards of Jamaica in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Belal Muhammad kicks Leon Edwards of Jamaica in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“The worst thing he could have done is drag this out because I have a hatred for everyone associated with him,” began Muhammad, who has posted wins over Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, Vicente Luque, Sean Brady, and Burns since his first encounter with Edwards ended in an accidental eye poke in March 2021. “I hate my boy Tuco (Tokkos) just because he’s from London! I dislike him because he has that accent.

“Once I go out there, it’s gonna be a different level. The guys I’ve fought recently have all been nicer — you can’t hate ‘Wonderboy,’ you can’t hate Luque, Gilbert Burns was nice and cool. This one is a different level.

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“I can’t wait to get my hands on him. I can’t wait to punch him in the mouth. It’s gonna be so satisfying to see him bleeding, to see him crying, to see him with his head down. I’m gonna be standing there between rounds, staring at him, watching him break, and it’s gonna be the best feeling ever.”

While he credits Edwards’ winning streak since their first meeting and his reluctance to face him a second time as major catalysts in his current run of success, the pending title challenger believes the champion is one of the better stylistic matchups for him at the top of the division, and feels Edwards’ last two outings are going to end up working against him once they step into the Octagon again in Manchester.

Belal Muhammad punches Sean Brady in a welterweight fight during the UFC 280 event at Etihad Arena on October 22, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Belal Muhammad punches Sean Brady in a welterweight fight during the UFC 280 event at Etihad Arena on October 22, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“Honestly, I think it’s the easiest matchup I could have had in the Top 5,” he said when asked to assess Edwards as an opponent, as a fighter. “When I’m looking at stylistically what we can do to each other, his biggest weakness is my biggest strength, and that’s his mentality: he’s soft, he’s broken, he breaks.

“I think the issue with his last opponents — Usman in the third fight, he came back too soon and he didn’t belong in there; he was hesitant.  And Colby just sucks. Colby didn’t belong in there at all, and I think he’s playing himself if he thinks those were tough fights.”

Edwards defeated Usman by majority decision last March in London, seven months after winning the title by fifth-round head kick knockout in Salt Lake City, and then collected a similar result against Covington in December, earning 49-46 scores across the board

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“Now you’re going against a different animal, a different person that is going to be in your face, breathing down your neck the entire time, making you uncomfortable, and he doesn’t like to be uncomfortable,” opined Muhammad. “I can tell looking at him that he doesn’t like being uncomfortable.

“He’s a pretty boy — he’s good on pads, he’s good at doing striking stuff and keeping that distance; low-kicking you to death.

“You can’t low kick someone that is standing right in front of you, punching you in your mouth.”

Belal Muhammad prepares to fight Gilbert Burns of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC 288 event at Prudential Center on May 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Belal Muhammad prepares to fight Gilbert Burns of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC 288 event at Prudential Center on May 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

After nearly a year of waiting, Muhammad is now less than two months away from facing Edwards for a second time, with the UFC welterweight title hanging in the balance.

He’s traveled a long road to get here, navigating his way through a cavalcade of challenging opponents, some moments of doubt and hesitation, and heaps of criticism and doubt from detractors that still refuse to believe in his abilities or candidacy as the division’s top contender.

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But none of it matters anymore because Muhammad has a date, a time, and a place, and he plans on leaving Manchester with championship gold around his waist.

“It’s a huge sense of relief, not to the point of surreal, because I always expected to be fighting for the belt, but more that the weight is lifted off your shoulders,” he said of finally getting an official date. “Everyone is always looking for those excuses, telling you it’s not gonna happen, and you start listening to them like, ‘Maybe it’s not.’

“Now that it’s finally here, I don’t care. Now I can say whatever I want, do whatever I want, laugh at whoever I want because we’re fighting for the belt and I’m gonna be the champion. The world is still afraid to admit that I’m the best welterweight in the world, but once I have the gold, there is nothing else you can say.”