5 biggest takeaways from UFC 286: Leon Edwards’ defiance toward Colby Covington and what it means to ‘deserve’
What mattered most at UFC 286 at The O2 in London? Here are a few post-fight musings …
5. Has Muhammad Mokaev's pursuit of history been derailed?
Unbeaten flyweight prospect [autotag]Muhammad Mokaev[/autotag] faced the biggest adversity of his young UFC career thus far en route to a third-round submission of Jafel Filho. The outcome could have major repercussions on his goal to be the youngest champ in company history.
After coming into the fight with a shoulder injury he opted not to get surgically repaired, Mokaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) implemented his grappling-heavy style on octagon newcomer Filho. But then in the third round, he got caught in a nasty kneebar that most fighters would’ve tapped out too. He somehow escaped in an incredible display of heart and took the back of Filho to finish the fight, but the moment he got up, he has a worrisome limp.
At 22, Mokaev has a realistic path to breaking Jon Jones’ record for the youngest champion in UFC history. But if his knee injury is serious, and potentially in need of an operation, his hopes and dreams could be instantly shattered. It would be a shame, because even at his young age, Mokaev is clearly a special talent who has title potential in the flyweight division.
If the post-fight news happens to be the worst, though, then Jones’ record could remain safe from yet another potential threat.
4. Anderson Silva's overdue induction
A piece of notable news to come out of the UFC 286 broadcast was the announcement former UFC middleweight champion [autotag]Anderson Silva[/autotag] will join the 2023 Hall of Fame class this summer.
It’s an overdue and well deserved bit of recognition for a fighter who influenced the evolution of the sport for many fans and fighters. Silva’s UFC tenure ended on a bit of a sour note, and there’s been some things said between himself and UFC president Dana White since the final time he stepped in the octagon in October 2020.
Thankfully, any lingering tension seemingly has been put aside with this announcement, and that should make everyone very happy. What “The Spider” did during a still unmatched 16-0 start under the UFC banner and beyond was nothing short of remarkable. Silva gave us so many amazing moments and memories during his time in the UFC, and the fact he’ll finally be enshrined among his fellow all-time greats is a point in time we should all appreciate when it rolls around during UFC 290 fight week in July.
3. Justin Gaethje delivers again
[autotag]Justin Gaethje[/autotag] continues to bat 1.000 in terms of exciting UFC fights. He got an important rebound victory over Rafael Fiziev in the co-main event at lightweight.
Gaethje, a former interim UFC lightweight champion, fell short of being undisputed titleholder on two occasions in his career. Most recently, he lost to Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 in May 2022. He took a long layoff and got nose surgery during his break, and came back revitalized to start another run.
He got the stiffest of challenges in the streaking and dangerous Fiziev, and came through with another Fight of the Night effort that ended with him getting the majority decision nod. He’s now back in the mix as a contender at 155 pounds, and took the appropriate first step for this final un.
Whomever he faces next, it’s going to be a crossroads fight for “The Highlight.” He can’t afford any more losses if he’s serious about this being his final title chase, so it’s time to buckle down and get serious.
2. Leon Edwards is no one-hit wonder
It’s hard to recall another title fight with the magnitude of [autotag]Leon Edwards[/autotag] vs. [autotag]Kamaru Usman[/autotag] 3 that played out in such a bizarre fashion. The repeated fouls took a lot away from the flow of the action, but eventually we made it to the final bell with Edwards getting his hand raised by majority decision and defending his welterweight belt for the first time.
Given all the starts and stops over the course of 25 minutes, scoring this thing wasn’t easy. Add that to the fact almost every rounds was highly competitive, and you just knew there would be some outrage from the losing side.
It was Edwards who came out of the trilogy with a 2-1 advantage over Usman – and rightfully so. He showed his knockout of Usman at UFC 278 in August was no fluke, and his performance was much, much more efficient this time around. He used a brilliant game plan to neutralize a lot of Usman’s weapons, and it’s now officially a new era at 170 pounds.
We don’t need to recount the entire Edwards saga to get to this point. If you’re reading this column, you’re probably already well versed on the challenges he faced to get to the top of the mountain. It’s truly a tale of perseverance, and “Rocky” belongs here.
The come-from-behind head-kick knockout that won Edwards the belt will be the moment from the rivalry with Usman that forever is ingrained in our minds. However, the rubber match seemed to be a much more accurate reflection of where things stand between these two now.
Now Edwards can move on to new business, and it remains to be seen how long he can stay on top.
1. How far is Edwards willing to push back on Colby Covington?
Let’s be frank here: This whole [autotag]Colby Covington[/autotag] thing is kind of weird. We hadn’t heard from the former interim UFC champion for the better part of a year, then he resurfaced out of the blue at official weigh-ins as the backup fighter for Edwards vs. Usman 3.
Then as soon as Edwards defended the belt, the idea of Covington as the No. 1 contender was relentlessly pushed. He got the split-screen treatment during Edwards’ post-fight interview, was interviewed backstage directly after the main event and then repeatedly mentioned as a potential foe.
Perhaps the most jarring comments came from UFC president Dana White, who insisted Covington “deserves” the next shot while shutting down every other suggestion thrown his way. If you’ve been following this sport long enough, you know “deserves” is one of the most hallowed words in the UFC world.
We know by now this company is not run as a meritocracy. If it was, Edwards would’ve had his title shot well before he finally got it. Belal Muhammad would probably be next in line for Edwards now. But that’s not the world we live in.
Instead it’s Covington, who hasn’t fought since a unanimous decision win over Jorge Masvidal in their heated grudge match at UFC 272 in March 2022. Later, Masvidal allegedly attacked Covington at a Miami hot spot in the weeks after the bout.
We are not ignorant to the realities. Whether you love him or hate him, Covington draws more intrigue than most other contenders at 170 pounds. He is going to promote the title fight against Edwards with every fiber of his being, and that’s what the UFC wants, of course.
But to pretend he “deserves” the shot more than his contemporaries is puzzling. Covington hasn’t beaten an opponent coming off a win since Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225 in June 2018. His past three fighters he’s defeated in Masvidal, Tyron Woodley and Robbie Lawler were all on multi-fight losing skids going into the matchups. Those are just the facts.
Edwards made it clear he feels the same way. Much to the champ’s credit, he did not simply roll over to the idea, and raised some valid questions about Covington’s worthiness as his next challenger.
Edwards is well within his right to point out the flaws in Covington’s title shot, but at the end of the day, this is what the UFC wants. And more often than not what the promotion wants, it gets. How much resistence will Edwards and his team ultimately be willing to put up to force plans in a different direction? That’s the critical question that will have repercussions on the UFC welterweight division.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 286.