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Though injuries, sicknesses, and a global pandemic have interfered along the way, Edwards (18-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) is finally in Las Vegas just days away from his long-awaited return. The road to get here was not ideal, and it certainly wasn’t short, but Edwards expressed Wednesday just how relieved he feels to be back partaking in a UFC fight week.
“It feels amazing to be back,” Edwards told MMA Junkie at a pre-fight news conference. “It’s been a long year-and-a-half. It feels at home, though, since we came to Vegas last week. It feels natural. It feels like what I’ve been missing and what I’ve been working toward. I’m looking forward to competing Saturday night.”
In the day and age of the COVID-19 pandemic, fight cancellations regularly occur. Disappointment has become second nature to Edwards, who was one of the first fighters to have a bout canceled due to COVID-19. Scheduled to headline a show in his backyard of England in March 2020, Edwards’ fight against Tyron Woodley was scrapped along with the rest of the card when the pandemic first began.
“I was a bit frustrated,” Edwards said. “As I was trying to get another matchup and trying to travel, the world was still in lockdown. I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s use this time to improve my skills. Let’s use this time to refocus myself and get better. When the time comes, I’ll be ready to fight.’ That’s what I’ve been doing over the last year-and-a-half. Just improving my skills, improving my mindset, and I’m looking forward to competing Saturday night and showing the fans what I improved on.”
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One half of the UFC Fight Night 187 main event, Edwards will take on Belal Muhammad (18-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) in a five-round fight. This opponent was not, however, his originally scheduled opponent. Edwards was thrice paired up with rising star Khamzat Chimaev, but COVID-19 canceled all three bookings. When the fight fell through for the third time, Edwards figured he’d accept whatever replacement was offered, regardless of name.
“It didn’t even matter,” Edwards said. “I feel all these guys anyway in the top 15 are pretty similar. If they’re going to fight me, they’re coming to shoot for takedowns. Khamzat is a wrestler. Belal is similar. He’s got a wrestling background. Once Khamzat fell out for the third time, I thought, ‘I’m not waiting again for another rescheduled fight. Let’s go.’ Belal stepped up. The first option obviously (was) Colby Covington. The UFC came to me and said, ‘Would you fight him?’ I said yes. They went to him. He said no. We went down the list. Everyone was either injured or turned the fight down. Belal stepped up.”
UFC Fight Night 187 isn’t just significant for Edwards because it marks his return to the cage. According to his boss, UFC president Dana White, Edwards will be next in line for a crack at welterweight gold should he impress. Despite the elevated stakes, Edwards remains focused on the task at hand.
“(It’s) about time. That was my ninth win in a row. I’m focused on winning Saturday. I’m not really focusing on a title shot or what’s next. I’m focused on Belal Muhammad. If I go out and lose to him, then all this goes away. I’m 100 percent focused on Belal Muhammad. After this, I’ll sit down with my team, with Dana, and we’ll go from there.”
UFC Fight Night 187 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event streams on ESPN+.