Hey, Dana White said it: Gilbert Burns is next up to face Kamaru Usman for the UFC welterweight title.
That didn’t stop Ariel Helwani from offering an alternative following Usman’s decision victory over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251, though:
Simply put, Kamaru Usman did what he had to do to win, especially after losing the first round (on my scorecard). Shame Masvidal didn’t get the full camp because he seemed tired, but Usman earned that W.
Burns vs. Edwards next. Winner gets Usman. Only fair.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 12, 2020
Thing is, Ariel is onto something here on the surface. Leon Edwards, who is 18-3, who is riding an eight-fight winning streak, and who hasn’t lost since facing — guess who? — Usman back in 2015, has a strong case for the title shot. His style isn’t the most fan-friendly (just two of those eight wins during his latest run came via finish — one rear-naked choke and one late TKO win), but Edwards is a technical force inside the Octagon.
… when he fights.
If we’re pitting Burns vs. Edwards in a “Who earned the shot?” contest — which is exactly what’s happening here — there’s, well, no contest.
Let’s turn back the clock to mid-March of 2019, when Edwards defeated Gunnar Nelson via split-decision to extend his winning streak to seven. Since then, Edwards wiped out Rafael dos Anjos via decision in July of 2019 and hasn’t fought again. He was slated to face Tyron Woodley in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 29, but that fight was canceled due to coronavirus.
Meanwhile, here’s Burns’ run since Edwards defeated Nelson (Pull up a chair, pour a drink, and light a cigar. We’re going to be here a while.):
- Def. Mike Davis via rear-naked choke (April 27, 2019)
- Def. Marcelo Azevado via choke (June 21, 2019)*
- Def. Alexey Kunchenko via unanimous decision (Aug. 10, 2019)
- Def. Nelson via unanimous decision (Sept. 28, 2019)
- Lost to Tommy Langaker via decision (Nov. 30, 2019)*
- Def. Yves Edwards via rear-naked choke (Dec. 12, 2019)*
- Def. Kazushi Sakuraba via decision (Dec. 12, 2019)*
- Def. Jake Shields via decision (Dec. 12, 2019)*
- Lost to Craig Jones via heel hook (Dec. 22, 2019)*
- Def. Demian Maia via KO (March 14, 2020)
- Def. Woodley via unanimous decision (May 30, 2020)
* Denotes grappling match
That’s 5-0 in the UFC and 4-2 in grappling bouts for Burns since Edwards beat Nelson back at UFC on ESPN+ 5. This also excludes the fact Burns choked out Gleison Tibau at Titan FC 53 in a grappling matchup just a day before Edwards faced Nelson.
Hey, it’s all about fairness here.
And what’s fair is giving a guy who competed at an ultra-high level 11 times over the past 15 months, going 9-2 overall and a perfect 5-0 inside the Octagon, his due.
The title shot, as White indicated, is Burns’.
It was his before he contracted coronavirus and was forced out of the matchup with Usman at UFC 251 in the first place. It was his after he dominated Woodley — a win better than any on Edwards’ resume. It was his after he became only the second man to finish Maia in March. Anderson Silva couldn’t do that across five rounds. Chris Weidman couldn’t, either. Contemporary greats in Woodley, Colby Covington and Usman himself all tried and failed.
Burns did it, though, and that win, too, is better than any on Edwards’ resume.
I understand the fascination with a title eliminator between Burns and Edwards. That’d be a great fight, no doubt.
But it’d be all wrong. The title shot was and is Burns’.
Give the man what he earned.