This weekend, the eyes of the entire combat sports world will be firmly fixed on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. And for good reason.
The long-awaited commencement of Fight Island, which will stage a whopping four events in 15 days, will take place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Kicking of the bonanza of bouts will be the UFC’s annual International Fight Week card, UFC 251. The card, of course, was initially scheduled to take place in Las Vegas but was moved to the Middle East due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Headlining the promotion’s sixth pay-per-view event of a turbulent 2020 is the eagerly-anticipated welterweight title fight between defending champion Kamaru Usman and the in-form Jorge Masvidal, a showdown which has been over a year in the making.
Perhaps the most interested observer of this weekend’s grudge match will be England’s Leon Edwards, the No.4-ranked welterweight in the world.
After amassing an impressive eight-fight win streak – a run in which he’s bested Vicente Luque, Gunnar Nelson and Rafael dos Anjos – ‘Rocky’ is on the cusp of becoming only the fourth Brit to vie for UFC gold.
Understandably, Edwards has his sights firmly set on locking horns with the victor of Usman vs Masvidal. His interest in facing the winner of this weekend’s bout, however, doesn’t solely stem from his current standing in the division.
The pride of Birmingham has history with both men, with his last loss coming at the hands of Usman in December 2015. The Team Renegade leader, of course, still has unfinished business with Masvidal following their backstage brawl at UFC London in March 2019.
Edwards is hoping his first outing of 2020 will pit him against the winner of UFC 251’s showpiece bout. But he won’t be rooting for either man to have their hand raised.
“I don’t really care, to be fair, who wins,” Edwards told WHOA TV. “But they’re great stories and great options for me.”
Despite having an immense dislike for Masvidal, Edwards admits he’d prefer to avenge his loss to ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ before settling the score with ‘Gamebred’.
“There’s great stories either way, right?” Edwards asked WHOA TV. “I don’t think whoever wins – [my] my preference is probably Usman.
“Because like you said, he is the last guy to beat me competitively. So probably Usman. But there’s two stories there.
“So either way, if Masvidal goes out there and beats him, it’s a great storyline to sell pay-per-views.
“If Usman beats him, then its great storyline for Masvidal to beat me. And for me to go and fight him as well, that’s a great pay-per-view seller as well.”
Usman and Masvidal, 33 and 35 respectively, further whet the appetite for the long-awaited showdown in January at the Super Bowl 54 media day in Miami.
Masvidal’s antics during the heated clash at Radio Row further grew his rapidly-increasing fanbase and his presence in the mainstream media.
And Edwards can’t help but think the wily veteran, who will be making his 49th walk to the cage this weekend, orchestrated the whole incident.
“From the video I seen, it looked planned,” the 28-year-old said of the pair’s near scuffle. “Do you know what I mean?
“They were following him [Masvidal] with a camera for a while before they even got to Usman. “It’s like he said, ‘Record me while I go and do this.’ Do you know what I mean?
“It’s just a weird moment now in MMA. A weird moment but a good moment. It’s like a strange time in MMA.”