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 Leon Edwards of Jamaica celebrates after knocking out Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: Welterweight Division | December 2023

Leon Edwards Defended His Welterweight Throne Against Colby Covington. Now, "Rocky" Turns His Focus To A Rich Pool Of Contenders

With as classy a performance one could deliver over five rounds, Leon Edwards held onto his belt and completed a stellar 2023 campaign. Edwards, over the course of 10 rounds, fully turned the chapter on the welterweight division that was long dominated by Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, proving the fact that we are in the “Rocky Reign.” That said, furious contenders are coming to challenge his throne in 2023, including a hardworking, and now undeniable, workhorse, as well as an intimidating contender who hasn’t seen the judges’ scorecards yet.

This is where we stand in the welterweight division:

Champion: Leon Edwards

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Colby Covington (12/17/2023)

Next fight: N/A

 Leon Edwards of England reacts to his win against Colby Covington of the United States in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Leon Edwards of England reacts to his win against Colby Covington of the United States in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“Rocky” weathered the chaotic storm of his title defense against Covington and turned in a dominant mixed martial arts performance at UFC 296. Edwards admitted to dealing with high emotions following the pre-fight press conference, but he fought like his cold and calculated self over the course of a five-round, champion-worthy performance. After beating the two men long considered the best welterweights in the world, Edwards might have a few choices to make for his next defense. Belal Muhammad is likely, as they have unfinished business from their no contest a couple years ago, but Shavkat Rakhmonov feels inevitable after his win over “Wonderboy” Thompson. Regardless, Edwards once again showed he is as complete a mixed martial artist as there is in the sport.

1) Kamaru Usman

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Khamzat Chimaev (10/21/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Kamaru Usman of Nigeria punches Leon Edwards of Jamaica in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Braydon Jackson/Zuffa LLC)

Kamaru Usman of Nigeria punches Leon Edwards of Jamaica in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Braydon Jackson/Zuffa LLC)


Outlook: Usman couldn’t successfully bounce back when he stepped in on short notice against Khamzat Chimaev in Abu Dhabi, and he hasn’t yet decided whether he will return to welterweight or stay up at middleweight. However, Usman did earn plenty of respect for his performance against “Borz.” His path is murky while Edwards remains champion, though. “The Nigerian Nightmare” likely won’t get another shot at the current champion, so he will have to fight somebody while that sorts itself out. A fight against Rakhmonov could make sense, but he could also fight anyone at the top of the middleweight division. Usman doesn’t have anything left to prove, but considering the competitor he is, the former champion is desperate to get his hand raised for the first time since November 2021.

2) Belal Muhammad

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Gilbert Burns (4/7/2023)

Next fight: N/A

The Rise Of Belal Muhammad
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The Rise Of Belal Muhammad
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Outlook: “Remember the Name” did all he could to plead his case for a title shot after beating Gilbert Burns in Miami. That victory extended Muhammad’s unbeaten streak to 10 fights, and the 35-year-old is more than worthy of a chance at the UFC belt. Not many other fights make sense for him, but Edwards remains uninterested in the rematch for now. All things considered, Muhammad should have a championship opportunity coming his way in 2024.

3) Shavkat Rakhmonov

Last Fight: Submission Win vs Stephen Thompson (12/17/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Shavkat Rakhmonov of Uzbekistan waits for the start of the round in a welterweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Shavkat Rakhmonov of Uzbekistan waits for the start of the round in a welterweight fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Rakhmonov made it 18 finishes in 18 fights with his decimation of Thompson at UFC 296. “Nomad” has quietly worked his way up the rankings, and he is as proven a contender as any fighter climbing the ladder. Although there is plenty substance to support that hype, Rakhmonov probably needs to rack up one more win over a top-flight contender before he gets his title opportunity. That could come against Usman, Covington or someone down the rankings to cement his spot in the inner circle of the title conversation.

4) Gilbert Burns

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Belal Muhammad (4/7/2023)

Next fight: vs Jack Della Maddalena (3/9/2023)

Gilbert Burns | Greatest Hits
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Gilbert Burns | Greatest Hits
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Outlook: Burns worked his way to two wins in the first few months of the calendar, but a shoulder injury sustained against Muhammad in Miami took “Durinho” out of the conversation for the rest of the year. He is facing an assignment against the rising Jack Della Maddalena in the first quarter of 2024, and beating the Aussie should put Burns back on track toward a second shot at the title if he can string a couple wins together.

5) Colby Covington

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Leon Edwards (12/17/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Colby Covington rests between rounds in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Colby Covington rests between rounds in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Covington turned in a peculiar performance in his third title shot, but that might have had as much to do with Edwards as it did with what he produced in the Octagon. “Chaos” is in a tough spot now as long as Edwards is champion. It is unlikely that he will earn another shot at the current champ unless he changes colors and becomes a picture of activity. That said, there are plenty of options for Covington if he wants to avoid ring rust. Fights against Rakhmonov, Burns, Muhammad and any of the rising contenders make sense, but the polarizing contender might also reach for fights away from the weight class, such as one against former American Top Team teammate Dustin Poirier.

In the Mix: Sean Brady, Ian Machado Garry, Jack Della Maddalena

Outlook: Welterweight is one of the toughest divisions to navigate, but Sean Brady, Ian Machado Garry and Jack Della Maddalena are primed to make noise in 2024. Brady is the most seasoned of the three, and he bounced back nicely from his loss to Muhammad with a dominant submission win over Kelvin Gastelum. He could very well earn his shot at a Top 5 fighter at some point soon.

Machado Garry was in a high-profile spot to fight Vicente Luque on the UFC 296 main card, but pneumonia prevented the Irishman any chance to quiet the noise swirling around him. He’ll get his chance to answer the call in March, however, when he fights Geoff Neal in a rebooked matchup that fell apart earlier in 2023. For all the criticism of Machado Garry, “The Future” has done nothing but deliver on all his talk.

On the less buzzy side of things, Jack Della Maddalena is coming off two gutsy split decision wins to stretch his undefeated UFC run to five fights. The Perth native is one of the brightest Aussies to come into the organization in recent years, and he’ll have the biggest opportunity of his career against Burns in Miami. A win over the Brazilian would set Della Maddalena up beautifully for a No. 1 contender fight toward the back-half of the year as he looks to break into the title conversation.

UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass