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Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards makes his first title defense on Saturday, March 18 in London at the O2 Arena, headlining UFC 286 against former champ—and the man he defeated for the belt last August—Kamaru Usman.
Long rumored to be the marquee bout in London, it is now official. Edwards (20-3) will likely be the underdog on fight night, but he is coming off a sensational knockout victory against Usman (20-2). He now looks to build off his 11-fight unbeaten streak with the most important fight of his career. A second victory against Usman will place him in vaunted territory, forever changing the narrative—he will be known for the head kick, as well as for being better than Usman.
Usman defeated Edwards in their first bout back in 2015, and he was in control of the rematch until he got struck in the head with that knockout kick. For Usman, this is a chance to avenge his only UFC loss and remind the world that he is vastly superior to Edwards.
This fight is also pivotal to the welterweight division. Every other contender awaits the decision. For someone like No. 2-ranked Colby Covington, he would have new life in the title picture if Edwards retains. Khamzat Chimaev and Belal Muhammad are also right on the cusp of a title shot, but both need either Edwards or Usman to be removed in order to take their place.
Usman was a mere 56 seconds away from reaching a whole new pinnacle as champion, tying Anderson Silva’s 16-fight UFC winning streak. While it would be a major surprise if Edwards again defeats Usman, it is a real possibility. Now Usman has to fight just to retain his title, and if he loses here, it is an altogether different road to get back to the top.
Does Pereira Need a Rematch vs. Adesanya?
Does Alex Pereira need to defend his middleweight title in a rematch against Israel Adesanya? Or should he go straight to light heavyweight to challenge Jamahal Hill?
The money is at middleweight, at least for the next fight—or two. Pereira needs to finish his series with Adesanya before he does anything else in the cage.
The Pereira-Adesanya rematch will be a pay-per-view main event, which will also be the case for a third time if Adesanya finally overcomes Pereira and forces a trilogy. Even if light heavyweight is a better weight class for Pereira long-term, his most significant bout is against Adesanya–and the UFC cannot risk him getting knocked out by Hill beforehand.
There is a lot of intrigue in seeing Pereira challenge Hill, but waiting won’t be an issue in this particular case. Whether Hill still has the belt, or even if Jiri Prochazka is champion, the interest won’t dim in seeing Pereira make the jump to light heavyweight. The one benefit to challenging Hill is that he is not known for his grappling. That discipline certainly did not hurt him last weekend against Glover Teixeira, as Hill was able to stay competitive on the ground, but Pereira is well aware that Hill is far more comfortable striking than he is grappling.
But for now, Pereira needs to finish what he started with Adesanya. Based on the way all of their past fights have played out, that may only take one more time in the cage.