This December, Leon Edwards will fight against an opponent that isn't Kamaru Usman for the first time in more than two and a half years. At UFC 296, Colby Covington will be his opponent, as he aims to defend his UFC champion status for the second time.
The Englishman took Usman's welterweight title back in August of 2022 with an iconic leg kick after being under pressure for the majority of the fight.
Edwards successfully defended his title at UFC 286 in March. That time around, he won convincingly via unanimous decision, which has set up a successive title defense this December.
Many have argued that Covington is simply unworthy of a title shot at this point. He's lost on two occasions when facing Usman in the past, and that suggests that he stands little chance against the high-flying Edwards, who dominated Usman in their most recent meeting.
Edwards is a heavy favorite
Edwards is unsurprisingly a heavy favorite to defeat Covington at UFC 296 - it's clear to oddsmakers that he's set on holding the welterweight title heading into 2024. Many top US sportsbooks, including the likes of Caesars Sportsbook, for example, offer Edwards at slim odds of -125 to retain his belt and defeat Covington.
For Edwards, the fight should mainly be about building momentum going into 2024 as a rematch against Belal Muhammad or yet another fight against Usman could await him.
Ultimately, Edwards looks to be in a world of his own, within his division. However, Sean Strickland showed at UFC 293 that nothing is guaranteed in MMA when he shocked Israel Adesanya to steal his middleweight crown.
The title holder has to turn up and be at his absolute best in December. If Edwards shows any weakness at UFC 296, then Covington could well follow Strickland's blueprints and become a shock title holder.
How do the pair match up?
Edwards and Covington's fighting styles should make for an exciting fight this year.
Edwards is well regarded as one of the strongest strikers in the UFC. Meanwhile, Covington is a remarkably strong wrestler, that prefers to take the battle to the ground. Both will have very different plans for the fight.
The English fighter's knockout potential will make him a threat throughout, while Covington will have to carefully pick his moments to force takedowns and attempt to submit Edwards.
Covington's patience within the Octagon could give him an edge when it comes down to it.
One of the UFC's most deadly leg-kickers will face one of its most determined wrestlers. Edwards vs Covington promises to be a hugely intriguing matchup stylistically. But realistically, the former will have far too much power for the American fighter.
Edwards should be heading into 2024 with the title belt still to his name, but many said the same about Adesanya once upon a time. Perhaps complacency played its part. The current welterweight champion will potentially face even more pressure this winter. Against Usman, the pair were closely matched, but against Covington, he must win to protect his reputation in the UFC.