Jon Anik, like most, is intrigued with the stakes in the UFC 296 welterweight championship main event between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington — both for what the fight means in the current landscape of the division, as well as the legacies for its combatants.
Anik, who will call the action on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier, sees the matchup between the current champ and former interim titleholder as an interesting one stylistically. The longtime play-by-play voice has seen the headlines surrounding Edwards possibly calling for a middleweight title shot with a win, but for Covington, a victory and a championship win could tie his legacy together.
“It’s fascinating to think about what a win for both sides would do here,” Anik told MMA Fighting.
“For Colby Covington, I think his case is interesting, and one of the things I might ask him in the fighter meeting — and I try to be thoughtful, especially with a guy like that — does a win here, does that put him in the Hall of Fame? Is he already there? How does his case compare to someone like Tony Ferguson, who’s also on the card here? Does Colby Covington need an undisputed championship to solidify his résumé? Because he spent his entire career essentially as a guy who was either one fight away or the perennial top contender or the interim champion.
“I feel like there’s so much pressure on him and so much at stake for him. And for Leon Edwards, if you can add a Colby Covington win after two wins over Kamaru Usman, not that his legacy isn’t already cemented, but I just think this would be a huge statement in terms of the Leon Edwards era. So hopefully he doesn’t have one [foot] out the door to 185 pounds. It’s a fascinating stylistic matchup.”
While the welterweight division has featured a handful of matchups in 2023 featuring top-ranked competitors, there has been very little movement in the weight class since Edwards retained his title via unanimous decision against Usman in the main event of March’s UFC 286 event. Covington hasn’t competed since defeating Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 272 in March 2022.
The card features other intriguing 170-pound tilts such as Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen Thompson, as well as Vicente Luque vs. the surging Ian Machado Garry, but Belal Muhammad — who will weigh in as the backup fighter for the main event — has won nine straight and has a strong case to fight for the title against Saturday’s winner.
Should Edwards win, there’s a story there, as he and Muhammad fought once before to a no-contest after an accidental eye poke. But what if Covington wins?
“I would hope and pray that as the undisputed champion, he would try to turn it around in three or four months and defend it, and try to prove that he is the best welterweight in the world for an extended period of time, because I think he certainly can be that even though he’s not favored to beat Leon,” Anik said of Covington. “It’s interesting. When Islam Makhachev beat Alexander Volkanovski, some people were suggestive that he should try to be the backup for Leon Edwards and Colby Covington.
“I’m sitting here thinking, what we need is these welterweight contenders to get their due, and whether Belal Muhammed hosts a podcast with my identical twin brother or not, he is as worthy a No. 1 contender as we have in any division right now, whether there’s a No. 1 [ranking] next to his name or not. His winning streak, his strength of schedule, the quality of his wins, those were all undeniable before he won a fight against Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns in which the winner was guaranteed a title fight, and all indications are that UFC [CEO] Dana White is going to stand by that word. So I expect that Belal Muhammad’s next fight will be for the undisputed UFC welterweight championship, and those close to him have implored him to not take the money and run, to wait for that type of opportunity, because I do think Belal was close to fighting Kamaru Usman.
“You don’t win this many fights in a row and have an unbeaten streak like this to d*** around when your title fight comes around, and hopefully Belal continues to subscribe to that line of thinking.”
Edwards vs. Covington will be the final fight of a chaotic year for the UFC, where the weirdest results have seemingly happened more often than not.
When it comes to Saturday’s headliner, Anik will be interested to see how Edwards’ cardio can hold up down the stretch against the unlimited gas tank of Covington.
“I do think it’s a little bit of a mind f*** when you fight Colby Covington in terms of the cardio element,” Anik said. “All indications are [that] Leon Edwards is in the best shape of his life, and I think you kind of need to be that, not even physically against Colby Covington, but just mentally knowing that you have found that dark place repeatedly in training on your VersaClimber or otherwise. So that if Colby is able to get you there to rounds four and five, that mentally you have the toughness and the fortitude to survive.
“It’s a fascinating fight, that’s our final flight of the year and a great way to close it out.”
This story originally appeared on MMA fighting