Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad (UFC Vegas 21)

Top-five welterweight contenders, Belal Muhammad (22-3; 13-3 in the UFC) and Gilbert Burns (22-5; 15-5 in the UFC) are set to fight in a five-round, title eliminator bout at UFC 288.

Belal Muhammad, riding an 8-fight win streak, is believed by many to be the justified championship contender right now, but rather than waiting patiently for an off-chance shot, he is taking matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, Gilbert Burns, having just fought less than one month ago, is living up to his nickname “Durinho”, meaning ‘tiny tough guy’, as he will fight any fighter at any notice.

With both Belal and Burns being title worthy, this fight will be one where the stakes are high, skill-level impressive, and simply, highly entertaining to watch! Watch Muhammad vs. Burns fight live on ESPN+ PPV this Saturday night (order now).

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Betting Odds

Having faced more title-level challengers in his tenure in the UFC, it is of little surprise to see Gilbert Burns as the slight -130 favorite over the surging Belal Muhammad.

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Belal Muhammad is one of, if not, the most intellectual fighters in the UFC. Similarly to Adesanya, Belal understands how to leverage his intellect once in the octagon, as he is someone who makes few mistakes, and most importantly, makes next to no forced errors whereby he elects to do x when y is the easier path to victory.

Often, for him, the easiest path to victory is through weaponizing his elite cardio through non-stop wrestling. This form of attack was on full display three fights ago, where Belal wrestled his way to victory against the respected Stephen Wonderboy Thompson – respected for both his elite striking and battle-tested takedown defense. Passing the striker test who also has grappling defense was a major milestone for Belal, and his two most recent fights were another big test for him with facing the well-rounded danger of Vincent Luque and elite grappler, Sean Brady. In both the Luque fight and Brady fight, Belal dictated the direction of the fight, where he successfully grappled Luque and decided to keep the fight standing against Brady. This ability to fight wherever he so chooses is an incredible talent, and while many believe the best direction of his fights is to wrestle and win in top position, Belal proved against Brady that he can not only have effective striking but also, striking that can finish the fight.

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Being a renowned grappler who has found significant success on the feet can be certainly applicable to Gilbert Burns. As a former World Jiu-Justu silver and gold medalist, Burns is a highly respectable and feared opponent to grapple with. This fear was on full display in the Khamzat Chimaev fight, as Chimaev seemingly did not want to enter the ground early in the fight with Burns, and while he has stated he should have trusted his wrestling to have success there, the mere fact that Chimaev had some semblance of hesitancy with doing so greatly illustrates the significant threat Burns is off of his back.

Knowing the threat he is off of his back, Burns fights with freedom on the feet, fully willing to overthrow a punch to entice a takedown by his opponent. This style is not all that unique for world-renowned submission specialists, but what is unique to Burns is the technical success he has formed throughout his long tenure in the UFC, as he is truly near elite there. Moreover, Burns, through his many UFC fights, has learned how to blend striking with offensive wrestling, as he is a very talented takedown artist which cannot be said for many submission-threat fighters. Because of this, Burns is now a well-rounded fighter with top 5 welterweight skills in striking, wrestling, and submissions. The positive consequence of this is being 7-2 since his return to the welterweight division back in 2019, with the lone losses coming at the hands of prime Karmu Usman and anticipated two-belt champion, Khamzat Chimaev — in both of those losses, Burns had a near finish against both.

Prediction and Betting Guide

While only Belal or Burns will get a win in this fight, you cannot go wrong backing either of these two fighters, both for this fight and any future bout. But when it comes to choosing the winner, several factors come to play. Notably, weighing the ability Belal can have with weaponizing elite cardio through non-stop pressure against the severe threat of Burns, both in physical acumen and war-type fight experience.

For me, the logical side of my brain says the striking differential will greatly favor Burns and I would be surprised to see him get significantly out-grappled by Belal. While this is the case, my gut says to trust the cardio and intellect of Belal to find a way to victory, as he has passed a variety of tests with flying colors.

So, weighing mind versus gut, the deciding factor for me is that Burns has lost to “wrestlers” in Usman and Chimaev while Belal has beat elite submission artists with power in Luque and Brady. Because of this, I am going Belal here, and because this fight will likely be razor thin if Belal is on the winning side, I am taking him by decision here.

Pick: Belal Muhammad by decision (+180)

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