Ariel Helwani’s MMA thoughts: Why Leon Edwards still deserves Tyron Woodley


Every single fighter on the UFC roster — heck, every single person on the planet — is struggling right now. These aren’t fun times. They are anxious and depressing times.

We are missing out on things and wondering when life will return to normal.

I genuinely feel bad for every MMA fighter out there. These men and women, who entertain us week in and week out, get paid only when they fight. And let’s be honest, a lot of them don’t get paid all that much even when they do fight.

But I’ll admit, when I heard the news that UFC London was no longer going to happen amid the COVID-19 spread, I really felt for Leon Edwards. Not so much because of the money he lost but more so because of the opportunity that slipped away.

As you might know, Edwards was scheduled to headline the card against Tyron Woodley on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. This was the opportunity he had been working toward his entire career: a UFC main event against a former champion to cement his spot as the No. 1 welterweight contender.

It hasn’t been easy for Edwards to get here. He has quietly won eight fights in a row in what is one of the deepest divisions in the sport. Last year, Jorge Masvidal‘s career skyrocketed in part due to the fact that he punched Edwards backstage after his win over Darren Till in London.

After that altercation, Masvidal got a shot against the previously undefeated Ben Askren (we all know what happened there) on one of the biggest cards of the year, and Edwards headlined a Fight Night in San Antonio against Rafael dos Anjos.

After that win, it was time for a step up. After much negotiation, he finally got Woodley to agree to fight him in London.

Finally, an event in England built around Edwards. This was the dream.

And then it turned into a nightmare.

As Edwards told me Tuesday on our Instagram live chat on ESPN MMA’s account, he woke up Sunday morning to a message from his manager, Tim Simpson, informing him that he had two-and-a-half hours to get to London Heathrow to make a flight to the U.S. UFC London was canceled, and his fight was supposedly being moved to America. Where? Unclear, but he had to get there. Could he come back home after? Also unclear. Another issue? He lives two hours away in Birmingham, so he had 30 minutes to pack.

Total chaos.

In the end, Edwards made the right call by declining to fly over the pond. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get their priorities in check. It all proved to be a moot point because the event, as well as the following two UFC cards, was postponed Monday afternoon.

Now, not only does Edwards lose out on the biggest fight of his life, but he also doesn’t know if he’ll get another one any time soon. Why? Well, forget about headlining in London again. Now it seems like Woodley would rather fight Colby Covington next.

Look, I love the Woodley vs. Covington feud. Love it. I’d love to see that fight ASAP. I’ve wanted to see it for two years. But passing up Edwards to make this fight just doesn’t feel right.

Edwards has been a good soldier. He has done everything asked of him and never raised a stink. He should have fought Masvidal in July and didn’t complain much when he didn’t. The UFC needs to do right by him. They need to ensure that whenever normal life resumes, Woodley is his next fight. The only other option that would suffice would be a title shot, but the current plan is for Masvidal to fight champion Kamaru Usman next, which is probably another bitter pill to swallow for Edwards.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease in the fight game. That’s how it goes. Edwards is the antithesis of the squeaky wheel, so it is incumbent upon the UFC to ensure that he still gets the grease. No questions asked.



UFC president Dana White says the next three UFC events are postponed, but April’s title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson will happen.

Other thoughts from a surreal week:

• Dana White seems very confident that the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight is going to happen somewhere, somehow on April 18. Fine. But how are these guys going to properly train for a fight of this magnitude when gyms are closed and people can’t train together? I wonder.

• As of right now, I don’t see how they can hold this fight in America. But so much can change in a month, so no one really knows what is going to happen.

• Also, are they just going to put on a one-fight card? What about all the other UFC 249 fighters? There are so many questions at the moment. Unless the UFC isn’t telling those involved, no one knows for sure how or if this is going to go down.

• It is worth noting that not a single fighter or manager I spoke to was in favor of canceling any cards. They all wanted to fight so they could get paid. That’s just the truth. Does that speak to a larger issue? Absolutely. But it’s the truth.

• This period speaks to how important sponsors can be, especially those not tied to fights. I’ve talked to two — Sanabul and Monster Energy — who are determined to keep paying fighters during this time. That isn’t the case with every sponsor, I’m told, so it’s nice to see that some are still honoring deals with fighters.

• Is it me, or does UFC Brasilia — let alone UFC 248 — feel like an eternity ago?

• Bellator deserves a lot of credit for paying all the fighters and staff members set to take part in Friday’s card. It didn’t have to do that.

• Speaking of which, there’s still no word on if the UFC London fighters will be compensated. I understand the Bellator card was canceled after weigh-ins and on the day of the event, but it still feels like less than a week out should qualify for something in return, especially for those who traveled to London.

• I’m sure Charles Oliveira doesn’t mind that he isn’t getting any attention this week because, well, at least he got paid. But, man, what a run he has been on, eh? It’s impossible to say who makes sense for him next, but he definitely deserves a top-five opponent whenever action resumes.

• Little-known fact: Chris Weidman was in attendance at that Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz NBA game on Wednesday, the one that was canceled when it was revealed that Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Weidman was in town to promote his May 2 fight against Jack Hermansson in OKC. He’ll be on my ESPN MMA Instagram livestream on Wednesday to talk about that experience.

• Whenever he returns, I’d really like to see Kevin Lee commit to fighting as a welterweight from here on out.

I usually like to end this column with “enjoy the fights,” but I can’t say that this week. Instead, I’ll say I hope you all are doing well and dealing with this situation as best as possible. Be kind, be smart, be positive, be healthy.

We will hopefully emerge from this soon and get back to doing all the things that make our lives so great, which includes enjoying the fights.

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