Edwards has not fought since July 20, 2019, more than 19 months ago. The layoff has been due to myriad reasons, including COVID-19 lockdowns, canceled events and testing positive for coronavirus.
ESPN ranks Edwards No. 4 in the world at welterweight. UFC president Dana White said this week that if Edwards beats Muhammad he would be “100%” in line for a title shot.
Edwards (18-3) has won eight straight fights. His only loss in the past seven years came against current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in 2015. Edwards, a 29-year-old Jamaica native who fights out of Birmingham, owns victories over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Vicente Luque.
Muhammad (18-3) is on a four-fight winning streak. The Chicago native is coming off a unanimous decision win over Dhiego Lima last month and took this bout on three weeks’ notice after Khamzat Chimaev, Edwards’ original opponent, withdrew due to lingering COVID health complications. Muhammad, 32, has won eight of nine overall and sports a 9-3 UFC record.
In the co-main event, Misha Cirkunov takes on Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight contender battle. The exciting Cirkunov (15-5) has never been to decision in his six-year UFC career. Spann (18-6) had an eight-fight winning streak snapped in his last bout, a loss to Johnny Walker in September.
Also on the card, Dan Ige meets Gavin Tucker in a clash of featherweights, Matheus Nicolau returns to the UFC against former Rizin champ Manel Kape in a flyweight battle, and Angela Hill and Ashley Yoder meet in a women’s strawweight rematch.
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap all the action in Las Vegas. You can also watch UFC Fight Night on ESPN+.
Fight in progress:
A closely contested bout turned into a runaway victory for Jourdain, as he secured a TKO finish at 4:31 of the third round.
Rojo, of Argentina, proved to be a tough out in his UFC debut, and he certainly had his moments — but it was Jourdain who took over in a violent way late in the fight. He dropped Rojo with punches twice, and scored some vicious ground and pound from top position. At one point, he allowed the battered Rojo to get back to his feet, only to drop him again with a left hand up top and a right hand body shot, which brought in referee Mark Smith.
Man what a fight !! Jordain turned it up huge in the 3rd round!
— Chris Weidman (@chrisweidman) March 14, 2021
Rojo took the fight on short notice, after Jourdain’s original opponent withdrew. He held his own with Jourdain on the feet for the first 10 minutes, scoring with knees and punches in the clinch and walking Jourdain down along the fence. Jourdain seemed to find his rhythm and distance in the third though, and added the late exclamation point before time ran out.
Jourdain, of Quebec, has had an up-and-down career in the UFC thus far. He’s had spectacular wins now against Rojo and Dooho Choi, but has also dropped two decisions and fought Josh Culibao to a draw in 2020.
Yahya is good, and he is smart. He is good at submitting his opponents, and he is smart enough to persist in that game plan.
The 36-year-old Brazilian got his first victory since 2018 by sticking to a tried-and-true formula. He took Rodriguez down a minute into their fight, immediately gained half-guard position and worked for a head-and-arm choke. He nearly finished the fight with that maneuver late in the first round, but Rodriguez survived.
Yahya was very patient setting up a nice arm triangle!#UFCVegas21
— Herbert Burns (@HerbertBurnsMMA) March 13, 2021
Not for long. Yahya did the very same thing in Round 2 — early takedown, half guard, head-and-arm choke. And this time he got the tapout 3:09 into the round for his 21st submission in his 27th career victory. He has finished a fight no other way.
Yahya competed only once in 2020 and once in 2019, losing one and fighting to a draw in the other. Prior to that, he had won three in a row — all submissions.
Rodriguez, who is 33 and from San Antonio, Texas, defended the submission try well in the early going, but with him unable to get out from underneath his opponent, it was just a matter of time. He has lost both of his UFC fights.
Haqparast is considered one of the top prospects in the UFC and did nothing to dispel that notion Saturday.
The southpaw slugger put in a very solid striking performance, beating the previously undefeated Garcia via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
Easy mistake to make 😅 #UFCVegas21
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 13, 2021
Garcia showed a tremendous amount of toughness and durability. He had a strong start, landing a hard right hand in the first round that briefly wobbled Haqparast. But from there, Haqparast was the more effective fighter. Even with Garcia putting on the pressure, Haqparast was able to rip combination after combination, landing at will with his straight left hand and mixing in hard elbows and front kicks to the body.
By the third round, Garcia was bleeding from a cut near his right eye. Haqparast attempted two hard head kicks in the third that Garcia blocked, but they still did damage. There was no doubt when the bell rang to end the bout who had come away as the winner.
Haqparast, 25, has won two straight and five of his past six. The Germany native of Afghani descent is a legitimate up-and-comer in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division. Garcia, a 26-year-old Mexico native, is the former Combate Americas lightweight champion, going 8-0 in that promotion.
It was a disappointing result for Casey, who looked outstanding in the opening round. She hurt Aldrich with elbows in the clinch, found a home for the right hand and mixed in effective leg kicks. She also defended Aldrich’s attempts to get her to the floor, which was obviously a big part of Aldrich’s game plan. The one takedown she did give up came near the end of the round, and she attacked Aldrich with an armbar attempt from the bottom.
Aldrich, from Denver, started to find success with grappling in the second and third rounds. She took Casey down early in the fourth and spent nearly the entire round on top, landing offense. The third round was close, but it was Aldrich’s wrestling again that might have been the difference.
Fighting out of Phoenix, Casey falls to 3-6 in her past nine contests. Three of those losses have come via split decision.
Each woman showed off what she does best. Frey won the fight by doing it for two rounds and limiting de Paula to just one.
Frey, a 35-year-old former Invicta FC atomweight champion from Arlington, Texas, spent nearly the entirety of Rounds 1 and 3 in controlling positions on the canvas, enabling her to secure her first UFC victory and end a two-fight losing streak.
If round 5 last week was 10-8 , then Jihn Yu Frey should have 2 10-8 rounds
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) March 13, 2021
Frey got a takedown a minute into the fight, taking advantage of a muay thai clinch by de Paula to take the Brazilian fighter to the canvas. Frey then used a veteran’s savvy to remain in control until the horn.
But de Paula, a 25-year-old making her UFC debut, took control in the second round, using crisp, straight punches and deft footwork to keep the fight standing.
It was anyone’s fight going into the final round, and Frey seized it 30 seconds in, getting the takedown and threatening submissions for the rest of the fight.
All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Frey, ending de Paula’s two-fight winning streak.
Matthew Semelsberger knocks out Jason Witt with a heavy punch 16 seconds into their fight.
Semelsberger’s nickname is “Semi the Jedi” because of his last name. Maybe it should just be “Semi,” because he hits like a truck.
Semelsberger blasted Witt with a monstrous right hand in the opening seconds, countering a Witt leg kick. The punch landed to Witt’s jaw, and Witt went down in a heap. Referee Chris Tognoni came in to stop the bout, giving Semelsberger a knockout victory at just 16 seconds of the first round.
— Julia Avila (@RagingPandaMMA) March 13, 2021
“I have a lot of thunder in my hands,” Semelsberger said in his postfight interview.
Semelsberger’s quick knockout was the fastest in the UFC since Walt Harris knocked out Aleksei Oleinik in 15 seconds in July 2019. The 16-second KO was the seventh-fastest finish in UFC welterweight history.
Semelsberger, 28, has won both of his UFC fights now and sports a five-fight winning streak overall. The Maryland native beat Carlton Minus via unanimous decision last August in his UFC debut. He seems like someone to watch out for in the welterweight division. Witt, a 34-year-old Missouri native, has dropped two of three in the UFC.
Still to come:
Welterweight: Leon Edwards (18-3, 10-2 UFC, -270) vs. Belal Muhammad (18-3, 9-3 UFC, +220)
Light heavyweight: Misha Cirkunov (15-5, 6-3 UFC, -130) vs. Ryan Spann (18-6, 4-1 UFC, +110)
Men’s featherweight: Dan Ige (14-3, 6-2 UFC, -150) vs. Gavin Tucker (13-1, 4-1 UFC, +125)
Men’s bantamweight: Jonathan Martinez (13-3, 4-2 UFC, -310) vs. Davey Grant (12-4, 3-3 UFC, +250)
Men’s flyweight: Manel Kape (15-5, 0-1 UFC, -135) vs. Matheus Nicolau (15-3-1, 3-1 UFC, +115)
Middleweight: Eryk Anders (13-5, 5-5 UFC, +155) vs. Darren Stewart (12-6 1 NC, 5-5 1 NC UFC, -180)