UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defeated Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 251 on Saturday night on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Usman’s sharp wrestling overwhelmed the expert striker, so now the MMA world has turned its attention toward which of the many possible opponents Usman might face next.
Here are the biggest, best and most likely opponents for the UFC welterweight champ to face in his next fight.
Biggest: Conor McGregor
Ireland’s Conor McGregor (22-4) is the most popular MMA fighter on the planet, and he’s competed in the UFC’s welterweight division enough times by now to warrant inclusion as the opponent that would offer the UFC welterweight champ his biggest next fight.
While the 31-year-old Irishman technically retired last month, most people, including UFC president Dana White, don’t seriously believe McGregor is done fighting.
Rather, it seems that McGregor was just feeling frustrated with how things were working out for him so he “retired” to take a break from it all.
While McGregor technically has unfinished business at 155 pounds, he’s also at the point in his career where he can choose crazy things like moving up to 170 pounds to take on the welterweight champion.
All those things make McGregor the opponent who offers the biggest potential fight for the UFC welterweight champ.
Usman’s already expressed interest in the fight, though McGregor has yet to respond.
Best: Leon Edwards
Leon “Rocky” Edwards (18-3) doesn’t offer the most in terms of selling pay-per-views, but the 28-year-old is arguably just now hitting his prime years as an MMA fighter, and he’s won eight straight UFC fights.
Edwards’ last loss came via unanimous decision to Usman way back in December 2015. But England’s top welterweight contender has been on a serious tear in the UFC since that fight, especially over his last three contests.
Edwards beat Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in succession. He was on his way to facing former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley before the COVID-19 pandemic shelved that fight, and he’s been calling for a title shot or something near over recent months.
Edwards might not be the biggest or the most likely next opponent for Usman, but there’s a good argument to be made that he’s the best title challenger available.
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Most Likely: Gilbert Burns
White already said it was “highly likely” Gilbert “Durinho” Burns (19-3) would get next crack at the winner of UFC 251, so he’s easily the most likely next opponent for the dominant welterweight champ Usman.
After Edwards-Woodley fell through due to COVID-19, Burns, 33, from Brazil, got the gig against Woodley instead and dominated the former champ over five rounds to extend his win-streak to six fights.
Burns appears to have both an excellent ground game and strong stand-up skills. He’s smart, powerful and the No. 1 ranked contender at 170 per the UFC’s official rankings.
On top of that, Burns lost his title opportunity due to illness. That was the only reason he didn’t make it to UFC 251 to face Usman instead of Masvidal, so it makes tons of sense that he would get next crack at 170-pound gold after he’s recovered.
Burns might not be as big a draw as McGregor or possess as long a winning streak in the UFC as Edwards, but it stands to reason he’s the fighter most likely to get the next title shot at 170 pounds.
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