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Evolve Media.

* * *

, whose moniker “The Ass-Kicking Machine” might be the
best in the sport, scored the biggest victory of his career when he
swept all five rounds from former Bellator
welterweight champion Douglas
in the
Bellator 283
main event on July 22. In less than a month,
, riding a nine-fight winning strike (it would have been
10 if not for an eye poke against Belal
), will challenge top pound-for-pound champion Kamaru
for the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
welterweight crown. I see
Edwards and Jackson as similar, and it’s instructive to examine
their respective situations and what their differences tell us.

I will confess that I’m a huge fan of both guys. They represent the
highest level of standup technique, with textbook strikes, stances
and movement, blending offense and defense in a manner that is
highly intelligent and beautiful to watch. They never take
unnecessary risks, but they are great at taking advantage of
opponents’ mistakes. They’re frequently described as “slick.” Being
exceptional, dedicated martial artists, they have developed good
grappling, including dangerous offensive wrestling. While I’m not
arguing either man is as great as Pernell Whittaker, both remind me
of the legendary boxing champion, whose cerebral mastery I grew up
watching and loving in the 1990s. The man epitomized the term
“Sweet Science.”

Let us examine Edwards’ case first. Despite his superlative skill,
he has never gotten his due. There are actually three culprits
here. The first is the UFC.
I’ve previously noted that Edwards is a practitioner of what I call
the Adesanya-Gane style
. However, while UFC President Dana
has been only too happy to constantly push and promote
both Israel
and Ciryl Gane,
two other great strikers who wisely eschew risk while occasionally
making for “boring” contests, that’s not true for Edwards. It’s a
shame, because I personally find Edwards’ style even more
aesthetically pleasing than those of either Adesanya or Gane,
despite how much I appreciate the latter two. A second culprit is
the fans. Everyone loves violence and crazy toe-to-toe slugfests,
myself included, but not everyone appreciates the finer points of
technique, defense and hitting while avoiding being hit in return.
This is exacerbated by the UFC, of course, which promises and
glorifies only the blood and guts-type of battle. The third
culprit, I have to admit, is Edwards himself. He hasn’t attained
anywhere near the dominance that either Adesanya or Gane have in
his victories. His win against Vicente
back in 2017 was by the skin of his teeth; it was tied
1-1 going into the third round, and Edwards simply had more will
and energy for the final stanza, edging out his tough rival.
Edwards was also hurt badly in Round 1 by Bryan
and lost either one or two rounds in a five-round
decision triumph over Donald
in 2018. “Cowboy” had a lot left in the tank then, but
plenty of people use that fight to dismiss Edwards now. Edwards
then took the first two rounds against Gunnar
but had to survive on his back in the third, garnering a
split decision. Even more recently, he beat Nate Diaz in
mostly convincing and even dominant fashion, but it was marred by
Edwards being caught and badly hurt at the end of the match.

These are not indictments on Edwards as a fighter. These were all
good, even excellent opponents, and he showed great heart and
toughness in overcoming the challenges, but it doesn’t give him the
same aura of invincibility that other fighters on long winning
streaks have enjoyed. On a promotional level, Edwards is not a
trash-talker and does not he enjoy starting controversy, which also
hampers his profile.

Ultimately, none of it matters much anymore. Edwards will be in the
cage against Usman on Aug. 20. He will have a shot at the UFC
welterweight title, and frankly, I think he has a good chance of
winning it. Part of that is how good Edwards is and how he matches
up against Usman, as well as subtle changes in the champion
himself. Usman is now 35 and has suffered some injuries recently.
Usman’s knowledge and skills have continued to grow over the years,
especially in terms of striking, but physically, he is past his
prime now. Specifically, one sees this in Usman’s declining
offensive wrestling. This shouldn’t come as a revelation. Even
world champion and Olympic gold medal-winning wrestlers are either
retiring or a shadow of their former selves at 35, let alone when
they have knee problems.

Now, this decline might not matter much against a Jorge
, as Usman still has enough wrestling to comfortably
beat him with no risk, as he did in their first encounter. However,
against a much better wrestler like Edwards, one with great
takedown defense and one who is also outstanding at getting back up
from a takedown? This might be the difference between his grappling
being effective or utterly neutralized. With his grappling
neutralized, Usman will have to rely on his striking to win. While
he is now a genuinely good kickboxer with plenty of power in his
right hand, that’s still a match I favor Edwards in. That’s not to
say I would consider Edwards the favorite overall, as there are
many scenarios where Usman retains his title, but I can also see
many successful endings for the challenger.

Compared to Jackson, Edwards has it good, for the simple reason
that he fights in the UFC instead of Bellator, and
we’ve long established the insane fan bias in favor of the former
because of the logo on the canvas
. If Edwards had shown the
same level of fighting ability in any other organization, with a
few of the same close calls or challenges, he wouldn’t even be
ranked in the Top 10 by most fans. Thus, Jackson, who I think is a
Top 5 welterweight alongside Usman, Edwards, Yaroslav
and Colby
, is even more disrespected and overlooked by fans and
pundits alike. Jackson is currently riding a six-fight winning
strike over impressive opposition, including top contenders and
former champions from both Bellator and the UFC. Kiichi
, Jordan Mein,
, Neiman
, Paul Daley and
now Lima have all been thoroughly thrashed by “The Ass-Kicking
Machine.” Jackson’s grappling isn’t quite as good as Edwards’, but
his striking is even better and the only close calls he has had
during his streak were against a world-class grappler in Gracie,
who had him in some dominant positions in Round 1. Even so, Jackson
showed his toughness and excellent scrambling, surviving and then
avoiding the canvas in the second and third rounds while cleanly
winning the striking.

Jackson’s dominant victory over a great striker in Lima proves he
is among the elite of the sport. Not only is he a great kickboxer
himself, but he is a dangerous wrestler who can beat anyone on the
right day. Not that Jackson will get credit for it, of course. Were
he displaying this same level in the UFC, he would be heavily hyped
and assured a title shot, but alas, he continues to be dismissed by
fans and pundits alike.

Things aren’t any easier in Bellator than they would be in the UFC
in terms of opponents. The undefeated Amosov may be the best
welterweight in the world, with superlative grappling that
surpasses even Covington and Usman in that regard. For all his
greatness, it represents a uniquely tough matchup for Jackson, and
I would consider Amosov the favorite when it inevitably happens.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Logan
, whose own striking has improved by leaps and bounds
recently. He is the best pure wrestler going at 170 pounds,
Covington and Usman included. He is a fantastic fighter, too, and I
would rank him either sixth or seventh in the world, depending on
what one thinks of Khamzat

Ultimately though, both Edwards and Jackson are getting their
long-deserved dues. A lot of fans may not appreciate their sublime
skills, and in Edwards’ case, his boss is no help either. They are
fantastic at winning fights against high-level opposition and doing
so consistently. Edwards will have his shot at the UFC throne in
less than a month, and Jackson will likely have his opportunity at
the Bellator title sooner rather than later.