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Edwards puts welterweight belt on the line vs. Covington in UFC 296

Leon Edwards Leon Edwards - Getty Images

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The last UFC pay-per-view card of the year takes place Saturday, and welterweight champion Leon Edwards said the man trying to take his belt doesn't deserve to be in the octagon that night.

Edwards pointed to the fights already lost by the third-ranked challenger Colby Covington, most notably falling short in two previous shots at the belt. But, Edwards acknowledged, that will mean little this weekend at UFC 296.

“We’re here now and all that matters is Saturday night, going out there and taking him out," Edwards said. "I’m focused fully on that. Whether he deserves it or not doesn’t matter because he’s fighting anyway for the belt and that’s my aim.”

Covington, wearing a jacket with “Make America Great Again” on its sleeves and a photo of former President Donald Trump on the back, made sure to get Edwards' attention at the pre-fight news conference.

He questioned the champ's intelligence and heart, and said the Jamaican-born Edwards (21-3) who grew up in the United Kingdom insulted British fans by not taking this fight on English soil.

The 35-year-old Covington (17-3) said he looked forward to Trump, who is expected to attend, putting the championship belt around his waist after the fight.

“It’s going to be a spectacle," Covington said. "It doesn’t matter who they put in there Saturday night. They could put the Hulk in there Saturday night, and nobody’s beating me in front of Donald Trump.”

Edwards, 32, didn't appear to take any bait from the insults Covington hurled his way, chalking much of it up to pre-fight hype.

“Everyone knows he’s playing like a character," Edwards said. "It’s easier to take someone like that as a joke. That’s what I’m able to do, take it as it is. He’s a clown and I’m going to treat him as such.”

As for Covington the fighter, Edwards pointed out he has lost multiple ways — submission, technical knockout, unanimous decision.

“He's not as good as everyone thinks," Edwards said. "He's a normal fighter that's more scrappy, basically. Me and the team came up with a great game plan to neutralize what he's good at, and my aim is to go in there and take him out.”

Covington will enter the octagon for the first time since March 5, 2022, a unanimous decision over Jorge Masvidal. This is only his fifth bout since 2019.

“I'm not the same fighter I was the last time I stepped in the octagon," Covington said. "Saturday night, you're going to see a completely different version of myself, and I'm going to out-class Leon. I'm going to bring out the dog in me, and I'm going to bring out the quitter in Leon.”

The flyweight title is on the line in the co-main event between champion Alexandre Pantoja (26-5) of Brazil and second-ranked challenger Brandon Royval (15-6) of Denver.

The two met Aug. 21, 2021, with Pantoja choking out Royval in the second round. But Royval then won three consecutive fights, the last two in the first round, to set up the rematch.


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