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What does 2024 hold for Brits Leon Edwards and Paddy Pimblett?

British MMA fighters Leon Edwards and Paddy Pimblett overcame a hostile atmosphere in Las Vegas to record impressive victories at UFC 296 on Saturday night.

Edwards retained his welterweight title by beating Colby Covington, while lightweight Pimblett enjoyed a comfortable success against veteran Tony Ferguson, setting up an exciting 2024 for the British pair.

Edwards silences trash-talking opponent

The build-up to Edwards' title defence against Covington was dominated by some unseemly trash-talking from the American, but Edwards retained his composure on fight night.

The Birmingham man started on the front foot and, while Covington took him down midway through the fight, the three judges scored Edwards the winner by a 49-46 margin.

Covington disputed the result in his post-fight interview, however, more measured observers regarded the points decision as a fair reflection of Edwards' superiority, as he extended his winning streak to 12 fights.

That is just one short of Georges St-Pierre's welterweight record of 13 and the list of potential opponents for Edwards in 2024 is a tantalising one for UFC fans.

Impressive Muhammad merits second shot at champion

When Belal Muhammad tackled Edwards in March 2021, an accidental eye poke early in round two left Muhammad unable to carry on and the fight was declared a 'no contest'.

Since then, both men's stock has risen and a rematch with Muhammad could be on the cards in the new year.

The 35-year-old, fighting out of Chicago, beat Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson in his other two bouts in 2021, both by unanimous decision, and the judges also declared him a convincing winner against Vicente Luque in April 2022.

In October of that year Muhammad defeated Sean Brady at UFC 280 via a TKO stoppage at the end of the second round and another unanimous decision went in his favour against Gilbert Burns in May this year.

Edwards has already beaten Kamaru Usman - rated as the top contender to his welterweight title - twice, so Muhammad looks a serious candidate to take on the British champion in 2024.

Uzbekistan's Shavkat Rakhmonov is another name in the mix after his impressive victory over 'Wonderboy' Thompson on Saturday night.

Rakhmonov is heading in the right direction in the welterweight rankings and he improved his record to 18-0 by finishing off Thompson with a rear-naked choke in the third round of their Vegas showdown.

Sean Strickland was in the crowd for UFC 296 - along with Donald Trump, Hollywood actors Jared Leto and Mark Wahlberg and rapper Stormzy - and there are suggestions that he could take on Edwards in the Octagon in the not-too-distant future.

Middleweight champion Strickland is 4/6 for a successful title defence against 5/4 challenger Dricus du Plessis at UFC 297 on 21st January 2024.

If he emerges victorious from that fight and Edwards continues his winning streak at welterweight level, then there is a chance they could face each other in a thrilling showdown next year. 

Pimblett set for busy 2024 after triumphant return

Liverpool's Paddy Pimblett has had a tough 2023, mainly spent recovering after undergoing ankle surgery in March, but he signed off the year in style on Saturday night.

Pimblett eased to a unanimous points decision against Ferguson, declaring after the fight: "You could see I won every round, you can't dispute that. I'm still disappointed I didn't finish Tony, but I won every round."

His last UFC fight was a contentious points victory against Jared Gordon in December 2022, when he suffered a serious ankle injury during a patchy performance, but his return to action was far more convincing.

Veteran Ferguson took a pounding from Pimblett in round one, but showed his resilience to make it through to the bell and he was hailed as "an absolute legend of the sport" by his victorious opponent.

Asked in the summer about his long-term ambitions in 2024, 'The Baddy' explained that he was hoping to have three fights and be a ranked UFC fighter by the end of the year.

Time is on his side - at 28, Pimblett is 11 years younger than his weekend opponent Ferguson- and he has now won all five of his UFC fights.

He will be targeting more experience against ranked fighters in 2024 and it is also a big year for him out of the Octagon as his wife Laura is expecting twins in May.

Islam Makhachev is the current UFC lightweight champion, with Brazil's Charles Oliveira and Americans Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier ranked numbers one, two and three in the division.

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