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Leon Edwards lived up to his "Rocky" nickname at UFC 286, out-dueling Kamaru Usman to win their trilogy. It was a massive achievement considering Usman is arguably the greatest welterweight the sport has seen since Georges St-Pierre. But in the aftermath of the win, the title picture isn't quite so settled.

UFC president Dana White remained steadfast at the post-fight press conference that Colby Covington is next in line for a title shot. Edwards has rejected the idea, showing more interest in the winner of Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287. Belal Muhammad is having a tough time cutting through the chatter despite his strong resume. The presence of Khamzat Chimaev is fading from welterweight but the echoes are still there. And while they fight for attention and opportunities, the oncoming storm of Shavkat Rakhamonov looms over the division.

Let's break down the validity of each fighter's claim at present to a welterweight title shot in a sport that doesn't always reward what's fair.

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Colby Covington

Covington is the biggest benefactor of the mess at welterweight. Covington weighed in at UFC 286 as a surprise backup opponent for Edwards vs. Usman 3. His services were not needed that evening, but the UFC generally rewards fighters who successfully make weight with no guarantee of competing. Covington also has a higher profile than some of his contemporaries on this list. He goes straight into fight promotion with his trash talk and has experience headlining pay-per-views. He's ranked No. 2, behind only Usman, in the official UFC welterweight rankings but that is a consequence of how little the rankings shift.

Covington's credibility as a title challenger falls apart when you dig into the actual resume. He does not have an active winning streak and is coming off a win against Masvidal, the latter of whom is currently on a three-fight skid. We're at 14 months and counting since Covington's last in-cage appearance. Sure, he gave Usman two tough fights, but Edwards' takedown defense and superior striking at UFC 286 should concern Covington supporters. Covington is 14-3 overall in the UFC. Not a single one of the 14 fighters he's beaten has an active UFC win streak. In fact, most of them are no longer with the promotion, some are on losing streaks and others have retired.

Covington has done nothing inside the cage lately to justify a world title fight. Yet his standing with the company, commitment to selling a fight and the division's lack of overall direction have him positioned as the top contender in the promotion's eyes.

Khamzat Chimaev

There may not be a welterweight on the planet that can keep Chimaev from being a UFC champion. Fortunately for the division, Chimaev did a remarkable job of removing himself from the conversation. Chimaev was handed the lay-up of all lay-ups against departing veteran Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC 279. Chimaev was so overweight, missing by 7.5 pounds, that UFC was forced to shuffle around three fights to keep the main card intact. White confirmed at the UFC 286 post-fight presser that Chimaev would next compete at middleweight.

It's a major shame for Chimaev, who likely has a harder path at 185-pounds with the likes of Robert Whittaker in the mix. Chimaev's early dominance across middleweight and welterweight is nearly unfathomable. Chimaev absorbed just one strike while dishing out 112 of them in his four UFC appearances. He then battled to a decision over Gilbert Burns before submitting Kevin Holland in his most recent outing.

Chimaev has the winning combination of resume, skills, star power and long-term potential dominance to be next in line, but circumstances have forced him out of the running.

Jorge Masvidal

It really says a lot about the nature of the business that Masvidal, someone currently on a three-fight losing streak, is on the mind of the UFC welterweight champ. It would certainly reinvigorate Masvidal if he could beat betting favorite Burns, but a win over the No. 5 ranked welterweight contender would not justify a title shot in a meritocratic process. The fight game is only occasionally a meritocracy. It's always prizefighting.

Masvidal arguably has the most mainstream appeal of anyone on this list and a built-in rivalry with Edwards. In fact, Masvidal's rise from solid veteran to PPV headliner started the same evening that he first crossed paths with Edwards. After shockingly knocking out Darren Till following an extended absence, Masvidal walked away from his own backstage interview to confront Edwards. Masvidal rattled off a multi-punch combination -- famously dubbed the "three-piece and a soda" -- that caused a cut under Edwards' eye. Both men have traded barbs in the four years since the incident.

Edwards announced that he would make the trip to Miami to see how Burns vs. Masvidal plays out. It makes sense why Edwards wants the Masvidal fight: it's a chance for comeuppance and likely an easy payday compared to the alternative. But let's be honest, it's a money grab. Plain and simple.

Belal Muhammad

Meet the single most deserving active contender in the UFC welterweight division. Muhammad has not seen defeat in his last nine UFC fights. In particular, the quality of his wins over Sean Brady, Vicente Luque and Stephen Thompson is evidence that Muhammad is in rare form. The win over Brady is particularly valuable, a much-needed stoppage via strikes after five consecutive decision wins. He's also one of the few fresh faces in the welterweight contender pool. An intriguing component of his case is that Muhammad fought Edwards to a no-contest in 2021. Muhammad was unable to continue after suffering an eye poke. Pair that with the numerous fouls Edwards caught Usman with at UFC 286 and there is a story to be told. On paper, there is nobody with a better resume right now than Muhammad.

There are a few things holding Muhammad back in the grand scheme. He is charismatic, but it feels as if it's yet to translate to a wider audience. His showing against Brady was a step in the right direction, but it did not completely remedy the perception that he's a boring fighter. Muhammad is also the victim of an arduous journey to the top. Muhammad has passed so many difficult tests, but he has yet to complete a fight against an opponent currently ranked in the top five. Almost everyone else featured in this story can at least say they've fought someone who the UFC rankings panel deems to be the very best.

White suggested that UFC is looking to book Muhammad against Shavkat Rakhmanov next. It's a tremendous fight between two of the division's most successful present fighters, but it's a terrible disservice to Muhammad. If not a title shot, Muhammad at least deserves to fight someone like Usman.

Gilbert Burns

Burns is neither hot nor cold as a welterweight title challenger. Losses to Usman and Chimaev took off steam, but strong showings in both fights assure that he's very much in the mix. Burns stormed through Neil Magny with a point to prove and he can further his standing with a dominant performance against Masvidal. An accomplished grappler before diving into MMA, Burns has found reliable power in his hands to become a multi-faceted threat. Burns very well could present Edwards with the most robust challenge of any fighter on this list.

Beating Magny and Masvidal in succession gives Burns a lead over Covington on paper, but not by a big enough margin to overcome UFC's infatuation with the American fighter. It also wouldn't quite stack up to Muhammad's recent stretch. Burns finds himself in the middle of the pack with neither the business nor sports merits to get the title shot over his contemporaries.

Shavkat Rakhmonov

Rakhmonov is one of the most exciting contenders to emerge in recent years. His late third-round submission against Geoff Neal in March added to his perfect 17-0 record with 17 stoppages (nine submissions and eight KOs). Against Neal, Rakhmonov showed durability and toughness while living up to his reputation for finishing fights. His Fight of the Night on the main card of UFC 285 was an important step in introducing him to a wider market. 

Rakhmonov still needs a little more time in the oven before he's ready for to cement himself as the best. There were defensive gaps in the Neal fight that Rakhmonov can remedy with more high-level reps. Furthermore, the language barrier calls for additional time to expose Rakhmonov to the mainstream fanbase. A win over Muhammad would do good things for Rakhmonov even if it's an insulting proposition for Muhammad. Alternatively, giving Rakhmonov the winner of Burns vs. Masvidal would certainly produce a future title challenger.