After coming through arguably the biggest test of his UFC career to date, Belal Muhammad has reiterated his desire to fight for the welterweight title in Abu Dhabi later this year - describing competing in the capital for gold as “perfect”.
The division’s No 4-ranked contender, 34, recorded a dominant, unanimous decision victory against Gilbert Burns on Sunday morning in the co-main event at UFC 288 in New Jersey.
In doing so, Muhammad, who like Burns accepted the bout on short notice, lifted his unbeaten streak to 10 (nine wins, one no contest).
The American has made no secret of his wish to take on current welterweight champion Leon Edwards for the belt in October, when the UFC returns to Abu Dhabi for UFC 294.
Muhammad, a practising Muslim whose parents are Palestinian, has fought twice before in the emirate, the most recent in October, when he outclassed the previously unbeaten Sean Brady at UFC 280.
UFC president Dana White has confirmed Muhammad is in line for a title shot, but only after Edwards defends against No 2-ranked contender Colby Covington. A date or venue for that bout has yet to confirmed, although Edwards said last month that he wanted the next defence of his crown to be in Abu Dhabi in October.
Asked by reporters post-bout on Sunday who and where he wanted to fight for the title, Muhammad said: “Perfect world, we’re fighting in October in Abu Dhabi. That would be amazing. You know there’ll ain’t going to be no booing out there. To fight out there in front of my people would be great.
“But wherever it goes … we can fight in enemy territory, friendly territory, no territory. Just give me a cage and some gloves and I’m ready to throw down.”
As to whether he preferred to face Edwards or Covington, Muhammad replied: “Both of them can get it. I cannot wait, man. I’m just glad the boss, the man, Dana White, gave me the opportunity to fight for my shot. [And] now I earned my shot, I took my shot, there’s no denying me now.
“All I needed to hear was there’s nothing next but the title shot. So can’t wait.”
Muhammed, 23-3 as a professional, has previous with Edwards. The pair faced off inside the octagon in March 2021, but the bout was deemed a no contest after Edwards caught his opponent accidentally with an eye poke in the second round.
Two years on, and should the UFC move forward first with Edwards-Covington, Muhammad said he is willing to wait to meet the winner in his quest for the belt.
“As long as I got the guaranteed shot, that’s all I needed to hear," he said. "So now I know what’s next … you guys don’t know how hungry I am for this title shot; how hungry I am to win this gold.
“And I know it doesn’t matter what I have to do I’m going to get there. I popped up and took this opportunity [Burns] on three weeks’ notice because they said, 'If you win this fight you get the title shot’.
“And now I have the title shot, whoever has the belt, you don’t have no idea what’s coming to you. It’s going to be the best version of me you ever see in your life.
“Because this was three weeks’ notice; give me eight weeks’ notice, give me 12. It’s going to be harder for them guys. If I’m them, I’m going to want to fight right away and then get a quick turnaround, so they don’t have to deal with the best version of me.”
UFC 294 takes place on October 21 at Etihad Arena. No bouts have been confirmed, however, the card will feature at least one championship fight.