Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) market this Sat. night (Aug. 20, 2022) at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. UFC 278: “Usman vs. Edwards 2” will be headlined by the welterweight rematch between reigning 170-pound titleholder Kamaru Usman and longtime nemesis Leon Edwards. “The Nigerian Nightmare” previously captured a unanimous decision victory over “Rocky” when they first went to war in late 2015 and here we are (finally) for part two. Usman is now defending champion and Edwards has not tasted defeat since their UFC on FOX 17 dance nearly seven years back.
UFC 278 will also feature the return of former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, who welcomes troubled contender Paulo Costa back into the fold. The winner of this bout could re-enter the 185-pound contender pool, particularly with a highlight-reel finish. In addition, Jose Aldo continues his march toward the bantamweight title opposite 135-pound bruiser Merab Dvalishvili, not long after heavyweight hurters Marcin Tybura and Alexandr Romanov hook ‘em up at 265 pounds. Getting the UFC 278 PPV main card started will be a fan-friendly light heavyweight collision pitting Tyson Pedro against Harry Hunsucker.
Who wins and who loses? Before we get to the finer details, be sure to take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for all the UFC 278 preliminary card action by clicking here and here. The latest UFC 278 odds and a complete betting guide for the “Usman vs. Edwards 2” PPV event can be located here. Remember, you’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to order this weekend’s event but if the thought of listening to the “official” commentary has you down in the dumps, mute your volume and follow along with our live video play-by-play at our official YouTube channel by clicking here.
Let’s talk shop.
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (20-1) vs. Leon “Rocky” Edwards (19-3)
In what I’m sure is common knowledge by now, Kamaru Usman previously fought Leon Edwards in just “The Nigerian Nightmare’s” second fight under the UFC banner, a follow-up to his dominating win over Hayder Hassan to capture The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 trophy back in summer 2015. For Edwards, the Usman bout was his fourth as a UFC fighter and left him sitting at 2-2 after three rounds of action. It was one-sided fight, statistically speaking, as Usman outwrestled and outstruck “Rocky” across the board. Was that a preview for the UFC 278 headliner this weekend in Salt Lake City? To suggest otherwise is to demonstrate more growth and perhaps a better evolution as a cage fighter in the years that followed. Neither combatant has tasted defeat since their UFC on FOX 17 go-round, to the tune of 13 straight wins for Usman against a 9-0 (1 NC) record for Edwards.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end because “The Nigerian Nightmare” has consistently fought the best welterweights in the world, including Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, and Gilbert Burns, just to name a few. By comparison, “Rocky’s” most impressive win to date came over … well, that’s not so easy to determine. The Englishman’s only victory over a welterweight currently ranked in the Top 10 came against Vicente Luque in early 2017. I’m not sure I want to be building a case for his dominance based on a split nod over Gunnar Nelson or consecutive decision wins over Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone, two puffed up lightweights in their upper thirties. Usman, meanwhile, has three knockout wins in his last five title defenses against the best names in the division.
Edwards has earned his place in the UFC 278 main event based on his winning streak alone and he’s proven to be a crafty fighter with high-level skills on his feet as well as on the ground. I’m not going crazy over his rubber legs in the Nate Diaz fight because it was a dominant performance and more importantly, he left with the “W.” I just can’t pick him against Usman — currently ranked No. 1 in the world in the official pound-for-pound rankings — without first seeing how “Rocky” would withstand the striking of Masvidal, or the takedowns of Covington. Those are two very important tests that need to be passed by any welterweight looking to pull the sword from the 170-pound stone. You don’t have to be good to beat Usman, you have to be great. In addition, you also need to have a career performance with zero mistakes across 25 grueling minutes. That’s a lot to ask from any fighter, particularly one like Edwards, who doesn’t have the kind of torque to give him a puncher’s chance. “Rocky” will no doubt be game, but this is going to be a five-round sweep on the judges’ scorecards.
Prediction: Usman def. Edwards by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Luke Rockhold (16-5) vs. Paulo “The Eraser” Costa (13-2)
Luke Rockhold brings a couple of troubling statistics into his UFC 278 co-main event against Paulo Costa. The former UFC middleweight champion has dropped three of his last four, all by way of knockout, and has not competed in over three years. Remember, this is a combatant who was once ranked No. 3 in the world in the official pound-for-pound rankings — behind Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson — before coughing up his 185-pound title to longtime nemesis Michael Bisping at UFC 199 back in June 2016. What followed was a pair of knockout losses and a failed trip to light heavyweight, along with a submission victory over “Billy Noname.” I know it’s fun to bash Rockhold for his recent woes, mostly because his douchey attitude makes him a less-than-sympathetic figure, but I’m not ready to call him washed just yet. The former Strikeforce middleweight champion performs his best when he manages his weight ahead of the fight and plays to his strengths inside the cage. Blocking Yoel Romero cinderblocks with his chin is not understanding the assignment. Against Costa, the 37 year-old model will be fighting from the southpaw stance with a five-inch reach advantage, which should allow him to comfortably strike from range. In addition, any ground work would favor the Californian because of his punishing top control. Newer fans should go back and watch what Rockhold did to some of his opponents before his recent implosion.
There’s been a lot of talk about the trajectory of Costa and in many ways, it’s not dissimilar to that of Rockhold. The biggest difference for me, at least in terms of how they match up, is that Costa never really cemented himself as a here-to-stay middleweight contender. Knocking around a fat and bewildered Johny Hendricks — a natural welterweight — did not impress me, nor did his victory over the maddeningly inconsistent Uriah Hall, who fell out of the division Top 10 after getting rubbed out by “The Eraser.” How much stock you put into Costa’s win over Yoel Romero may depend on where you think “Soldier of God” was at in his UFC career. At the time he fought Costa, the hulking Cuban was already 42 years old and coming off his second decision loss to Robert Whittaker. Heading into UFC 278, Costa is looking to rebound from back-to-back defeats to Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, though I can’t help but wonder if “The Eraser” was checked out during his “Italian Dream” contest. Either way, Costa was outstruck by a pretty wide margin and didn’t have any vino to blame it on.
I think this is Rockhold’s fight to lose and the outcome may depend on his decision to favor Fight I.Q. over ego. The chin may be gone but the skill set is not, so with an effective gameplan that mixes up his wrestling with his striking, there’s no reason the former champ can’t get it done in a three-round fight, even if it means stealing rounds with a late takedown. Costa is a tough, rugged bruiser, but I’m not sure he has the patience to wait for a Rockhold mistake. It would not surprise me to see “The Eraser” resort to his Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em style of bumrush, only to get frustrated and start chasing his more poised opponent. I don’t think we’ll be getting any “Fight of the Night” awards in this one, but we will get a reminder of what made Rockhold such an effective middleweight for the better part of his UFC career.
Prediction: Rockhold def. Costa by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Jose “Junior” Aldo (31-7) vs. Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili (14-4)
Jose Aldo has been fighting in UFC for well over a decade and not only held the promotion’s featherweight title, but is now ranked No. 3 in the world in the 135-pound weight class, thanks to three consecutive wins over Top 10 competition. I don’t know how much longer we’ll get to see “Junior” at the top, but it’s been one hell of a ride. His next assignment could prove to be his most dangerous since his UFC 251 matchup against Petr Yan. While Merab Dvalishvili has yet to crack the Top 5, his seven-fight win streak has distinguished “The Machine” as a very dangerous opponent ready to announce his arrival — at the expense of Aldo. I don’t like to make it a habit of poking holes in win streaks or pulling the “Yeah, but…” card, BUT we have to be a little more critical when talking about fight predictions because even the smallest detail has to be considered when trying to determine the better fighter. Of his seven wins over the last four years, none of those opponents are currently ranked in the bantamweight Top 15 and only two of them are still signed with UFC. That should give you an idea of what Dvalishvili was faced with during his “run.” Prior to that, the 31 year-old Georgian suffered consecutive losses to Frankie Saenz and Ricky Simon.
Aldo will come into this fight with a two-inch advantage in both height and reach though I’m not sure how much he’ll get to use it. Dvalishvili has a staggering 50 takedowns landed under the UFC banner and yes, that’s the 135-pound record (by more than a dozen). The counter to that is Aldo sports a 90-percent takedown defense rate, though it’s important to note that effective wrestling is not measured by how many times your opponent gets dragged to the floor. A strong offensive wrestling game can rob a striker of his leg kicks, create claustrophobic exchanges against the fence, and take away an opponent’s ability to dictate the pace. You know all those corny pre-fight promos where Joey Bananas says “I’m gonna make him fight my fight” … that’s kind of hard to do when a wrestler like Dvalishvili is spamming shot after shot. In addition, Aldo has zero submissions in UFC so we can abandon this fantasy that Dvalishvili will be in jeopardy by hanging out in guard. I’m an old-school fella and my heart is rooting for Aldo, I just don’t see how “Junior” can do enough damage in a three-round fight before the wrestling takes over. Even if the Brazilian makes it a close fight, judges remain wooed by forward movement and wrestling-based mug-and-slug.
Prediction: Dvalishvili def. Aldo by unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Marcin “Tybur” Tybura (22-7) vs. Alexandr “King Kong” Romanov (16-0)
Marcin Tybura has been competing under the UFC banner for more than six years and to date has compiled a 9-6 record with four of those victories coming by way of knockout. Unfortunately the window of his competitive prime is nearly closed at age 36 and I don’t think we should plan for any Glover Teixeira-esque rebirths. To his credit, “Tybur” had a five-fight win streak going from Feb. 2020 to June 2021 — ended by a unanimous decision loss to Alexander Volkov — and it only got Tybura to No. 8 in the heavyweight rankings. In addition, his win streak has not held up well over time for many of the same reasons we discussed in the Aldo vs. Dvalishvili fight. Of those five opponents, only three are still signed to UFC and only one is currently ranked in the Top 15. What we can say for certain is that “Tybur” is big, tough heavyweight who is dangerous on the feet as well as on the ground, making this anything but a “gimme” for opponent Alexandr Romanov.
I know the promotion has high hopes for the Moldovan “King Kong” and so far he’s delivered. In five trips to the Octagon, Romanov has secured five victories and four finishes, three by way of submission. Most heavyweights are known for their power (including Romanov, who has six knockouts) so getting an undefeated prospect with a nasty submission game adds an interesting dynamic to the 265-pound division. It’s also worth pointing out that Romanov already holds two heavyweight records including takedown accuracy (69.6%) and control time percentage (70.7%) and recently overtook Brock Lesnar for the No. 2 spot in top position percentage (53.4%). None of that really means anything unless Romanov gets past Tybura and if “King Kong” is going to be the contender we think he is, these are the kinds of fights he needs to be winning. The counter to that? Tybura holds the heavyweight record for takedown defense at 82.1%, so this is going to be a very difficult fight on both sides. When push comes to shove, I’ll lean toward youth over experience, though we may be faced with another scoring debate on Sunday morning.
Prediction: Romanov def. Tybura by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Tyson Pedro (8-3) vs. Harry “The Hurricane” Hunsucker (7-5)
There’s been some discussion on the MMA boards about the light heavyweight curtain jerker between Tyson Pedro and Harry Hunsucker; specifically, why it’s taking up valuable real estate on a major PPV fight card. Pedro has only competed once over the last four years and Hunsucker has been knocked out in all three of his UFC appearances, if you include his first-round shellacking at the hands of Jared Vanderaa on Dana White’s “Contender Series” back in late 2020. In fact, “The Hurricane” has been knocked out in all five of his losses; though to be fair, he’s also finished all seven of his victories. Similarly, Pedro has only been to the scorecards once in 11 professional fights and I think we may have just answered why this 205-pound tilt is playing fan fluffer for the marquee matchups on tomorrow night’s card.
I could talk a little bit about their strengths and weaknesses but do they even matter? I’m certainly not expecting anything technical here. Somebody is getting knocked out or submitted in this fight and when you stack their respective resumes on the overhead projector, the bookie-favored Aussie appears to have a marked advantage. Pedro is coming off a knockout victory over Isaac Villanueva back in April and has faced (and defeated) far better competition. Hunsucker has seven wins but only one of those opponents has a winning record and that’s the 4-3 Billy “Big Sexy” Swanson. I know it’s impossible to say this without sounding disrespectful but “The Hurricane” is not a UFC-caliber fighter and just like his nickname, will weaken and dissipate when he makes landfall this Sat. night in Salt Lake City.
Prediction: Pedro def. Hunsucker by knockout
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